Articles in Vol. XXV, No. 3
From the sorting table to the web: The NPAP research data portal for ceramics
AutoCAD® and the Resurrection of an Old Excavation
Electronic Publication — Addendum III
The Blog in Academic Settings
The Redford Conference in Archaeology
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Electronic Publication — Addendum III
Harrison Eiteljorg, II
(See email contacts page for the author's email address.)
Regular readers of the CSA Newsletter will be familiar with the series of articles about electronic publication that Andrea Vianello and I published here, beginning in January of 2011 and ending with two addenda, each individually authored (one in January of 2012 and the other in April of that year). See the following articles, in chronological order: "Project Publication on the Web — I", "Project Publication on the Web — II", "Project Publication on the Web — III", "Project Publication on the Web — IV", "Project Publication on the Web - Addendum," and "Project Publication on the Web — Addendum II."
I was asked to speak about this topic at the Redford Conference in Archaeology at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA, last October (see Mundigler, Chris, "The Redford Conference in Archaeology" in this issue at csanet.org/newsletter/winter13/nlw1305.html), and I focused on two comments from the series written by Mr. Vianello and myself. More than that, I reconsidered some of the comments made in those earlier articles, and I think it important to revisit the issue once again in this venue.
In the first of our articles ("Project Publication on the Web — I," XXIII, 3; January, 2011; csanet.org/newsletter/winter11/nlw1102.html; last accessed 2 January, 2013) this was said:
Will the web site be the ultimate repository of the underlying data from the project? It seems natural to assume that to be the case, but letting the web site be the final repository requires taking on a very large additional responsibility. Archival preservation of digital records remains technically demanding and time-consuming work. It also assumes that there will be people available to maintain the materials long after the authors and principle investigators have ceased to be in charge. Thus, it may be preferable to make arrangements with an archival repository to take responsibility for the records in due course. If so, those plans must also be made very early in the history of the project to prevent duplication of labor and to be sure that the files to be preserved are in the correct formats. This is a more important issue than may be supposed since many file formats used in the course of a project may be superior for the project but not for long-term preservation and access.
The issue of archival storage was again raised in the third article ("Project Publication on the Web — III," XXIV, 2; September, 2011; csanet.org/newsletter/fall11/nlf1101.html; last accessed 2 January, 2013):
How will data be archived?
We begin with the question of data archiving. Will the archiving be done locally or at an archival repository? We strongly recommend the latter. No matter how strongly the project directors may feel, they cannot ensure long-term care of the files after moving on, whether to another project, another institution, retirement, or a more permanent new resting place. A repository, however, should be able to guarantee, at the least, that the files presented to them will be cared for and/or given over to some other institution for proper care. We believe strongly that the archival repository should be willing to preserve the original files as well as any derivative files or exported data. The files actually produced by the project represent more than the data; they are also the best evidence of methodology, and their organization can shed important light on the finds.1
Taking those comments about archival preservation to heart, I had some time ago set out to archive the final report of the CSA Propylaea Project and all the files that were produced in the course of the work: CAD files, databases, images, and PDF files. Doing so, however, has turned out to be more difficult than I had imagined. First, of course, is the problem of finding an archival organization prepared to take the files. I have found no such organization in the United States. That is, tDAR (the Digital Archaeological Record) provides an archival repository, but tDAR will not accept CAD files. (Please note, this is not an unwillingness to commit to the long-term preservation of CAD files; it is an unwillingness to accept them at all.) Two other American data storage facilities for archaeological materials, OpenContext and OCHRE, do not actually accept and preserve files from projects in forms and styles chosen by the project. OpenContext accepts data from projects, and those data are incorporated into OpenContext data tables concerning various artifact types via a process not intended to preserve the original files. OCHRE provides systems for putting data into standard formats from the outset so that those standard files may be stored. Thus, neither OpenContext nor OCHRE provided a suitable venue for the Propylaea files.
As I was continuing the work to find a suitable archival repository (a task that remains unfinished as I write), I was also preparing my remarks for the Redford Conference in Archaeology. I realized then that the comments made in the previous articles about publication had not been strong enough. I would now argue — as I did in Tacoma — that arrangements for archival preservation must be made before work on a project has commenced. The directors of any project must, from the very outset, know what the archival repository will and will not do, what kinds of files will be accepted, what kinds of text documents will be used, how materials can be organized, and so on. Final publication, if electronic, assumes a repository as the home for that publication, in whatever form or forms; understanding the limits imposed by the repository is therefore a critical starting point. Those limits will ultimately be imposed on any and all projects submitted to the repository. This means that one of the first jobs of a project director is finding an appropriate archival repository. Indeed, I think that may not only be an important first step but a very difficult one. The kinds of files used may, for instance, be circumscribed by the choice of archival repository, and that may or may not be acceptable to the project.
I should be clear that I would not expect an archival repository to remain unchanged between the starting and ending dates of any project. Changing technology will surely yield changes in the processes and procedures used by any repository. Therefore, consultation is not only an important beginning; it must continue throughout the life of the project.
This may seem an inordinately pessimistic point of view. I am convinced, though, that it is realistic, not pessimistic. Archival preservation of our data is a basic requirement. Therefore, the archival function must be a duty that is taken into consideration from the beginning. Its impact upon publication plans is clear, broad, and critical.
-- Harrison Eiteljorg, II
1. We made no mention of the LOCKSS (Lots Of Copies Keep Stuff Safe) system in the articles. Some scholars believe that there need be no formal archival system and assume that anything of value will be stored in many places in the Internet and will be made safe by that less formal system of having many copies scattered around the Internet. This, however, depends upon two untested premises. One, that all data will actually be copied and discoverable on the internet. Two, that the chain of custody of such data files will be clear. I would argue that, absent a repository dedicated to accepting and preserving archaeological files, there simply cannot be certainty that any given file will be preserved or that any file obtained is the actual file from a project, the original file without additions, emendations, "corrections," omissions, or other substantive changes. Indeed, I believe that expecting either, not to mention both, of those things is an enormous, unjustifiable leap of faith. Return to text.
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