The University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC) has grown from September 2007’s 1 million pages (pages of books, newspapers, archival materials, maps, posters, audio, video, photos, and more) to 2 million in July 2008, 3 million in December 2008 (thanks to ingesting microfilm digitized by a vendor) and then to 4 million in July 2009. Right now – and UFDC is loading so this will be higher by morning – UFDC has 4,134,392 pages.
Four million, one hundred and thirty-four thousand, three hundred and ninety-two pages.
It sounds impressive because it is. Yet, it’s so much more than that even when only on a quantity level. Page counts are helpful for a general sense of “big-ness” because they prove critical mass. It’s a way of saying “if you’re not sure this is the digital collection you’re looking for, this collection is big enough to have something you’re interested in”. Page counts aren’t helpful in dealing with multiple formats. For instance, right now 1 page =
- 1 page of a journal article, born digital and submitted electronically
- 1 10 ft. x 12 ft. blueprint from 1905
- 1 video, one hour long, digitized from VHS
- 1 audio interview, one hour long, converted from reel to reel tapes
These aren’t equivalent in terms of the work to create them, the interface variety and sophistication to present them, or the use-value to patrons and for preservation.
Page counts aren’t perfect, and neither are item counts, but is there an easy and accurate way to explain any complex, diverse, and varied collections with 4 million + pieces?
The value created from having critical mass makes the entire scenario more complicated. There’s no good way to explain the value of being able to search for an illustrator and seeing examples of the work in multiple books, finding reviews of the illustrator’s work in a literary journal, seeing articles by the illustrator’s peers in newspapers from the same time period, and more without a narrative-style example, and that’s not short or easy.
Given the size, scope, and wealth contained in UFDC, I’m at a loss for words to explain just how wonderful UFDC is. For now, I plan to focus on adding more materials and adding more contextual guides (exhibits, highlighted items of the week, guides, and then on to authority records). I’d still like to have something short and quick to explain UFDC like the page counts, but perhaps those were never good enough explanations and I was just more comfortable with them when they were less blatantly inaccurate. Whatever the case, UFDC continues to grow at an astonishing rate by any measure I can imagine.