Hi J and E,
I apologize that this post is going out a week late, but fortunately that week gave me enough time to think of some interesting material on which to write.
My job at the library consists of a limited couple of activities: pull books and magazines, shelve books and magazines, put books in order, relabel books, and scan books. Sometimes there are some fun days, when I get to rearrange shelves or it’s time for the yearly binding of the current periodicals, but it’s mostly those first five activities.
On my most recent shift, the scanning pile had gotten backed up, and I spent almost two hours sitting in front of the scanning machine, scanning books for patrons who had requested a chapter from a textbook or a working group report for the OECD. One the one hand, it isn’t the most physically demanding work. I get to sit in an office chair in front a computer and press buttons on a machine that turns a physical book into a high quality pdf. However, the particular manual dexterity required to keep the book in the right position so that the text doesn’t warp or blur can get tiring. Some books have spines with bindings that are particularly tight, or glossy pages that require me to press harder to keep the pages flat.
As I made my way through the pile of books, I thought about all the different digital chapters I have had to read in college. Some professors and graduate students, for whatever motivation, decide to provide excerpts, rather than requiring the entire class to buy an entire book for the sake of reading one chapter. Maybe they are conscious of cost, maybe they want to save the environment. Regardless, I have downloaded many files from course websites, or searched for files online, and used them for my education. I wondered about the people who were in charge of scanning those chapters. I wondered about the people who were going to read the chapters that I was scanning. They could be independent researchers, or professors, or students trying to write a term paper. Even with the advantages technology gives to scholarship, there is some human labor required for the production of these files.
The final step in scanning, before sending the file to the digital repository, is using a tool to eliminate any stray marks, or digits. In the scanning program, it is represented by an “x” over a human index finger. So after I finish scanning all the required pages, I use the tool, and erase the thumbs or index fingers which moments before were becoming sore as they waited for the bright scan light to finish uploading the page. I have to be careful with the tool, though, because if I don’t get the entire blemish, the program will generate a pixelated smudge instead of wiping the page clean. By that point, it’s too troublesome to edit the file further. So it gets sent off, a small indecipherable fingerprint, ready to appear on the screen of whoever requested it.