Institutional Repositories: preservation vs. publishing

information, like water, finds its level.

Ever since I have been involved with IRs, this question has nagged at me.  Is it a publishing platform, or a preservation one?  The answer is both, but how you think of its primary purpose informs a lot about how you make decisions on how to run it.  Its a classic strategy/tactics thing.  Of your strategy is to preserve items, you are going to make different decisions than if your primary purpose is about access.  To be clear, when I talk about ‘publishing’, in this case I mean making things accessible, both technically and with an appropriate licencing framework.

At Canterbury we use Dspace, an open source, community developed, IR platform.  As most of these lind of things are, its a bit of a beast, but its main putpose is to hold and make things available on the web.  It also talks – though all the APIs librarians know and love – to other systems, things like OAI-PMH, REST, RSS…  The point is everything there is for people to share.

Some libraries in NZ are moving to a system called Rosetta.  Its proprietary, but the company that sells it is well ensconced in NZ, providing a number of libraries catalogues.   Well, the are not called catalogues anymore, but, y’know.  Rosetta is a DAMS; Digital Asset Management System.  Rather than a place to put things so they can be found, this is a place to put things so they can be kept.  Keeping ‘born digital’ items is quite tricky when you start thinking about it,  and it provides a number of advanced things for the digital  archivist.

As I write this I think I’m working out what bugs me about the question.  The publishers default to open – things are there to be found and read (and hopefully shared).  The preservationists default to closed – the ‘archive copy’ is carefully guarded from potential change and corruption.  Though that goes against my instincts, I see the potential value.

MatthiasKabel – CC BY-SA 3.0

I’ve seen Trajan’s column.  Both in Rome, weathered by acid rain and dirty from vehicle pollution.  I’ve also see the cast of it in the V&A, which feels almost pristine.  The original has degraded, but a Victorian cast, made out of a mould on behest of Napoleon III is in great nick – kept inside and preserved.

The original installation (1873) in the Cast Court of the plaster cast reproduction of  Trajan's Column around its brick core, by Monsieur Oudry, about 1864. Museum no. REPRO.1864-128, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The original installation (1873) in the Cast Court of the plaster cast reproduction of Trajan’s Column around its brick core, by Monsieur Oudry, about 1864. Museum no. REPRO.1864-128, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London (:P)

In fact there are a number of copies spread around the world, I might have seen the one in the Louvre as well.  This idea of an archive/preservation copy, and an ‘access copy’ makes sense – especially when though lossy digital formats (JPEG, I’m looking at you) so much info can be lost, faster than the acid rain from Vespa exhausts can eat a stone column.

However, the rampant copying (at least they didn’t actually steal the original this time) has lead to a much better understanding of the item itself.  How I wish someone had made a mould of the Buddhas of Bamiyian.

Keeping copies of non sensitive material under lock and key might ensure things like provenance, but there are other ways to do that – the blockchain, for example.  It no real reason not let a copy of the original free to find where it best lies, because information, like water, finds its level.

This is a bit of a muddled post, but its helped me better understand why I’m instinctively cautious about adopting a system like Rosetta.  I’m sure its fantastic at what it does, but I’m at heart a librarian, wanting to make things available, and in doing that in a professional way, ensuring its preservation, rather than cloistering it, and missing out on its potential value through restricting access.

 

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