Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Sept. 18, 2021, 6:11 a.m. Humanist 35.246 - Institutional Support for DH Websites

				                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 246.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                   		Hosted by DH-Cologne
                       www.dhhumanist.org
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org


    [1]    From: John Wall 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.245: Institutional Support for DH Websites (291)

    [2]    From: Alasdair Ekpenyong 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.245: Institutional Support for DH Websites (45)


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: 2021-09-17 17:43:51+00:00
        From: John Wall 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.245: Institutional Support for DH Websites

Matt, Gioele,

Thank you for your extremely helpful and thought-provoking interventions!
There is much here for me to understand and digest. Gioele, I will explore
your strategy with our Special Collections folks when we next meet (at the
moment, they keep postponing our next meeting, whatever that means!).
Further suggestions are welcomed.

I did, in fact, have a long talk with our Library's DH staff at the
beginning of this phase of the project and came away with a page-long data
management plan. This requirement is now a standard part of NEH grant
proposals. But that plan only included their pledge to archive the data
going into the site, not the site itself.

What we submitted made the NEH happy enough to give us the money. But all
of our discussion was about what they would promise to do at the end of the
project, not how we could help prepare the project for storage as we worked
on it. That would have been very helpful.  We developed the website in
WordPress because that is what the university provided us to use.

I must say that all this feels a bit like a problem of scale and
imagination. Our Library (all research libraries?) understands the
necessity of conserving data and knowledge as long as it comes in the form
of books, journals, etc. They spend millions to house and maintain
knowledge stored on paper. They hire staff and pay salaries to people to do
this. They have gotten accustomed to doing this so they take it for
granted.

Now, we have a new technology for storing data and knowledge, with its own
distinct challenges. One might think they would see this as an opportunity
to ask for larger budgets, rather than talk about the impossibility of
doing their basic job. But maybe I don't understand the scale of the
challenge.

JNW

On Fri, Sep 17, 2021 at 2:51 AM Humanist  wrote:

