I’m still struggling with how to begin a project that I would like to be a lifelong commitment for the rest of my career. The issues are technical and conceptual.
What I want to do is begin publishing and archiving my notations on scholarly (and maybe some non-scholarly) readings, to document my workflow as a reader and thinker. I see this as having several important uses.
First, scholars studying book history and print culture have now thoroughly made me over into a believer in the value of marginalia. The beauty of digitization in this sense is that it allows us to create marginalia without defacing a singular physical copy of a text. On the other hand, the ephemeral character of a lot of digital reading and notation means that much of the marginalia that we might have will never come into being or will be lost.
Second, I think one of the major reputational problems that academia has, particularly humanities scholars, is that much of our workflow is invisible or poorly understood even by sympathetic publics. I’ve been cleaning out a closet here in my office this week and even I’m a bit flabbergasted by the transcript of my working life since 1988: piles and piles of notes and commentary on readings, compilations of library records intended to drive both research and my awareness of my fields of specialization, and a lot of other tracings of a working life. At least some of this might be more useful to me and to others as a tool for inquiry and study if it were searchable and visible, but such records might also help me and other scholars to document and explain what it is that we do.
I’m clear about what it is that I want to do and why I want to do it. What I’m not clear on is how and where.
Here’s the specifications that I want to match:
1. I want to publish and archive these digital marginalia as data in a platform-agnostic form that could be pushed into multiple locations. Say, for example, that I could have a page or location at this blog where they would appear, but I might also publish them through my catalog at LibraryThing and as shared Zotero notes, for example.
2. I would like the marginalia to have a fixed link the notes to the specific bibliographic record of the material that they are based upon, to have that link embedded in the data.
3. I want the baseline marginalia to be machine-readable and available to anyone else who would like to take the data and associate it with relevant catalogs or other archives, under a Creative Commons license that only requires attribution. The attribution I’d actually like to embed into each record so that the data-sharing can be automated. Other users would be free to add their own metadata or cataloging information.
4. I want to create some kind of simple tagging scheme that can support my own folksonomy to help me understand and search the eventual archive of my notes while having the total archive also be searchable in a more open-ended way.
5. I want the archive to be visible to external search engines.
6. I want the archive to have no special or particular support needs or costs beyond the storage space and Internet connectivity required. E.g., nothing that would require serious customization and maintenance by staff besides myself. This is another reason for platform-agnosticism, to minimize the futureward hassles involved in migrating the data to future information infrastructure.
I can see how to do some of these things with my very crude knowledge, but most of what I can think of fails at least one, maybe several, of these conditions, and is in many ways quick and dirty. If I’m going to invest the effort in shifting this workflow from written notes and fragmented data that I have in both analog and digital form, I want to do it in as stable and useful a form as I can manage.
Suggestions, ideas, criticisms all welcome.