At some point most of us have pondered this question. Life would just be so much easier if everything was scanned into a big database, streamlined for our convenience, and text searchable. Trust me, as a scholar in the middle of doing research for my master’s thesis, I completely understand the frustration. Sometimes the thought of trekking hours away to look at printed copies of a newspaper or becoming blinded by the dull screen of the microfilm machine reinforces the idea that digital is always better.
Throughout the past month, as a part of my graduate apprenticeship I have been working with the Johnson-Nance Family Papers, a manuscript collection from the early twentieth century at Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, at the College of William and Mary. My apprenticeship at Swem began in August 2010 briefly after I moved from Tucson, Arizona to Williamsburg in order to begin my graduate studies in early American history. One of my first tasks as part of my graduate apprenticeship at Swem was to create a lesson plan for the William Taylor Correspondence, a collection consisting of letters between Taylor and his wife during his service in the Civil War. This collection was one that had already been thoroughly processed in previous years, including a finding aid, transcriptions, and digital scans of each item. When I began work on the Johnson-Nance collection I was presented me a very different task as this collection had just recently been acquired in July 2010 and entirely unprocessed.