‘Place a book and walk away’: archival digitization as a socio-technical practice

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Over the last couple of decades, libraries, archives, museums and other cultural institutions have begun to scan archival documents and develop digital collections of analog-born materials. Theories of the archive politicize archival practices and highlight the mediating role of both archivists and preservation technologies, and recent accounts of the digital archive underscore both its pervasiveness and its algorithmic post-humanism. Both strands, however, ignore scanning–a human–computer interaction that shapes the ways in which archival sources will be preserved. Drawing on STS, HCI and HMC scholarship, this ethnography opens the black box of scanning at the National Library of Israel. The analysis focuses on three "breakdowns" that involve the handling of a torn photo, an ancient map and a scan robot. We show that instead of an automated process in which machines convert materials into copies, archival scanning is a symbolic human–computer interaction that produces digital objects with varying relationships to the analog originals. We discuss the ramifications of these insights to the social study of archival technology and future memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2293-2306
Number of pages14
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Issue number15
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • actor-network theory
  • archives
  • digitization
  • ethnography
  • human–computer interaction
  • scanning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Library and Information Sciences


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