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You are here: Home » Content » "Our Cultural Commonwealth" The Report of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences » Ephemerality

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  • eScience, eResearch and Computational Problem Solving

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    By: Jan E. Odegard

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The Commission has identified six key challenges that must be engaged if we intend to build a robust cyberinfrastructure:

  • The ephemeral nature of digital data
  • The nature of humanities and social science data
  • Copyright laws
  • The conservative culture of scholarship
  • Uncertainty about the future mechanisms, forms, and economics of scholarly publishing and scholarly communication more generally
  • Insufficient resources, will, and leadership to build cyberinfrastructure for the humanities and social sciences

Ephemerality

The study of human cultures and creativity is founded on access to the records of the past. Preserving and ensuring the authenticity of the artifacts and records of the past is one of the most valued functions of libraries, archives, and museums—and yet we have only begun to learn how to do these things with the political, economic, social, and cultural record of our increasingly digital civilization. 1Digital data are notoriously fragile, short-lived, and easy to manipulate without leaving obvious evidence of fraud. Therefore, such content is best preserved in trustworthy repositories, without which there will be critical breaks in the chain of evidence. Although sites such as YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, and MySpace 2have become popular for hosting digital collections, they are not repositories that ensure long-term access to the content. The rapid turnover in digital hardware and software often leaves digital data marooned on media or in formats that can no longer be accessed and that are highly susceptible to deterioration and loss. Preservation requires the scrupulous management of data from the moment it enters a repository through the steps of validation, storage, migration, and delivery to parties that have been authenticated and authorized to receive it. These are complex technical procedures dependent on standards and protocols that work quickly and reliably. Preservation was once an obscure backroom operation of interest chiefly to conservators and archivists: it is now widely recognized as one of the most important elements of a functional and enduring cyberinfrastructure.

Footnotes

  1. For an overview of some of the preservation issues and literature, see Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, “Preserving Digital History,” in Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005) http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/preserving/.
  2. YouTube http://www.youtube.com/; Flickr http://www.flickr.com/; Facebook http://www.facebook.com/; MySpace http://www.myspace.com/.

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Definition of a lens

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A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

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