For centuries, individuals have used physical artifacts as personal memory devices and reference aids. Over time these have ranged from personal journals and correspondence, to photographs and photographic albums, to whole personal libraries of manuscripts, sound and video recordings, books, serials, clippings and off-prints. These personal collections and archives are often of immense importance to individuals, their descendants, and to research in a broad range of Arts and Humanities subjects including literary criticism, history, and history of science.I very much look forward to seeing the results of this work, as university archives and institutional repositories increasingly have to cope with not only managing and preserving deposited personal digital materials, but have to potentially describe, organize, and make such collections usable.
These personal collections support histories of cultural practice by documenting creative processes, writing, reading, communication, social networks, and the production and dissemination of knowledge. They provide scholars with more nuanced contexts for understanding wider scientific and cultural developments.
As we move from cultural memory based on physical artifacts, to a hybrid digital and physical environment, and then increasingly shift towards new forms of digital memory, many fundamental new issues arise for research institutions such as the British Library that will be the custodians of and provide research access to digital archives and personal collections created by individuals in the 21st century.
While not the focus of their study, anyone who has ever supported teaching with images knows a tangential area of this problem space intimately. Faculty develop their own collections of teaching images -- their own analog photography, purchased slides, digital photography, images found on the open web, images from colleagues, etc. We have licensed images and surrogates of our own physical collections. They want to use materials from their own collections and our repositories together in their teaching. What is the relationship between their image collections and our repositories and teaching tools? Do we integrate their collections into ours? Do we have a role in digital curation and preservation of their data used in teaching and research, which happen to be images? We struggle with the legal and resource allocation issues every day.