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Ethics and digital collections: a selective overview of evolving complexities

David Mindel (Library Department, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 29 July 2021

Issue publication date: 23 March 2022

834

Abstract

Purpose

Digital collections are becoming more commonplace at libraries, archives and museums around the world, creating potential for improved accessibility to information that may otherwise remain hidden and further support for intellectual exploration. As a result of the growing potential for digital collections to inform and influence, the conversation surrounding ethics and digital collections needs to be continually examined and adapted as technologies evolve, user expectations change and digital information plays an increasing role in our everyday lives. In this context, this paper presents an overview of multifaceted ethical realities that impact the how, why and what digital information is created, accessed and preserved.

Design/methodology/approach

Written from the perspective of a digital collections librarian, this paper relies on existing research in presenting ethical considerations and complements that research with professional observations in providing subsequent reflections on addressing challenges in the age of digital information.

Findings

There are and should be considerations given to not only what information is contained in a given collection, but also how that information is selected, accessed and consumed by the public. The conclusions offered are designed to provoke reflection on the evolving and interconnected nature of information and ethics in the context of digital collections.

Originality/value

Information ethics is multifaceted, with one of those facets relating directly to digital collections. This paper demonstrates that digital collections are more complex than simply a collection of digitized documents and photographs. As the field of information management continually evolves and adapts, so, too, do the ethical realizations identified in this paper, all of which go beyond the (virtual) walls of a library, archive or museum, and carry the potential to have a long-term impact concerning information and its integrity, equity and access.

Keywords

Citation

Mindel, D. (2022), "Ethics and digital collections: a selective overview of evolving complexities", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 78 No. 3, pp. 546-563. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-11-2020-0193

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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