Original look not appreciated

hile it is a primary goal in digital preservation to  preserve the significant properties of the original  digital object over the years, I recently realized that it could also be beneficial not to show  the original properties on access,  but to present the reader  a version that uses  a contemporary layout (although not per se using the “comic sense” font).

I was reading a bundle of columns on my tablet of a deceased Dutch writer who was very famous in the sixties but is now seen as a bit old fashioned. The columns were digitized and OCR-ed and all the original layout was gone, even worse, the header and footer were placed in the middle of the text ! Obviously this was not professionally digitized!

But anyhow,  while reading this, it had the effect that I totally lost the sense of the period this column was originally created. In the analogue version, the book cover and the font type were typical for the sixties, the paper and the layout were typically from that period etc. Now this “original look and feel” was gone, I appreciated better the content of the columns, leaving all the prejudices I had behind me. I was even able to compare the columns with another, but contemporary, author as if they were written under equal circumstances! And I appreciated this voice from 50 years ago like he was a contemporary fellow.

The Dutch language has a drawback in that it had various standards in spelling over the years, so  this still hints to the time of creation. Other languages, like the English language, seem to have less changes over the years. For that reason,  so they say, English people nowadays still can read Shakespeare, while in the Netherlands it is very difficult for a non experienced reader to understand an 18th century text.

Libraries are digitizing their collections on a large scale and because of copyright reasons, this is mostly older material. Quite often they create a copy of the original version and have a process of OCR-ing the text to make it searchable and present the readers with a pdf file with the original look and feel. But it could be that not showing the original look and feel, but instead just present the plain text, might attract more readers . (New tools might even update the contemporary spelling to a modern version!)

Would not this contribute to an increase in the appreciation of old texts? And to more use of the digitized materials?

It would be nice if all the millions of digitization would be beneficial, not only to researchers, but also to the general public to get a better understanding of their heritage.

In the mean time, the digital preservation people will keep studying how to preserve the original characteristics! For the other group of people interested in the original look and feel.

© 2021 Barbara Sierman