Like many of my colleagues, I teach in the graduate schools at Simmons College. Unlike them, however, I don't teach in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Instead, I teach a class at the Center for the Study of Children's Literature. My first class of the semester was last night, so you can imagine the children's literature is on my mind. With a local private school closing its library because they claim the future is digital, I've also been thinking a lot about my obligations to society as somebody who is responsible for putting digital materials online.
As an instructor, I know how many of the materials I want my students to read aren't available as electronic books, audio books, or Kindle. And as a digital archivist I feel like the struggling floodgate between the masses of undigitized materials behind me and the tiny puddle of digital materials in front of me. Outside of the archives, I'm not sure how many people realize what a tiny percentage of our material is available via the Internet.
Some of this, of course, is just because there's too much to do. Some, such as our audiotape collections, are too expensive to digitize. And some of the materials that are not online never will be. Copyright law is a strange and complex beast, and digital reproduction rights are hard to obtain. Returning to children's literature, it's unlikely that we will ever be able to make much of the Marc Brown collection's amazing selection of Arthur storyboards, character concepts, and scripts available online.
One of our many fantastic books about the history of London, H. Barton Baker's Stories of the Streets of London, describes the shop of John Newbery, publisher of Goody Two Shoes and popularizer of children's books as a form of entertainment. Our collection guide for the undergraduate honors theses tells me that in the undergraduate honors thesis collection for the Department of Child Development we hold a number of theses discussing children's literature. That's a good example of the kind of material you will lose access to if you believe that everything important is available online. One day, if the resources become available and the permissions issues get worked out, some of the historical scholarship might appear online, but it will only ever be a tiny segment of what exists in print.