Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Sept. 17, 2021, 7:51 a.m. Humanist 35.245 - Institutional Support for DH Websites

				                  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be out of date in a matter of years (sometimes months) is an insurmountable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


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