Digital Collections in Times of Crisis

During class we’ve spent some time discussing how to define a digital memory bank. Social media, it was suggested, could be described as a digital memory banks–records of how we want others to perceive us. During this time of social distancing, when we are unable to physically connect almost anyone, I think social media serves even more of this purpose.

The Omeka archive “A Journal of the Plague Year” attempts to recreate this record in a publicly available format. By soliciting submissions from anyone and everyone, the makers have put together a jigsaw of snapshots from around the world as people try to adapt to social distancing guidelines.

It is difficult to imagine dredging up the energy necessary to create a submission for a digital memory bank now. Posting on Facebook or Instagram is one thing–often thoughtless, because despite all the education we’ve had about “presenting ourselves on the web,” we’re still just talking to our friends. Posting something to a public page like this Omeka collection, however, is something else. It is difficult to be vulnerable when you don’t know who will be looking at your post or what they’ll be using it for.

I have no personal qualms about posting on the archive, although I didn’t manage to get my life together in time to actually do it. But I can see why it would be difficult to solicit individuals to share their emotions on such a forum. Sheila Brennan makes the interesting suggestion that collections could find a way to invite users to simply upload their own posts into an archive. If possible, I think this would make the metadata of each entry more meaningful, providing a context for the digital-born data. Being able to see the context of the post–what social media platform, accompanied by what ads, with which prior and subsequent posts–illustrates the digital environment in a way that enhances the post itself.

Bailey, Jefferson. 2011. “The Artifactual Elements of Born-Digital Records, Part 1 | The Signal.” Webpage. November 28, 2011. //
Brennan, Sheila. 2013. “What’s next for Digital Memory Banks?” Lot 49. May 6, 2013.

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