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Bristlecone: A Practical Plan for Practical Dogfooders

In response to my vision of Bristlecone – a preservation plan for literary journals — Mary Molinaro wrote,

Her idea of a preservation plan for literary journals, named Bristlecone, has some positive aspects, but I think misses the mark on so many levels. [1] The basic goal of preserving a last copy of these literary journals is a lofty one, although perhaps impractical on a basic level. [2] As pointed out in her posting these literary journals are not collected widely even by academic libraries. Knowing which copies to withdraw and which to save won’t solve the problem if libraries don’t subscribe to the journals in the first place.

One of the interesting blind spots in LibraryLand is that we are near the last stop for the production chain for the materials we collect and share. Most of us don’t have real insights into the communities and cultures that produce these materials. In simplest terms, we don’t dogfood digital humanities.

In [1] above, Mary suggests that a last-copy plan for literary journals is “impractical.” She also suggests it is “lofty,” which to me implies idealistic but unachievable.

Yet I designed Bristlecone around small-range achievability.  I specifically do not say I am thinking of resolving every preservation problem we will face in the next century or millenium. I target a literature I know, and a community I participate in.  I carefully till a narrow row.

In [2], Mary assumes that Bristlecone lives and dies by the engagement of academic libraries. It would be great if libraries got on board this simple idea. But there are many other places journals are held other than libraries, and as Mary herself hints, the stewardship isn’t any better in LibraryLand than elsewhere.

Furthermore, if the LOCKSS threshold is only six issues wide, then we are well-covered. We already know the journals we’re talking about (sadly, libraries have nothing to do with this curation). We know the preservation depth level. In the digital world, we can easily measure and address any shortfalls in collection strength (even easier with digital collections shared by LOCKSS, where 1 collection can quickly become 6 or 12 or 48). For paper copies, we need to find holdings — whether in “libraries” or not (and I use those quotation marks quite meaningfully).

In the end of her post, Mary makes reference to “Those of us with our hearts in the digital humanities.” Though I fully champion my colleagues who promote literature, I would suggest to Mary that the people with the greatest stakes in “digital humanities” are those who create and consume them. It is to us I recommend we look for the survival of literature.

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  1. As a practical example: Today I got a note from a reader that the online journal Feminista! (“A journal of Feminist construction : art, literature, social commentary, philosophy, wit, humor and respect”) was no longer online. It was an online-only journal that ran for 10 years, and that was included in the holdings of 16 OCLC member libraries.

    The domain has been taken over by an ad-squatter, and I see no sign of any current site with the content. harvested at least some of it, but I’m not confident they got all of it, and as soon as the current domain owner puts in a robots exclusion, the backup will go dark.

    There are lots of other online-only journals that just disappear like this. I’d love to see more of them preserved. Those who create and consume these journals don’t always have or know about the tools that can preserve them; we in libraries do. We need to make better connections here.

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  2. Brendon wrote:

    As a student of Information Management I am curious to see how Google Books will contribute to the issue of digital preservation. Provided that they are legalized that is.

    What are your thoughts on Google Books as an alternative for preserving less known texts and journals?

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  3. Linda wrote:

    The things you suggest are starting points to discussing the problem, not the last word. The details could be worked out, if libraries saw the preservation and dissemination of knowledge as one of their primary missions. I have come to the bitter and crabbed conclusion that libraries was willing to shrug off these issues because they don’t want the spending and responsibilities of dealing with them. You don’t get faculty support, or, in the case of public libraries, great circ figures by working in partnership to take on important issues such as this. Don’t hold your breath and stand on one foot waiting for more support.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

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  1. [...] I was suggesting a year or two back in my Bristlecone idea posts, true preservation of the print artifacts within our scholarly record requires centralized curation [...]

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