Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Thoughts on digitization

This week's e-Sylum discusses digitization of numismatic literature. Wayne Homren asks if digitization will be a 'Godsend or Gomorrah'. Wayne is concerned that digitization may harm the value of private libraries. That's true if the perceived value of works is the value of the information contained within. Some coin collectors feel that way. (I feel that way.) Non-numismatic book collectors seem to feel otherwise. I see mad prices for first editions of Harry Potter ($10,000+!!!) and Hemingway even though modern editions have better type, better paper, etc.

I digitized Barclay Head's Historia Numorum. I suspect my action decreased the value of the reprints and increased the value of the best (1911) printing. That effect may be small. A bigger economic effect should be the result of the increased profile of the thousands of works cited therein. Historia Numorum often directs the reader to key papers in rare 19th century works. Those citations infect specialist collectors with a desire to read (and own) key works in their speciality.

If your collection is merely reprints of pre-1922 works I expect it's value to drop to $0.

Digitization may increase your enjoyment of the books you already own. I own a few rare 19th century editions of BMC Greek. When I open them, they make cracking sounds. Paper fragments fall off. I enjoy the fine plates, far superior to the reprint, but for reference I prefer to use Google Books to access them. Being able to 'Google' your own library is an underrated experience!

I was able to add a little value to Historia Numorum by adding hyperlinks. When Google gets more works scanned I will be able to hyperlink everything cited, in bulk. This will make the electronic version much more useful than the best paper edition. I have no idea if this will help or hurt the economic value of the first printing.

More important is the effects of digitization on the authoring of new works. Numismatics, especially ancient numismatics, is built upon the study of individual coins. The chronology comes from overstrikes and die links. To improve on the works of predecessors we must understand earlier works.

That isn't the case with, say, 'physics.' Physics is built up from a small number of key equations based on experiments that could be repeated today. Those experiments, along with the names of their discoverers, is all that is needed to write about physics. Coins are different. I can't just take a shovel and dig the restrikes and die links needed to rebuild the chronologies. It is considered bad form to propose new theories and new attributions for coins without reading earlier works. Easy digital access to the works that numismatics is built upon will allow more amateurs to theorize and write new works.

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CoinssCoinss said...
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