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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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