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Postmodern Values that Threaten National Data Archives

Two sessions at the Edinburgh conference helped formulate in my mind some concerns that I have about the future of data archives. Together, the plenary session in which John Curtice described his research about postmodern values and Session G3 on Transforming Data Archives unified for me (i) ideas about anti-institutional values expressed in postmodernism and (ii) current organizational threats to data archives.

I have been troubled by the struggles we have confronted in Canada to establish a national institution to preserve data. I am convinced that an impediment to our success is directly related to a sentiment of anti-institutionalism that exists in conjunction with the technology of the Internet. This has led me to write an essay in which I have constructed an argument exposing the anti-institutional values exhibited in the Internet and the threat that they pose to data archives. As an example, I discuss how the concept of "self-archiving" promoted through digital repositories is a misconceived idea rooted in postmodernist values of individualism.

I have submitted this essay to the IQ for consideration and have received in the interim consent to release a pre-print version in conjunction with this entry on IASSIST Communiqué. I will propose in the comments to this entry some possible actions that could become part of the IASSIST Strategic Plan as a line of defense for data archives.

This entry also tests how we might use the IASSIST blog to discuss issues that should be addressed in the IASSIST Strategic Plan. Please join in this debate.


Excellent piece, Chuck. It

Excellent piece, Chuck. It struck me as an updated echo of or complement to a plenary address at the IASSIST meeting in Odense, in 1997. Trudy Huskamp Peterson spoke provocatively in her address, "Preservation, Access, and Multinationals." Dr. Peterson is a former Acting Archivist of the U.S. She focussed on the impact of the emergence of multinationals -- international government organizations, international business, and international philanthropic and other nongovernmental organizations -- on the preservation of records or archives. You may want to add globalization, along with postmodern individualism and the Internet, as part of the threat (but possibly also part of the solution) to the challenges currently facing institutional data archives. Trudy's talk was published in the IQ, Vol. 21, No. 2.

I think the idea of a

I think the idea of a brochure with statements of principles is a very good idea. There are numerous issues we need to articulate more clearly to our related communities. I think we also need to support efforts to bring the digital life cycle view of digital resources into the earliest stages of research efforts to encourage investigators to seek funding for perparing digital resources for inlcusion in digital archives for the purposes of long term perservation, as well as for locating, repurposing, and replication. There is so much work to be done in each of these areas and we need to coordinate our work with that of other professional organizations and funded projects and centers who also are articulating the details and standards of digital archiving, digital preservation repositories, and metadata standards for archival event management. There is very good work going on out there in digital curation and digital preservation, people are getting funded and systems are being developed that take these principles into the core of development. We need more of a data presence in these initiatives. I also think we need to be wherever there is activity related to the repurposing of data in teaching contexts, and in making the digital archive infrastructure 'play' well within learning environments as well as research environments. For example, we need to articulate use cases of data in systems like Sakai so that preservation and teaching are seen as related objectives, not separate content streams. And thanks Chuck for getting these ideas out there for discussion

Thanks for writing this

Thanks for writing this excellent and timely piece! I think it does a great job of addressing issues that are important to our community. I heard recently of a university library that was rejecting the idea of setting up an "institutional repository" with the model of individuals depositing individual papers in it. The reason for this was that so many libraries have built repositories hoping that faculty will deposit papers but found that few do. This library was taking a different tactic of building a "repository" for managing "digital assets" already in the library's possession. This is leading the library to choose tools that allow it to a) ingest thousands of files at a time, not one at a time; b) manage very rich metadata, not simple user-typed minimal metadata; and c) manage the use and re-use of the materials in a variety of ways, not just file storage and file-delivery. I think this experience reinforces your points about the differences between approaches of self-archiving and true institutional commitment to data delivery and data stewardship. If we are not careful about how we describe our long-term goals we could choose the wrong tools (those based on individual self-archiving rather than those with a rich set of options for life-cycle management of primary resources and delivery of data). Thanks again, Chuck, for a great article!

IASSIST members need to

IASSIST members need to articulate repeatedly, especially in today's postmodern cultures, the role of research data archives. Our organization must be vigilant to ensure that a proper balance of technology that enables individualism is applied in the context of institutional support. We need to communicate clearly the value that data archives perform in the preservation of data and in their custodial contributions in the life cycle of research data. This will entail special advocacy on the part of IASSIST members to promote in the wider scientific community, and indeed society itself, the importance of institutions to preserve research data. Undertaking such an educational mission falls within the IASSIST Strategic Plan. Specifically, Strategic Direction I.3 addresses the need to expand our organization’s educational activities to include advocacy. “IASSIST has a responsibility to use its expertise to educate and advocate on issues of importance to it membership.[p. 9]” One plan would be to publish a brochure on the preservation principles proposed in the essay that can be distributed at the professional meetings of stakeholders in the wider research community. Another activity would be to create a poster presentation to accompany the brochure that can be displayed at these same meetings. Pursing a mission to shore up data archives as institutions also belongs under Strategic Direction III.3: Advocate on Issues of Digital Preservation. “With over thirty years of experience in preserving digital collections, the IASSIST community has an obligation to share its experiences, exchange knowledge and develop partnerships with others in the larger digital preservation community.[p. 12]” We need a membership watch-group that will monitor the dialogue about data preservation in various research communities and a response team that will put forth our preservation principles in these discussions. Without engaging these communities, we miss the opportunity to help shape directions and solutions to digital preservation. Another activity along this line of advocacy is to create and maintain a bibliography of reports and statements on digital preservation. This resource would help us monitor developments in this area across disciplines. Our organization cannot be passive about this task. The values of postmodernism pose a threat to our institutions dedicated to preserving research data and are contrary to the interests of researchers who genuinely want data preserved. It is incumbent upon us to challenge these competing values.

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