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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: May ::
A Problem of Access
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0305  Tuesday, 20 May 2008

[1] 	From:	Michael Best <
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	Date:	Monday, 19 May 2008 13:33:27 -0700
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0301 A Problem of Access

[2] 	From:	Larry Weiss <
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	Date:	Monday, 19 May 2008 19:15:30 -0400
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0301 A Problem of Access

[3] 	From:	Matthew Steggle <
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	Date:	Tuesday, 20 May 2008 10:30:19 +0100
	Subj:	RE: SHK 19.0298 A Problem of Access


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Michael Best <
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Date:		Monday, 19 May 2008 13:33:27 -0700
Subject: 19.0301 A Problem of Access
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0301 A Problem of Access

David Lindley's question on the potential loss of electronic data is 
indeed a good one, and has elicited thoughtful answers from several on 
the list. The continuing viability of electronic texts is a major 
concern of any scholarly electronic publisher.

David Evett's comment about his increasingly inaccessible 5 1/4" 
floppies is an experience many of us have shared. On the Internet 
Shakespeare site, the basis of our growing database of Shakespeare in 
performance was Kenneth Rothwell's work in his _ Shakespeare on Screen: 
An International Filmography and Videography_ (1990). Kenneth generously 
provided us permission to use his work, along with his original 5 1/4" 
floppies -- with the data in the obsolete program WordStar. Another 
Shakespeare/Film scholar, Jose Ramon Diaz-Fernandez, was able to convert 
the data into Word files, which we were then able to use to import the 
information into our database, after some further conversion. (You can 
check out our database at 
<http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Theater/sip/index.html >.)

All this, however, took a whole lot of time and energy. Our main 
response to the threat that future changes in technology will render 
earlier forms of electronic data useless is to encode as much as we can 
in a format that will be reliably modified to work on any future system. 
We use the standard XML (eXtensible Markup Language) because its 
structure includes information on what the encoding means as well as the 
encoding itself. In Gabriel Egan's phrase, the files are "self- 
descriptive." Thus, future computers and future software may need 
different instructions in order to display the texts correctly, but all 
that will need to be changed will be the process, not the basic texts 
themselves. Changing the process will of course cost money in 
programming time, so we will just have to put the same kind of effort 
into keeping the e-texts current as we do into keeping libraries at a 
constant temperature.

Cheers--
Michael

Michael Best
Coordinating Editor, Internet Shakespeare Editions
<http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/>
Department of English, University of Victoria
Victoria B.C. V8W 3W1, Canada.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Larry Weiss <
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Date:		Monday, 19 May 2008 19:15:30 -0400
Subject: 19.0301 A Problem of Access
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0301 A Problem of Access

I think Gabriel Egan is spot on when he suggests that books are only 
different in degree from other means of storing information, and that 
periodic re-storage is necessary as old media degrade or become obsolete.

To be sure, digitally stored material particularly requires frequent 
reproduction, both because electronic bits inevitably degrade or mutate 
and because the hardware needed to recover the information becomes 
obsolete and unavailable. If David Evett were to retrieve his old 5 1/4" 
floppy disks, for example, and if he has the twenty year old hardware 
needed to play them, he might well find that the data on them has 
disappeared or been corrupted beyond use. But the problem is not 
confined to digital media; even books and other durable media are not 
exempt.

Archives storing old silver nitrate celluloid film have discovered that 
much if not most of it has crumbled into oblivion. The American Film 
Institute is attempting to salvage as much as possible, but the process 
is extremely expensive and time consuming so they must make difficult 
decisions about what to sacrifice to the ravages of time. Libraries 
periodically throw away old books for which there is no demand and which 
are not regarded as having rare book value. Some libraries microfilm 
them first, but not all do and many do not microfilm everything they 
chuck out. (Gabriel makes too strong a case when he says "everything 
ever printed is available to us"; for example, where can I find a copy 
of Love's Labour's Wonne?)

This problem is not confined to ancient documents. Ambrose Video has 
issued DVDs of the BBC Shakespeare series aired only about 30 years ago. 
Some of the disks are missing portions which have disappeared from the 
master tapes.

Another difficulty is that reproduction in alternative media -- e.g., 
microfilm or microfiche instead of paper; DVDs instead of film -- runs 
the risk of losing some of the artistic content. Film is clearer 
superior in depth quality to video tape. Many audiophiles insist that 
LPs produce richer and warmer tones than digital disks.  That will be 
forever lost when the LPs inevitably degrade due to weather or 
mistreatment or it becomes nearly impossible to find high quality 
styluses for the antique turntables needed to play them. As for books, 
scrolling a microfilm reader or a computer screen does not provide the 
same experience as turning a page.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Matthew Steggle <
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Date:		Tuesday, 20 May 2008 10:30:19 +0100
Subject: 19.0298 A Problem of Access
Comment:	RE: SHK 19.0298 A Problem of Access

Further to the discussion of the longevity of electronic resources -

Gabriel Egan modestly omits to mention his own excellent discussion of 
the topic in a 2005 conference paper, 'EEBO and the politics of open 
standards', which is available online at 
http://www.gabrielegan.com/publications/Egan2005l.htm.

As for the ejournal Early Modern Literary Studies, http://purl.org/emls, 
we have measures in place to safeguard the long-term survival and 
readability of our data. For instance:

1. We publish, not in any proprietary file format, but in HTML, which is 
simple; robust; and readable with a wide range of software.

2. We maintain several 'conventional' archives of our data, including 
the National Library of Canada and our mirror site at the University of 
Toronto.

3. We are also archived by the LOCKSS scheme at Stanford University, 
http://www.lockss.org/, as mentioned by Martin Mueller. This is a 
long-term programme in which data will be constantly copied, audited, 
and 'migrated forward in time', while preserving the content. The LOCKSS 
scheme might be a model of how long-term maintenance of digital data can 
be made to work.

- Matt

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