We live in a digital word is an expression used far too often, but very true. My experience with digitization has always been a very positive one. It has saved me in more cases than I can count. Digitization projects are important for several different factors that are not always taken into consideration. One mayor positive is the access that can be provided for said material post-digitation. There now possibly exist the means that can make some of that material accessible to people from different parts of the world, wether free or paying.
Cost is always an important factor when considering any point of the digitization process. The sophistication level in which digitization finds itself is at a very exciting. All this makes the cost of digitization to rise, but in many cases some incredible new ways of studying a source arrive along with it. As a person who studies history the, what can be gained from this new digitization process? will always be present. The more information you want to extract from the source, the more expensive it can be. Possibly another avenue where art history has been able to flourish in the last few years.
There is also the argument as to be made to the first-hand experience with the source and the physicality of the archive. It is the argument that also causes fear in the world of libraries when considering digitization. All these are important aspects to consider, the cost-effectiveness of it especially. However, there is another venue that must be considered and that is necessity.
Not everyone’s archive is a car ride away, or even a short plain ride away and this makes digitization very crucial. In my undergrad studying European History in Puerto Rico, I did not have physical access to a lot the documents. At times, secondary source material on specific subjects was very difficult to acquire, let alone primary source material. I became acquainted with Google Books, Gallica, Archives.org and several others. It clearly did not provide all that I needed, but they were amazing tools along the way. I was fortunate enough that these sites were available to me when I really needed them.
On that note, I would clearly like to state the importance of the physical archives. If they are available to anyone in proximity or if you have the means to go to one, it is important to go to them. The same way that if you physically search a book in the library you can look five or six book cases up or down and find books that are related to your research, much can be discovered on an archive. This might also be a bit of nostalgia on my part, but there is something gained from having the physical object in your hands. Understanding all there is to gain from the physicality of both the archive and the source material, the necessity of some researchers cannot be ignored.
In my undergraduate days, I would squeeze all I could from Google Books saved me many time. Granted it can be sometimes hard to navigate varying from computers, it has gotten a lot better. Just the sheer body of works that it has is incredible. If Google Books was my savior than Open Content Alliance was my church, of which I was present with great fervor. I have always loved the book reading format that OCA presents. It has always been a great tool, both for its visual and research component.
Given the certain areas of interest and the locations and policies of certain archives it makes the push for digitization a much needed one on many cases. When looking at Caribbean archives it is particularly interesting. The French territories, for example, have their archives within the island, but much of their historical information is in France. The Archives nationales d’outre-mer archives (ANOM), which I have previously mentioned, contains much information of the French Colonial empire. The problem is that this archive resides in in Aix-en-Provence. Good news is that some of the material in this archive is digitized. The problem is that there is a lot that is not yet digitized. Also, the functionality of this website is not great, searching for the material, is similar to going to an archive, but from the luxury of your home or office. However, because of necessity and scarcity of digital sources on the Caribbean it still feels like a gift.
This is what makes, sites like Gallica and another site that I have previously mentioned, Magnioc, are just revelations. Gallica has helped me much in the past, its ability to search through certain materials is an incredibly helpful tool. When doing a search on the Code Noir it provided me with Projet de Code noir pour les colonies françaises . Présenté à son excellence le ministre de la Marine, by Augte Billiard. The search tools within Gallica allows me to navigate through specific words, as to arrive quicker to the points which could be most pertinent to me. What little ANOM has digitized and Magnioc has on their pages are crucial because they provide the possibility of a Martinican being able to study their own past, without having to buy a plane ticket to go to Aix-en-Provence. Cost tends to be the uniting factor of consideration when thinking about the possibility for an archive to digitize and the possibility of a person to acquire that information. I will say that digitization has too many positives that are difficult to ignore, especially when considering the audience.