Crossing the digital rift at JFK library

The digitization of the John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) National Archives, announced on Jan.13 in Boston, Massachusetts, will give total access of the library contents anywhere to anyone with an Internet connection. ­

The project itself is a $10 million enterprise with 48 million pages of documents, 7,000 hours of audio recordings, 16,000 artefacts and 400,000 photographs.
The objective of this project is to grant anybody with an interest in JFK the ability to explore his life and career from their home, opposed to visiting the physical library.

Primary archivist for the JFK library, David Ferriero, insisted that all the library documents will be digitized for the public to seemingly avoid the issue of censorship.

Andre Czegledy, acting chair of the anthropology department at Wilfrid Laurier University, explained, “While the availability of archives in this most expansive quantity online is indeed fantastic to democratization of information, we must also remember that information does not stand on its own.”

This shift towards the democratization of information reveals the possibilities of misinterpretation, as most of the data will be released without the contextual background typically provided by a historian or archivist.

“With respect to the JFK archives in general and in representative to other realms of information, there are both positive aspects and potential for less positive aspects,” said Czegledy.

“Positively, is the very real issue of access, however access is in reference to both use and misuse, as with other sorts of information…the sheer volume of the information and its diversity, can fuel the ongoing fire of interest, speculation and controversy in probably one of the most contested terrains of contemporary or modern American history.”

The increasing use of the Internet has predicated reliance upon digital technology to provide people with knowledge in a vast range of topics.
While some maintain a critical approach to information circulating the Internet, others may too readily accept reports from unknown sources. It is possible that the vast amount of digitized information provided by the JFK library will be manipulated to serve causes less noble than those outlined by the archivists.
“The whole notion of information literacy has changed. It used to simply be ‘are you literate, can you read a book, see the words in front of you and interpret what the words are?’” claimed Martin Dowding, communications professor at WLU.

“But the medium may be sending you a message you don’t understand.”
The medium of communication affects how information is received, as much as the message content itself.

Although JFK’s digitized library does offer access to what was previously inaccessible to most, changing the medium that communicates this information will alter the way it is understood.

With this in mind, the JFK archives may need to re-evaluate the idea of releasing information free of professional context.

“Marshall McLuhan said ‘the medium is the message.’ People receive and consume information in a lot of different ways.

“If I read about something on a certain website it might just make me feel different about how I’m receiving that information, so does that make it less true or more true?” Dowding concluded.