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Researching Ethics and Digital Collections

Posted 1:19 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021

Photo of Digital Collections Librarian David Mindel digitizing materials to add to Murphy Library Digital Collections

Recent publication highlights complexities of ethical digital information management

By David Mindel

Ethics and information are no strangers, particularly in today’s world of information production and consumption. Libraries, as information institutions, are trusted pillars in the information landscape of yesterday, today and tomorrow. As such, ethically informed information management is essential in preserving this position of trust. As a digital collections librarian, I am intrigued by the continual ethical complexities that arise out of a world that becomes ever-more reliant on information and technology.  

Photo of Digital Collection Librarian David Mindel

Investigating this topic resulted in the article, “Ethics and Digital Collections: A Selective Overview of Evolving Complexities,” published in Journal of Documentation. In this article, I attempted to touch on some major ethical considerations for those in the cultural heritage and digital humanities fields. This was a challenging article to write because the topic is obviously greater than what can be expressed in a single article. In addressing this, I selected areas that I felt are of particular significance and that should be on the minds of information professionals in similar positions to mine. This included touching on content selection, discovery and access, the shifting digital divide, digital information vulnerability, and the yet-to-be-realized complexities the future may present.  

My major takeaway from this research is that the management of digital information in today’s world requires a sensitivity to, and an awareness of, both the positives and negatives of digital information. Digital information has the incredible power to inform and influence. Yet, this power is subject to its own vulnerabilities, including manipulation, misrepresentation, lack of preservation and limited accessibility. From this, I feel it becomes apparent that the first step in countering information mismanagement is to grasp the reality that the information landscape is constantly evolving. Ethically informed information management demands a realization of this evolution as well as the ability to adapt and recognize that the actions information professionals make now impact how, where and when information is consumed, understood and used.