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David Rosenthal: Stepping Twice Into The Same River

Last month, David Rosenthal, chief scientist on the LOCKSS Project, gave the keynote address entitled Stepping Twice Into The Same River to the ACM/IEEE Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (JCDL) and the annual International Conference on Asia-Pacific Digital Libraries (ICADL) (or just ICDL/ICADL!) in Queensland, Australia. It was wide-ranging, thoughtful and provocative — in short everything you’d want in a keynote to a major international digital library conference.

David hit on publishers and the publishing industry and practices, scholarly communication, digital preservation, the intersection between technology and economics and the current state and future of libraries. He makes a great argument that the upheaval and disruption currently affecting the 3 parallel fields of publishing, libraries, and archives (what he terms “technological and economic discontinuity”) creates the perfect opportunity for radical technological change toward a collaborative archival academic cloud in order to define the future of information access and preservation (at least in terms of universities and scholarly communication) in beneficial and long-term sustainable ways.

Here are some main points that I gleaned from David’s presentation:

  1. publishers are in a similar boat to news organizations and have sacrificed long-term viability for short term economic gain — and that’s going to ultimately destroy them;
  2. libraries and archives need to focus their preservation goals on dynamic services rather than the static content:

    “…it’s less about what we are preserving and more about how preserved information is accessed. Less about HTML and other formats, and more about HTTP and other protocols. The reason is that static information is a degenerate case of dynamic information; a system designed for dynamic information can easily handle static information. The converse isn’t true.”

  3. distributed digital preservation and archives offer the more economically and technologically sound opportunities in the long run;
  4. data preservation will take steady long-term funding;
  5. since ingest is a major cost for any digital preservation system, universities need to start seeing their Web space/infrastructure in terms of academic clouds rather than leasing from commercial cloud companies like Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2):

    “Unless something dramatic happens, scholars who want to publish services wrapped around their, or other people’s, data will take the path of least resistance and use Amazon’s services. Miss a credit card payment, your data and service are history. Worse, do we really want to end up with Amazon owning the world’s science and culture?”…

    …What Universities get for the extra cost is the permanence they need. The permanence comes from the fact that the University already has its hands on the data and the services in which it is wrapped, instantiated in highly robust and preservable hardware. Thus, no ingest costs and very low preservation costs. With the model of Amazon and a separate archiving service, as well as paying Amazon, Universities have to pay the archiving service, and pay the ingest costs. When these extra costs are taken in to account, because the ingest costs dominate, it is likely that Amazon would be more expensive.

I highly recommend that folks read David’s keynote at least twice. there are a lot of pearls of wisdom in there. I think he makes a compelling case for a viable digital future for scholarly communication, one in which libraries and archives can play a vital role.

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