Seems I turned up just in time for the UKOLN IWMW 2008 event at Aberdeen. The sun was shining, weather was sweet, and the University buildings in Old Aberdeen looked magnificent. Not only outside – the Conference Hall in the Old King’s Library is a beautiful example of state of the art conferencing facilities, complete with individual microphones and voting panels – as impressive a debating chamber as I’ve seen since we attended DLM 1999, at the European Commission’s Charlemagne Conference Centre in Brussels.
To warm up my brain before the afternoon’s PoWR workshop on preserving web resources, I sampled James Currall’s enjoyable discussion of web archiving, and also a talk on Institutional Repositories by Stephanie Taylor of UKOLN and RRT.
In The Tangled Web is but a Fleeting Dream … but then again…, James Currall covered the essentials of web archiving in a clear and engaging way, drawing comparisons between the survival of WWI soldiers’ diaries, and the blogs of present-day servicemen in Iraq. Another example given was the trials and tribulations of the website for the Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit: outsourced, host ceased trading, domain name lapsed, original website content dependent on outdated Coldfusion and Access environment. Thankfully a remote-harvested, static HTML image of the site does survive.
Why have there not been more conspicuous successes in web archiving in the past two decades? Partly because it can be difficult to decide exactly whether and when a website should be treated as an authentic (and authenticable) record, a publication channel, or a publication itself – among other things. Partly because there are always waves of innovation continually washing up more interesting things to do. Partly because archiving is a policy issue, yet is generally addressed as purely a techn(olog)ical problem (where it is addressed at all).
It was reassuring, as ever, to hear it said again that there is not one single tool that addresses all possible web preservation issues (behaviour, dynamic content, scripts, versioning, emerging standards, etc.); that depending on the Internet Archive is at best a partial and risky solution; and that “whatever you do is likely to be imperfect”.
James put the chamber’s electronic voting systems to entertaining and informative use with a number of snap votes: would, for example, present-day soldiers’ blogs still be available in 90 years’ time? Of course I could confidently vote ‘yes’, knowing that the publication of the JISC PoWR handbook is barely months away! Other ad hoc vox pops revealed that the audience was about as familiar with OAIS as with the Book of Ezra.
James is director of the Espida Project, and this was a timely reminder that we must consider the relevance of that project’s work on assessing and controlling costs to the guidance we’re assembling for the forthcoming PoWR handbook. James and I share what must be a fairly unusual distinction of citing Thomas Carlyle in support of our cause in recent presentations. Unlike James, however, I don’t bear such an uncanny likeness to the great man.
Stephanie Taylor’s talk, Institutional Repositories: Asset or Obstacle?, gave us a brief history of the Insitutional Repository, and a well-paced explanation of the value and purpose of IRs – rather more substantial, thankfully, than my Bluffer’s Guide To IRs last year. I was initially intrigued that her presentation might be leading to the conclusions that IRs are “obstacles”, but I quickly realised the alarmist title was rhetorical in nature. The talk was, among other things, an engaging appeal to the better nature of web managers and other techies to appreciate the value of, and issues faced by librarians.
In fact, the emergence of repositories, and the recognition of their place among institutional information systems, is a watershed in the evolution of electronic resources. Leaving it to researchers and teachers to manage what they create – variously on websites, blogs, Google Docs, thumb drive, or what you will – is no more sensible now than it ever was, if we want to ensure that they are consistently managed and accessible, let alone think about their preservation over the longer term.
There are many ways to approach it, none the only right and proper way. You may add extra value to it, through your choice of software or implementation (in-house or outsourced), or by using Web-Two-Oh-ish features and services. Institutional Repositories are only “one of many small conversations going on in different ways in different mediums”, but the need for an institution to manage valuable academic outputs in an orderly way is unarguable.
However one tweet that flew over the Twitosphere during the afternoon suggests that there may be more to do in assessing the pros and cons of different approaches – particularly the merits or otherwise of Google’s omnipresent panaceas. Mike Ellis commented: “I’ve never been clear why it is that institutions would trust a repository vendor more than someone like Google….?”
I won’t write up the JISC-PoWR workshop – the results of that will be on the JISC-PoWR blog - except to say that Marieke succinctly summarised the many web preservation issues we’ve accumulated, while Brian found effective waysto draw out issues and concerns around the growing range of Web 2.0 applications finding favour among staff and students at our institutions; and we were pleased that both Stephanie and James were able to contribute to the discussion.
And then it was off to the Aberdeen City Art Gallery for a glass of wine or three and some inspirational art….