Computing Cultures in the Humanities - Definition
 Computing Cultures in the Humanities

This group is forming, and will meet in second semester 2006. Same bat-time, same bat-channel. See you soon.

For further information on digital archiving you may want to visit this links page.

An important part of the Centre's activities in 2005-2006 is the planning and implementation of a DSpace digital repository (the Flinders Academic Commons). This, in turn, has led to investigations into new forms of digital communication and community building. In addition, working with the Library on this project has opened new channels of communication and possibilities for further collaboration.

This group will have the ability to focus on both practical and theoretical research into communication and teaching with new models in new media.

By way of background information, the text below outlines the rational and process for the FAC. When the group meets, the FAC doucment will be replaced by a group definition documeent.

Academic Commons
Flinders Humanities Research Centre/Central Library
Flinders University


Scholarly communication has traditionally involved academics as authors, reviewers and editors; commercial publishers as distributors; librarians as custodians and facilitators of access; and readers. Academics have long accepted the limitations of academic publishing because there have been no real alternatives. As commercial publishers have used their position in an uncompetitive marketplace to increase prices far ahead of growth in university budgets, this system has started to break down.

The World Wide Web offered a means of winning back control of the content for those who produce it and extending the sorts of research material that can be published, and has been used in this way to a significant extent. However, it has been perceived as unstable (a fair criticism, as web pages can disappear at any time), and as intellectually “low-rent” (a partly valid criticism, as some web-work has been perilously close to vanity publishing).

Using the opportunities created by the growth of the internet, while at the same time mindful of academics’ and educators’ legitimate concerns about quality and stability, there has emerged a worldwide movement of academics, librarians, universities, governments and learned societies towards open access publishing and the establishment of digital repositories.

The collaboration between the Flinders Humanities Research Centre and the Library seeks to explore ideas around open access publishing by establishing an Academic Commons, using DSpace software. The Academic Commons will function as a permanent digital repository, and aims to give visibility and identity to the research output of the Research Centre.

Implementation of long term digital archival storage at Flinders as a whole will involve Faculties, Schools and Departments working with the Library towards the creation, preservation, indexation and distribution of digital collections. The Flinders Humanities Research Centre will work with the Library in the initial creation of a digital Academic Commons that will be expandable to incorporate all of the disciplines at Flinders University.

By its nature, technology is changeable and unstable. Media and programs frequently become obsolete, and important content can be lost if it is not converted to new media. Consider the zip drive, the syquest and the floppy drive: each of these storage devices has given way to new technologies. As more and more material is created in digital form, the need for stable digital repositories has become apparent.

DSpace is permanent multi-disciplinary digital open source archiving software for research and educational materials. It was created by MIT in collaboration with Hewlett-Packard Labs, acting in response to the potential crisis in archiving and storing important digital documents.

How will it work?

The Flinders University Academic Commons (a DSpace digital repository) will work on a model of edited Communities and Collections. A Community consists of a number of Collections of materials, defined by discipline, subject or interest group, or an individual’s work. Individuals submitting content, editors, and the end-users will all access the Academic Commons through a common web interface.

Within a Community, a workflow is established (see diagram below). This process ensures that the content of the resource has been assessed and deemed to be of a high enough quality to be permanently archived.

One of the most important steps in this process is the inputting of relevant metadata. To facilitate growth and use, the Academic Commons will use international standards in metadata, and the participants will seek to place the metadata in the relevant national and international meta-repositories. DSpace metadata is compliant with the Open Archives Initiative for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH). This ensures that the repository will work with national and international repository harvesters such as the ARROW project. The consistent and detailed meta-tagging of academic material will make it more really accessible to interested readers than the web presently is, and this provides another strong attraction to help overcome the inertia of academics and their attachment to established publishing patterns.

The Content of the Resource

The list that follows attempts to outline the opportunities presented by the establishment of an Academic Commons to widen the range of possible research publication in a context that retains intellectual rigour. The repository can include:

• The accumulated published work of projects done under the auspices of Flinders Humanities Research Centre (in whatever form the primary publishers permit).
• Back list of publications of Flinders researchers (in whatever form the primary publishers permit).
• Previously unpublished research work of Flinders researchers.
• Sets of data not amenable to print publication but of interest to researchers in the relevant field. The range of possible media here is wide across the fields of words, artefacts, static and moving images…
• Permanent archive of web-journals run out of the FHRC (eg Fulgor) and those that may develop in time.
• Permanent archive of the papers and deliberations from the FHRC’s symposia and conferences.
• Permanent archive of the databases run out of Humanities (eg AusStage) and those that may develop in time.
• Higher degree and honours theses (subject to the relevant university statutes).
Data Stability and Preservation of Access

Documents deposited in the Academic Commons will be stored and maintained with the aim of providing long-term reliable access to the academic achievements of Flinders University. This will be achieved using the following strategies:

• Hardware and Operating System support: provided by Flinders University’s Information Services Division.
• Application support: provided by the Library.
• Backup: mirroring technology will be used to protect data against disk failure. All data will be backed up nightly to disk and tape, using standard university backup methodologies. Offsite storage of backup media will be maintained both on campus in the Library’s strong room and off campus. A LOCKSS (“Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe”) methodology will be used.
• Disaster recovery: a disaster recovery plan will be developed to ensure that the Academic Commons could be re-constituted should the server or any of the data be lost.
• Data migration: periodic migration (refreshing) of documents will occur as hardware/software configurations change over time.
• Digital preservation: functional preservation of standard format documents, such as PDF, TIFF and XML, will be maintained over time and through data migration events, allowing continued access as originally intended. Bit preservation will be used for non-standard document types with the responsibility for maintaining the usefulness of such documents residing with the creator. A mechanism will be provided for advising content contributors of the preservation support levels they can expect for the files they submit.
• Access: the server will be located in ISD’s server farm, where redundancy provisions and UPS power protection will guarantee maximum uptime availability.
• Accessibility: documents will be assigned persistent identifiers to ensure that they will be accessible and retrievable far into the future.
• Flexibility: support for multiple versions and formats of documents will be provided.
• Access service preservation: the development and maintenance of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to maintain access to digital objects.
• Preservation of access software look and feel (emulation).

Looking to the future …

The adoption of DSpace by universities such as Cambridge, Cornell, Columbia, Purdue, Duke and ANU (among a growing host of others) illustrates that universities around the world are recognising the importance of digital repositories for the collection and permanent archiving of academic research. The ease of archiving means that an institution’s research output can be disseminated quickly, while the submission process ensures that the quality of the material archived is of a high standard. Working in close co-operation, the Flinders Humanities Research Centre and the Library are in a good position to thoughtfully and carefully implement an Academic Commons at Flinders University. The participants hope that what they create will be a useful and attractive model for the other Schools and Research Centres, and that, in time, the Flinders University Academic Commons will become much broader in scope, ultimately expanding to service the whole of the Flinders academic community.

February 2005



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