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November 28, 2018

Facing the challenge of preserving digital scholarship

Webrecorder panel at IIPC WAC 2018. Photo courtesy of Martin Klein (@mart1nkle1n) via Twitter.

Stanford University Press (SUP) and Stanford Libraries staff recently presented at the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) Web Archiving Conference in Wellington, New Zealand.

The conference, which was held at the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mataurango, addressed the growing challenge of capturing the tremendous amount of material produced and delivered over the Web. For libraries and archives these are most often matters of scale: How much should be captured? How frequently updated? How do we store it? How do we continue to make it accessible? Sorting out the complexities of intellectual property in mass collection from the web becomes so onerous that often the material ends up in a dark archive.

Stanford University Press digital initiative carved out space at the conference to draw attention to the unique challenges of capturing the complex and multi-media rich projects that SUP is publishing.

The initiative was launched to address the lack of options available to scholars for publication of online interactive scholarly works. “Unlike typical open-access textbooks or ebooks, the digital works carry all the heft of a traditional monograph but in a format that leverages the potential of web-based digital tools and platforms,” said Jasmine Mulliken, Digital Production Associate at SUP, in her panel’s abstract. These works, according to Mulliken, could not be published in traditional monograph form because the arguments are embedded in the technology.

Three interactive scholarly works have been published by SUP to date and include Enchanting the Desert  (May 2016) by Nicholas Bauch, When Melodies Gather (June 2018) by Samuel Liebhaber, and Filming Revolution (October 2018) byAlisa Lebow. A fourth project, The Chinese Deathscape by Thomas S. Mullaney, is slated for publication in Spring 2019. These publications are made possible by a grant funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Exploring ways to archive and preserve the ephemeral works produced is also part of the anticipated grant outcomes. Through this process, the supDigital team has found Webrecorder, a Rhizome project also funded by the Mellon Foundation, to be especially compatible with the bespoke projects the Press is publishing.

Unlike other approaches to web archiving where sites are captured by automatically following links to site content, sub-pages and related pages, Webrecorder uses a hands-on approach; each dynamic configuration of pages is captured while clicking through a site, producing a high-fidelity experience. This carefully curated approach has proven essential for SUP projects like the recently published Filming Revolution that are resistant to other web archiving methods.

Joining Mulliken on the IIPC panel was moderator Nicole Coleman, the Digital Research Architect for Stanford Libraries and panelists, Anna Perricci of Webrecorder and Sumitra Duncan, head of the New York Art Resources Consortium’s web archiving program.  Mulliken details the panel discussion in her blog post Granular Web Archiving at IIPC.

Coleman, who also consults with SUP on digital strategies, argued in her paper that digital preservation of peer-reviewed interactive scholarly projects requires a significant shift in expectations for authors, publishers, and libraries. “Our association of longevity and durability with print publication has to be completely re-thought with digital projects that are volatile at the level of presentation, the underlying code, and, ultimately, bit rot,” said Coleman.

Just as the term “publish” has a new and ambiguous meaning with respect to the Web, assumptions about archiving, preservation and access, asserts Coleman, are also complicated in the digital realm. Coleman shares more in her post Paradigm Shift at IIPC.

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