Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Internet, Research Resources, and Scientific Community

It is an obvious fact that Internet has increased in size exponentially over the last 10 years. Today, more and more people read daily news via RSS or classical websites; more and more people use Internet to find basic and scientific information about anything from any period of time; and more and more people use it to communicate. So, in this context, the fact that Internet has been also transformed into a huge research resources repository is not a news anymore. The Vatican Curia kept itself connected to the latest technologies and developed its own web platforms in order to inform about its activities, help missionaries in their efforts and let the believers be in constant contact with what the Christian Catholic "headquarters". But it also gives access to researcher to its huge libraries and helps young scholars specialize in historical sciences (archaeology, diplomatics, paleography, and so on).

Archivum Secretum Apostolicum Vaticanum is one of the major virtual spaces that contains a lot of information about medieval manuscripts and the science of paleography. The website is like a library without walls: all the information is there, the shelves are there, the catalogues as well, but there is free and unrestricted access to its funds. Unfortunately, something are still only in print and you need to buy them directly. Otherwise, ASAV is one great site to use it for study, research or teaching.

Schøyen Collection held by Martin Schøyen contains "720 manuscripts spanning over 5000 years". The purpose of the Schøyen webplatform is to preserve the written treasures. Many manuscripts are digitized and published there (fragments), but the idea was not to be a library. Instead of a library, we get a chest full of gold bars.

Another web media that becomes more used by the Internauts is the blog.
PECIA: Le manuscrit médiéval is one example. It contains news, comments and scientific information about the world of medieval manuscripts. The blog is kept by a bunch of scholars that also host the PECIA website.

In my opinion, all three examples represent three good arguments for the idea that Internet is changing its nature from functioning as an unreliable source to a scientific community with open access research resources available wherever you are. The only problem we have with this huge information flow is that we are not able to follow it, to get down its strings and be confident that what it is said is true. I think in the near future several major problems will alarm researchers and make them feel uncomfortable about the information flow. One of these problem will concern exactly the authority of the source. Now, we are still living the excitement over the benefits of Internet, which are, by the way, real benefits.

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