>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 245.
>         Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                                 Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                        www.dhhumanist.org
>                 Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
>
>
>     [1]    From: Matt Huculak 
>            Subject: Re: Institutional Support for DH Websites? (123)
>
>     [2]    From: Gioele Barabucci 
>            Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.241: institutional support for DH
> websites? (62)
>
>
>
> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>         Date: 2021-09-16 16:36:17+00:00
>         From: Matt Huculak 
>         Subject: Re: Institutional Support for DH Websites?
>
> Hello, John,
>
> First, I’d like to recognize the very real problem you are facing, a
> problem
> faced by countless scholars around the world as DH grapples with issues of
> long-
> term preservation.
>
> I’d also like to acknowledge that your university library’s response is
> in-line
> with the limitations faced by libraries and archives in terms of
> infrastructure
> and human labour. Archives have been faced with an information glut even
> BEFORE
> the digital turn (see articles on MPLP, for example:
> https://www.archivists.org/prof-education/pre-
> readings/IMPLP/AA68.2.MeissnerGreene.pdf).
>
> In short, Libraries face a tremendous challenge: every DH project is
> unique and
> uses bespoke software stacks to house those projects (I see your umbrella
> project uses “Wordpress,” for example). The costs of maintaining, securing,
> updating sites like Wordpress (which will have numerous dependencies) that
> will
> be out of date in a matter of years (sometimes months) is an insurmountable
> challenge faced by the entire community. In short, it’s really easy to
> preserve
> paper and other material supports; however, very few scholars recognize the
> efforts and costs needed to preserve the digital (see Matthew Kirschenbaum
> for
> various discussions on this problem).
>
> The good news is that there are projects, like the Endings Project (full
> disclosure: I’m a part of this project), that are providing resources and
> toolkits for DH scholars in order to think about the long-term
> preservation of
> their work: https://endings.uvic.ca/. The site has a list of basic
> principles to
> ensure the longevity of DH work: https://endings.uvic.ca/principles.html.
>
> Unfortunately, in many cases, what Librarians and archives face is that
> they are
> approached at the END of DH projects rather than at the beginning when we
> could
> have had an impact on decisions for the long-term preservation and
> accessibility
> of DH work. A scholar will approach us and say, “here’s this massive
> software
> stack I built (usually without documentation): preserve it.” 9 times out
> of 10,
> we have to respond, this is beyond our current abilities. The Wordpress or
> Drupal site is a security ticking timebomb that no reasonable institution
> could
> take on. That’s not helpful for you now, but there are things you can do
> to help
> your librarians and archivists: staticize your site.
>
> Static HTML sites are remarkably resilient and have withstood the test of
> time.
> It’s not easy, but it is possible. Approaching your library and archive
> with a
> flat site that only requires a directory IS possible to preserve (see:
> https://endings.uvic.ca/principles.html).
>
> If I were working with you, I’d also recommend using an institutional
> Archive-it
> subscription to crawl your site for “preservation” in the archive-it system
> (but, your library is dependent on that service persisting for the long
> term).
>
> For other librarians and archivists, we are working on documentation for
> you,
> too. We face issues along the lines of, “what are we actually signing up
> for?”
> Who, actually, has the authority to “donate” a site to the library when DH
> projects rarely have a single contributor or lead over time. In short, who
> owns
> the material? If hundreds of students and scholars participated in the
> production of a DH project, did they sign over their intectual property for
> someone else to claim ownership over it? These are thorny issues that John
> Durno
> and Corey Davis at UVic Libraries are working on.
>
> With best wishes,
>
> M.
>
> J. Matthew Huculak, PhD, MLIS
> Head, Advanced Research Services
> University of Victoria  Libraries
> (https://www.uvic.ca/library)
> T 250-472-4970 |
> orcid.org/0000-0002-2717-1112
>
>
>   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 241.
>          Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
>                                                Hosted by DH-Cologne
>                         www.dhhumanist.org
>                  Submit to:
> humanist@dhhumanist.org
>
>
>
>
>          Date: 2021-09-15 15:51:41+00:00
>          From: John Wall >
>          Subject: Institutional Support for DH Websites?
>
> I would like to know from folks on this list who are working on digital
> humanities projects that result in websites what sort of support they are
> getting from their institutional libraries for maintaining their websites
> once the projects are done.
>
> My university’s library says they will archive files created as part of the
> project and they will archive a snapshot of the websites, but they will not
> support keeping the websites live by housing them on their servers.
>
> This means that the websites for my project, which was supported by 2 NEH
> DH grants and represents over 15 years of work by a team of nearly a
> hundred people, now live on because my department head is willing to pay
> rent for them on a university server. But she tells me she will retire in a
> couple of years and that she cannot guarantee that her successor will
> continue to be supportive. So all that work may cease to be available in
> two years.
>
> This seems to me to represent a refusal on our library’s part to meet one
> of their basic missions, which is the acquisition, conservation, and
> dissemination of knowledge. They spend millions of dollars building large
> buildings to house books, installing shelves to store them and air quality
> systems to preserve them, and creating systems for retrieving and making
> them available to users. But they are not willing to develop systems to
> maintain websites.
>
> I would like to know what experiences you folks are having in this area. If
> you are curious, all our work is now available through this umbrella site:
> https://virtualdonne.chass.ncsu.edu/
>
> JNW
> --
> *John N. Wall*
> Professor of English Literature
> NC State University
> Principal Investigator for
> The Virtual St Paul's Cathedral Project
> https://vpcathedral.chass.ncsu.edu/
> The Virtual Paul's Cross Project
> https://vpcross.chass.ncsu.edu/
>
>
>
> --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>         Date: 2021-09-16 07:56:48+00:00
>         From: Gioele Barabucci 
>         Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.241: institutional support for DH
> websites?
>
> On 16/09/21 07:25, Humanist wrote:
> > My university’s library says they will archive files created as part of
> the
> > project and they will archive a snapshot of the websites, but they will
> not
> > support keeping the websites live by housing them on their servers.
>
> Dear John,
>
> in your very specific case (a set of WordPress sites with no particular
> back-end functionality), taking a snapshot of the pages, shutting down
> the current WordPress instances, and serving the static pages via a
> shared server is a valid and proven solution for long-time preservation.
>
> As long as the pages get served at their original URLs, the users will
> never notice any difference, except the non-working search functionality
> (but that can be replaced by carefully integrating a public search engine).
>
> The marginal cost of hosting a set of static pages is pretty much zero
> and it would be easy for an institution to promise to keep them
> available for the foreseeable future ("forever").
>
> The real problem is maintaining for an indefinite period of time Web
> sites that are generated by some bespoke back-end application (this does
> not appear to be the case of Virtual Donne).
>
> In that case the parading changes. You are no longer asking the
> institution to "store fossils" but to "maintain a pet".
>
> Storing fossils (preserving and publishing static pages) is easy: you
> set up a humidity-controlled chamber and make it big enough. In this way
> you can easily store millions of fossils. To the librarians they all
> look more or less the same and none of them need special care. If you
> get another donation of fossils you just store near the others.
> Maintaining such a system requires some space but not a lot of personnel.
>
> Maintaining a pet (preserving a set of back-end applications that
> produces Web pages on the fly) is a much onerous task. Each pet is
> different (different software, different libraries, different languages,
> different OSs) and they must be fed often (security updates, hardware
> migrations, incompatibility in newer releases of programming languages).
> To an institution like a library, maintaining such a living organism is
> probably 1) outside their mission (but that could be changed) and 2)
> incompatible with their budget (pretty much every new inherited project
> would require new hires, new permanent positions with new competences).
>
> When I discuss these topics with researchers who are starting a project,
> I always suggest a compromise, an hybrid approach: set everything up so
> that you can provide many advanced functionalities during the active
> lifetime of the project, but be prepared to switch into "archival mode"
> once the project is over. In archival mode all *content* should still be
> accessible, but some *functionalities* (e.g. search) will be lost.
>
> It seems to me that the project Virtual Donne has been set up in such a
> way, so moving from hosting a WordPress installation to a hosting static
> Web pages should not affect the users of the project. (As long as the
> library correctly manages the technicalities of the transition.)
>
> Regards,
>
> --
> Prof. Dr. Gioele Barabucci (gioele.barabucci@ntnu.no)
> Associate Professor of Computer Science
> NTNU — Norwegian University of Science and Technology


