From Monday to Wednesday this week, the British Library in St Pancras is host to a conference on the Digital Lives Research Project.
The project has been, and continues, under the auspices of some mainstream cultural and educational institutions and is intended as a major piece of research about our own history and the way in which we record it and store it, digitally. The conference is the first event of its kind undertaken by the British Library which itself is responsible for the safekeeping of the biggest single slice of that history in its archives around the country.
The conference brought together academics of all types along with experts in the process of digitisation, because, underneath it all, digitisation is what Digital Lives is all about. How do we keep a record not just of some lives but of all our lives? How do we collect it, how do we store it, how do we keep it safe from harm? But then again, the conference was also there to ask, why should we keep our lives digitally anyway?
Speakers included Dame Lynne Brndley, chief executive of the library, Gordon Bell of Microsoft, who is famous for his work on the first minicomputer, one time minister for technology, the Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Benn, novelist Dame Antonia Byatt DBE and more.
The Library’s quietly spoken, Dame Lynne Brinldey detailed the scale of the task the Library has already set itself in trying to digitise all of the books and documents in its care and said, “overall there is a need to understand and we are at the centre of the deabte”. As an experiment, she said, in 2007 the library held an Email Britain” campaign for one month asking people to send an email diary explaining what they were doing on that day. “We were overwhelmed,” said Dame Brindley.
The project was relatively small but still raised issues for the British Library, not the least of those issues is video of course and the effect that would have on the size and scope of digital archives.
Over the next few days we hope to bring some more from the conference. Dame Brindley however wants to hear from you now. “We need to know what people think about the issues such as privacy and plagiarism”, she said. These are issues “not for other people but for all of us”, she said. Dame Brindley made it clear that she did not offer any ready, or magical answers. The Library needs the debate and it wants you to take part.