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Term: Essential features

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Term: Essential features

Curators and end users perceive digital content items as having a bundle of features, some of which invest the content with meaning or artistic impact, and these are termed significant or essential. There is a risk that these will be lost as digital items are, say, ingested into a repository and migrated over time. The argument is parallel to Nicholson Baker's discussion of analog-technology reformatting programs, offered in his 2001 book Double Fold. When newspapers were microfilmed for preservation, Baker argued, certain significant and essential features, e.g., color illustrations, were degraded or lost.

Libraries, archives, and museums have what some call "designated communities," and digital library specialists have argued that the important features of content are those that are significant or essential to a given designated community. Perfect consensus on a given item, however, will sometimes be impossible to achieve. For works perceived as artistic as much or more than informational (loaded terms in and of themselves), members of the designated communities are unlikely to tolerate any noticeable change in look and feel. It is also the case that user communities are dynamic or, to put it another way, different communities consult the same content at different times with different purposes. For example, one group of patrons may immerse themselves in the current wave of popular music in order to master the idiom, while a different group may study the same works years later to assess a cultural context in the past. Preservation programs are concerned with the long term and the members of their community include persons from the future, in effect the next generation of Nicholson Bakers.
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