Making Digital Cultures: Access, Interactivity, and Authenticity

Kay Sanderson (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 9 August 2011



Sanderson, K. (2011), "Making Digital Cultures: Access, Interactivity, and Authenticity", The Electronic Library, Vol. 29 No. 4, pp. 552-553.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This thought provoking and challenging book puts librarians and archivists under the microscope as it examines the ways in which digital technologies are adapted for use in different institutional and cultural environments. Hand shows how analogue and digital objects, practices and processes come together, though sometimes in uneasy alliances, to form new digital cultures in which all the components are subject to ongoing change.

Chapters one to three lay the theoretical foundation for three case studies which examine specific organisational environments. Hand examines the nature of culture, the dominant themes which have emerged in discussions of digital culture, and theoretical perspectives on the relationship between culture and technology. These chapters may require perseverance on the part of the reader; however, the effort is rewarded as the key motifs of access, interactivity, and authenticity are explored in the case studies.

Access is examined within the context of The People's Network in the UK. Hand shows how political and professional aspirations came together with the analogue practices and values of the library profession in this reconfiguration of the public library. He also looks at how users responded to the change, arguing that, in effect, they “rewrote the script.” Computers were used largely for communication, and most of that use revolved around existing relationships and activities. Government expectations of engaging a greater part of the community in local government processes and librarians' expectations of empowering the socially and economically disadvantaged through the free provision of information were not realised.

The second case study looks at interactivity within the context of a major life insurance company attempting to replace its analogue processes with wholly digital transactions but failing due to issues of trust and the enduring power of the analogue signature. The lesson learnt in this case is that systems need to be enacted in the real world and there is “nothing inevitable or straightforward about connecting things together in a network” (p. 127).

This case study leads to the third, which examines authenticity within the context of Library and Archives Canada's digital preservation programme. Hand asks whether it is possible to make digital things accessible while preserving an archival ontology based on an analogue understanding of authenticity and reliability. He looks at authenticity issues associated with acquisition, contextualisation, and the digital preservation strategies of migration, standardisation, and emulation, observing that the task of preserving authentic digital things is “debilitating.”

In his concluding remarks Hand stresses the need to understand the materiality of digital technologies and to recognise that the form the materiality takes is contingent on the conventions and practices found within specific local environments.

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