24 December 2010

Breadth and depth of technical knowledge

Frequently I find myself struggling with the balance of breadth and depth of technical knowledge digital archivists need.

For example, I think a digital archivist should be able to mark up web pages. They should know at least enough HTML to be able to edit text within an existing framework. So they'd need to know some basic tags (bold, cite, italic), and they'd need to be able to recognize the text they can edit within a framework of tags they need to avoid changing.

At least, that's sort of the barbarian's approach to web markup and maintenance. Given that I still use a simple text editor, I'm happy. Needless to say, a lot of archivists will have access to tools such as Dreamweaver. They'll be able to do a lot more sophisticated design.

The question is, how much web work do digital archivists need to know? I've been doing web work for fifteen years, and I'm finally beginning to learn cascading style sheets.

There's no clear answer, of course. As always, the more one knows, the better. As I try to figure out how to teach students, I have to remember that they are not likely to be full-time, full-blown web masters. Also, in my personal opinion, less is more. I've seen some exquisitely beautiful websites that are simple and elegant. (McSweeney's, for example; www.mcsweeneys.net.) Fancy tools often lead to excess.

I've gotten by just fine so far with a plain text editor, some simple styles, and rudimentary knowledge of the GIMP (a no cost, open source graphics package).

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