Finding richness online

Post by Jean Thilmany:

In the early days of the Internet (so about 15 years or so ago), it seemed that all universities, libraries, and museums were rushing to digitize their collections. By spending money on making their artifacts available on the web they gave museumgoers a way to browse interesting collections of interest without the need to travel.

Digital collections make museums of many types around the world accessible to all, the same way that libraries make books available to everyone, regardless of income. But times, especially regarding copyright, are still in flux, according to the Digital Library Federation.

“In the digital library, collections are transformed through the integration of new formats, licensed content and third-party information over which the library has little or no direct curatorial control. Collection strategies and practices are not yet fully developed to take account of these changing circumstances, nor are their legal, organizational, and business implications fully understood,” a DLF statement reads.

Nevertheless, collections continue to move online.

The April issue of Mechanical Engineering magazine includes an article about advances in reverse engineering, which includes references to the Kinematic Models for Design Digital Library, or K-MODDL, an online repository of kinematic mechanisms designed by Franz Reuleaux more than 130 years ago.

The Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., owns 220 of the more than 300 Reuleaux models manufactured. Cornell librarians recently digitized the collection to make it available for all users, whether they have the time and means to stop by the engineering school or not.

The cool thing about digital collections is that—like the K-MODDL mechanisms—they frequently include capabilities to home in on the artifact for an up-close view. The Cornell online mechanisms can even be printed in three dimensions by viewers who want a hands-on view (this comes thanks to reverse-engineering technology).

A quick web search for digital collections show those for Duke University and their women’s travel diaries—photographs of early Soviet Russia, and R.C. Maxwell Company records from 1904 to the 1990s. Cornell also houses online its collection of 715 digitized pamphlets documenting a century of Bolivian literate culture, beginning in 1848. Another Cornell collection boasts 21 different versions of the Bible in English.

In a time when we can instantly “YouTube” a commercial jingle from the 1950s, it’s nice to keep in mind that the vastness of the Internet includes the richness of these collections—check out the John Mazza Historic Surfboard Collection, made available online at the Pepperdine University web site, today.

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

March 2012

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