Research Proposal

After months of taking a general interest in the future of digital archiving, including the challenges it faces as physical archives are fast approaching their expiration, I have come to my second revised version of my research proposal.

The first being very broad: I wanted to look into the technicalities of what it means to have a usable websites for a user to experience the archive and its contents. I found that there was a serious definition between the commercial and publicly funded archives in terms of their design. However, after much deliberation and talking to Aaron Guy (North of England Mining Institute Archive, PhD) I have taken my research into a more approachable topic which can be understood and made relevant for my audience intended.

Symposium title: Do digitised archives want to be free?

Mode of delivery:

I will present this as a Symposium as I can illustrate my argument visually with a slideshow: this will help the audience engage more with the project.


My research focuses on digitised archives and their place in the current digital economic landscape. I will be drawing on the quote “information wants to be free” (Stewart Brand) and argue whether analogue content could or should be “free”.

Description of Specific Subject to be Investigated:

Digital activist Stewart Brand suggested in 1984 at the Hackers conference that “information wants to be free” where information should not only be free (Latin Liber or freedom) and free (Latin Gratis or zero price). Yet, there is a tension between between open access and cost which I am going to be investigating. For 26 million volumes of books at the Library of Congress, digitising at $30/book would cost $750 million. This is a long term plan as the LOC “spent $1 million in fiscal 2012 to digitise parts of the collections” (NY Times). The digitisation process therefore works hand in hand with government income. Yet, I would argue how ‘free’ their current digital archive is in terms of web design and usability. It appears that there is a tension between how much money is spent on digitising and user experience.
Looking at web design and user habits, I will be looking at the Library of Congress’s webfront and Time Magazine’s: one public and one commercial, as well as other examples such as Magnum.
Looking at the commerical vs public, the tension sits similar to Brand’s tension: commerical information has a monetary value but is seemingly more usable; yet, public archives rely on government funds which slows down the rate of which information is made public.

Key Ideas:

1) Digitising archive information does not come at a low cost. This is a discussion based on Brewster Kahle (co-founder and government expenditure on digitisation.
2) “Information wants to be expensive” (Brand) creates the tension of whether scarce, valuable information should come without a paywall.
3) Commercial archives make information more available, but only after the paywall.


Stewart Brand and the “information wants to be free” talk.
Cory Doctorow argues that “[digital rights activists] want open access to the data and media produced at public expense” which could arguably mean a monetary expense.
Author Chris Anderson discusses the psychology of “free” and how if something is free, it is assumed that it is of diminished quality, although we don’t assume ‘Google’ is a poor search engine because it is free, but a free bagel must be stale. I will be focussing in publicly funded and commercial archives and use examples to compare the quality of their web design for its usability and function. Can a zero-price service allow for the freedom of physical archive information? I will also be researching into what decisions are made, or what the process is before an archive is made commercial or free for the public.
So can a digitised archive be free to its consumers? I will be looking at Brewster Kahle and, a free platform to upload and download out of copyright books, music and videos. Although users can use it for free, there is an option to subscribe to paying the organisation to digitise more. He suggests that the organisation digitises 1000 books a day and $30- if 1000 books were copied every day this could cost $10,950,000. I will touch upon “free” digital economies, which could be developed for further research and podcasts.

Primary Sources:

Interviewing Aaron Guy who is doing his PhD on digitising the North England Mining Institute archive. Drawing on the expertise of researchers specialised in this topic of the digitisation process will help highlight about how it works and what is important for its long term success.

Schedule of Work

October: Initial ideas development
Week 1 November: Start conversations with Aaron Guy
Week 2 November: Meet Jinx and Jon Rodger
Week 3 November: Find research to understand metadata/permanence
Week 4 November: Speak with Jinx Rodger about stories within the archive and record a ‘radio programme’
Week 1 – 2 December: Edit ‘radio programme’ for funding applications
Week 3 December: Reading into ‘Free’
Week 2-3 January: Interview Jinx+Jon Rodger and Aaron Guy
Week 4 January: Write symposium
Week 1-2 February:
Week 3: Practice

Interview Aaron Guy
Interview Jinx Rodger/Jon Rodger

Sproull, Robert F. Eisenberg, Jon. (2003). Key Technical Issues. In: National Research Council Building an Electronic Records Archive at the National Archives and Records Administration Committee on Digital Archiving and the National Archives and Records Administration. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. 41-47. [Date Accessed: 10th November 2013]

Getty Images Video. (2013). Matthew Butson: a tour through the archive. [Online Video]. 15 April. Available from: [Accessed: 07 November 2013].

Wooldridge, D. Stojkovic, J. Alves de Oliveira, A. Bouza, E.. (2013).Archiving On The Line. Available: Last accessed 15th November 2013.
– Discussion of algorithms and computer logic vs human association
Centre Pompidou, Paris. (2001). Pockets Full of Memories. Available: . Last accessed 1st December 2013.
Common Sense Media. (2013). Multitasking in Kids [Online video]. Available: Last accessed 5th December 2013.
The British Library. (2010). 2009-2010 Annual. Available: Last accessed 5th December 2013.

The British Library. (2010). Digitisation Plan. Available: Last accessed 5th December 2013.

Tilburg University.(2013). Size of the Web. Available: Last accessed 7th December 2013.
eHive. (2013). eHive. Available: Last accessed 6th December 2013
Plant, S. (2006). MANAGING INFORMATION – WHY RECORDS MANAGEMENT IS NECESSARY. Available: Last accessed 8th December 2013.
Bollacker, K. (2010). Avoiding a Digital Dark Age. Available Last accessed 9th December 2013.
Anderson, C. (2009). Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Random House Business Books. London. Last Accessed 6th January 2014
Doctorow, C. (2010). Saying Information Wants To Be Free Does More Harm Than Good. The Guardian. Available online: Last Accessed 5th January 2014


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