In “Searching for a Blazing World,” Sarah Werner (@wynkenhimself) reflects on her recent plenary address at the Rare Books and Manuscript Section (RBMS) annual conference and revisits the issue of digital access to special collections. In the talk, Werner questioned how and why libraries decide what to digitize, and discussed the difficulties of locating and accessing digitized materials, using the absence of Cavendish’s Blazing World as a rhetorical device. After the talk, Werner discovers that she’d missed a copy available in Google Books, leading to a deeper examination of the issues around OCR and metadata:
But the point I’d make here is that searching for facsimiles is hard. That I either didn’t think to look in Google Books or I searched with the wrong terms is all the more evidence of how hard it is. I search for facsimiles a lot! I’m an early modern scholar! And if I struggle to find these things, imagine how hard it would be for our students or for the generally curious reader.
Werner concludes by returning to the subject of her talk:
The radical potential of digital tools for special collections is they let everyone use rare books and manuscripts. They let everyone read them and destroy them and remake them and carry them into the future. We haven’t reached that radical openness yet. It’s time for us to imagine a new world.