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Old Software, New Apps . . . and Shakespeare!

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The following is a guest post written by Jessica Edington, a summer intern at the Library of Congress.

In my summer internship in the Library’s Humanities and Social Services Division I’ve worked with “old media,” or soon-to-be old media. One of my projects is helping sort and catalogue the pre-1998 software in the Machine Readable Collection. Once all of this software was new—many of the boxes boast phrases like “Cutting Edge!” and “The Best Program Money Can Buy!”—yet they’ve been obsolete for decades. The Library only has a few machines that can even read the software anymore, and the materials are mostly kept as artifacts—used to study how software once worked rather than used as it was originally intended.

The ghosts of software past. Photo by Jessica Edington.

So when LC Reference Librarian Abby Yochelson invited me to a talk on “new” new media, I was excited to venture out of the realm of floppy discs and dusty software manuals. On July 9, Renaissance scholar Katherine Rowe of Bryn Mawr College gave a presentation, “Shakespeare in the Digital Age.” She discussed an app for the iPad which renders William Shakespeare’s The Tempest into a searchable, social, multimedia experience. The app contains the full text of the play, which users can search, highlight, annotate, and bookmark. A class can write commentary and store it within the app, or share it to a Facebook group. Users can listen to a full professional reading of the text, with different interpretations, as well as read commentaries from prominent scholars, teachers, and the actors themselves. You can isolate lines by character, theme, or even the quantity of scholarly discussion around it.

A flock of floppy discs quietly gather, awaiting their revenge. Photograph by Jessica Edington

One of the biggest concerns about Rowe’s app from her audience, however, was the question: what will happen to student commentary within the app if the app ceases to exist? Is there a permanent repository for this new form of scholarship that is growing on modern platform? Rowe agreed it was a major concern of hers. Right now, the Library wouldn’t collect the data within the individual downloads of her app—but should it? Are these new, emerging forms of interactive electronic literature something the Library should be concerned with? After all, I’m using new media right now. And as a twenty-year old who was born in 1993, these apps are my floppy discs; if the Library collected them twenty years ago, will there be an intern twenty years from now who will wonder what to do with apps like Dr. Rowe’s?


  1. A very thoughtful and carefully crafted guest post! Poses interesting questions about the life span of various forms of media.

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