Digital Preservation and Online Journals
Paper documents can be neglected for long periods of time, digital documents on the other hand, cannot. Digital documents have to be transferred to new storage media or software environments in order to keep the document accessible. Storage media and software expire rapidly. This problem is called digital preservation and revolves around the question; how can we keep our cultural heritage accessible for next generations? This question especially intrigues me when it comes to online journals. So many wonderful articles are written for open access journals, but who knows how long these digital documents, documents that function as our scientific memory sort to say, will be accessible?
The problem of digital preservation is two folded. On the one hand is the preservation of digital documents expensive because of the ever-expending amount of attention and expertise it takes to keep the digital documents accessible. Digital documents consist of two components, the source (data) and the process (which refers to the combination of hardware, software and configurations that make it possible to access the documents). When the source and the process of a digital document come together performance takes place (which refers to the way the document is represented on your screen). But how can you preserve the process of a digital document when storage media and software expire so rapidly? This is the second problem of digital preservation.
The open access journal Firstmonday.org pays special attention to digital preservation on their site. Firstmonday.org, a journal that is only published digitally, has therefore only digital archives and they use the LOCKSS system (Lots Of Copies Keep Stuff Safe) in order to keep their articles accessible. How does this system work? And does this system solve the problem of digital preservation?
The LOCKSS system helps to keep documents accessible firstly by migrating the source of a document (the data) to another source format. Secondly the LOCKSS system preserves the performance of the document through the process of emulation. One would argue that by using the process of migration as well as emulation that the preservation and the accessibility of the authentic document are kept safe. But these methods are still in early stages of development and therefore are not yet completely reliable. So the question that I posed in the beginning of this blogpost stays unanswered. And there is much research needed into the problem of digital preservation in order to keep our cultural and scientific heritage safe.