[Today, I gave an opening plenary talk at the 53rd Annual RBMS preconference in San Diego. RBMS is a conference for people professionally interested in rare books and manuscripts. Here’s the text. But first—I want to make clear that the views it expresses are mine alone. They may not reflect those of my co-workers at the University of Virginia, and my employers had no prior knowledge that I’d be giving such a talk. I didn’t have much warning, myself. I re-wrote it late into the night on Monday, before joining (for a couple of hours, anyway) the crowd in the dark outside our beautiful Rotunda—a night documented here.]
At the University of Virginia Library, we begin our regular directors’ meetings with a round of “hot topics”—a chance to make pressing announcements or insert late-breaking news into the agenda for the day. Now, readers of such obscure periodicals as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Chronicle of Higher Education may have noticed that UVa is having… kind of a rough week. So when my colleagues and I gathered most recently, I had a fairly good guess at what our meeting’s “hot topic” might be. Instead, the first hand to be raised was that of our Director of Facilities Management, who made an earnest and concerned report: at least—two rats!—had been sighted!—in the grass outside, not terribly far from our wonderful Special Collections Library.
The question, my friends, was obvious. Were these rats coming—or going?
When I sat down to draft this morning’s presentation, I found it very difficult to disentangle what I had intended to say to you, from what I felt newly compelled to say. I had my title. As a more physical-collections-focused companion piece to Matt Kirschenbaum’s “Bit by Bit,” how could this talk not be called, “Reality Bytes?” But I meant, at first, for it to have a narrower scope: to be purely about the shape and trajectory of the most bookish side of what has come to be called the digital humanities. I’d discuss how rapidly-advancing analytical and presentational technology might impact our thinking about bibliographical research, paleography, and special collections librarianship. Just as Matt would cover the born-digital archive, I had planned to talk about new opportunities to be found in the changing relationship of scholars and students and humanities software developers to their historical, paper-based archives and research collections.
I was going to razzle-dazzle you with demos and slides. I threw them out.