Thursday, September 16, 2010

Not the Institutional Web Server

Posted to the JISC-Repositories Mailing List, September 16, 2010

My resources are also on my personal website, not the institutional web server. There are some very good reasons for this:

- the instant one of my resources touches an institutional server I am inundated with requirements and regulations about what I can and cannot say or present, and how this presentation must be done, including institutional look and feel policies developed in the 90s.

- my online work actually is perpectually 'under construction' - the idea of creating finalized polished 'publications' is something that belongs more to the print era, when you could not revisit your work

- because of the institutional intranet and access control policies, I cannot easily access the web server on which my resource sits. Nor can I open ports or allow my project to communicate with third party services without significant intervention from computer services.

- repositories themselves have limits on who can contribute and what can be contributed, since they only wish to preserve what is "valuable", yet my career (and probably most academics) was founded on creating and uploading material most people weren't interested in at the time it was posted

- I have worked at four institutions in the last fifteen years, and without fail, when I move from one institution to another, my original institution has removed my internet content, wiped out my email address, and effectively eliminated my presence

- my online work has also outlived most every initiative that has been created to provide a 'permanent' home for such work; projects in Canada like CAREO and eduSource are now history. I'm sure people in Britain can create their own list of shuttered initiatives. Who is willing to bet their academic record that JORUM will last longer that they do?

For these reasons and more I consider it well worth the money I spend every month to maintain my website and pay for my server traffic. Like most academics, my living room is also cluttered with books, software and gadgets I paid for with my own money, rather than go through increasingly restrictive institutional policies and rather than face the risk of losing them suddenly.

I do not dispute the worth of institutional archives of valuable material. And there may be times and places where these material contained in these archives ought to be deemed canonical. But these are few and far between. In the meantime, people will continue to have incentive, and will increasingly have sufficient resources, to maintain their own online presence.

Institutional archives should recognize this as a fact. They should focus on downloading copies of original works for preservation (just as Brewster Kahle's Internet Archive does).

Instead, therefore, of creating a set of requirements and impositions on academics, provision of access to this record would be an invaluable service to academics (certainly I've had occasion to recover lost material from Internet Archives, mostly because some institution deleted it).