--
*John N. Wall*
Professor of English Literature
NC State University
Principal Investigator for
The Virtual St Paul's Cathedral Project
https://vpcathedral.chass.ncsu.edu/
The Virtual Paul's Cross Project
https://vpcross.chass.ncsu.edu/

--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: 2021-09-17 09:47:52+00:00
        From: Alasdair Ekpenyong 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.245: Institutional Support for DH Websites

I would like to second Dr. Huculak’s comment:

“however, very few scholars recognize the
efforts and costs needed to preserve the digital (see Matthew Kirschenbaum for
various discussions on this problem)”

Kirschenbaum is one of my favorite DH scholars to read. I think he has an essay
called "Grammatology of the Hard Drive” about kind of the semiotics or semantics
of computer code and computer technology. I’ll have to go back and read what in
his corpus discusses the question of DH preservation.

I’m a library science masters student who has specialized in the digital
humanities during his studies. I’m expecting to graduate in December 2021—just
weeks away. The discussion topic of how libraries should work to preserve DH
websites is therefore right up my alley; I just wish I could contribute a little
more but don’t have much experience yet managing libraries. My MLIS internship
was at Sewanee: The University of the South’s digital humanities program, so I
do have that experience to comment on.
(https://new.sewanee.edu/southernstudies/)

Sewanee did a good job involving the library kind of from the beginning with the
new “Sewanee Black History” DH website they were creating.
(https://blacksewanee.org). But of course not every DH project will have the
luxury of being able to speak with the library at the start of the project. And
scholars change institutions and so on.

The Sewanee DH scholars seemed to really like, use, and recommend the DH
publishing service called Omeka. (As well as Scalar and Voyant.) I wonder, to
Dr. Huculak, given your assessment of Wordpress’ low preservability, have you
heard about Omeka, and if so what’s your assessment of Omeka’s library
preservability?

From my mentors’ work, this is an example of a website built off Scalar and
Voyant: https://sleepfictions.digital.uic.edu/sleep/digitizing-sleep-
culture/index

and this is an example of a website built off Omeka:
https://archive.blackcraftspeople.org/.

And Dr. Barabucci’s suggestions about saving static pages seem like a great
solution for the original poster.

Alasdair




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