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New Media

On the correct shelf, in the correct room…

The last time I wrote here, I was bemoaning the failure of the British Library (via our dear, beloved Government) to achieve anything meaningful with regard to the archival of digital texts. Even the preservation of such seemed to be beyond them.

To clarify and narrow down, though – I’m not terribly interested in the retention of newspaper content published online – it’s interesting and certainly shed light on events of the day, but it’s not of paramount concern to my research, and I think newspaper sites do that job rather well themselves. What is useful is the ability to retain digital story projects – the building blocks toward the creation of a narrative grammar for a new platform. Or platforms. We do have some of these stored – the site hosted by the University of California, Santa Barbara English Dept, archiving William Gibson and Denis Ashbaugh’s Agrippa (below) is a stunning example of how to generously and gracefully document a project. Partly this is due to Gibson’s profile amongst new media enthusiasts and scholars, partly, I suspect down to the novelty of the text itself.

Where, though, is an archive and critical context for, for example, Geoff Ryman’s 253? If the fees for the web hosting happen to be missed one month, do we lose the whole project? Forever?

The British Library project to archive digital texts is, as far, as I can see bound up in red tape, legalese and permissions. The BBC have just appointed Bill Thompson to the position of Head of Partnership Development for the BBC Archive Project, putting someone ably equipped to deal with the complexities and demands of that role in precisely the right place at the right time.

But that still leaves 253, and the dozens and dozens of digital texts like it, that have been critiqued and addressed by academics and critics alike, without a home.

An aside – while the lovely MrsT and I were honeymooning in Montreal, a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Arts (under some duress for one of us, I confess) offered up from their bookstore an essay lurking in a copy of  ‘Close Reading New Media’ on 253.

I didn’t know it existed (I suspect, nor did Geoff), and there’s my point.

I think the answer may lurk in the observation that if you want a job doing well, then you have to do it yourself…

(And don’t get me started on House of Leaves. More texts, more critique, more observation and interrogation hosted randomly and unarchived than almost any other work I can think of.)


3 comments for “On the correct shelf, in the correct room…”

  1. I have to confess that I missed the definition of what the actual problem is.

    Mainstream websites seem to be adequately covered between the publishers’ own commercial interests and projects such as the archive.org

    Is the problem with the archival of the interactive media works themselves (which I personally doubt is much of a problem) or is it with archiving the debate, analysis and discussions around the work that takes place online?

    Given the large volume of work and discussion that takes place online, any discussion on archival is by necessity also a discussion on curation (which is a big and thorny issue).

    Of course you can punt the problem by making archival voluntary and the publishers’ responsibility, but that just guarantees that the archive will completely misrepresent the actual state of the field and medium.

    It’s easy to put together a short list of works that everybody agrees need to be archived, but those will also be the works you’re least likely to need to worry about.

    About half of my reading list contains out of print books which are, for all intents and purposes, unavailable to me, and I have to leave a few dozen books off my reading list which have never been translated into a language I can read (Icelandic, English, and Danish with a good dictionary to assist me).

    So archival is an unsolved problem in print. Expecting the British Libary to solve it for interactive media is unreasonable, IMNSHO.

    Posted by Baldur Bjarnason | November 4, 2009, 4:28 pm
  2. Dr B – didn’t we start this discussion about eight years ago? Regarding the difficulty of archiving obsolete formats, and the implications for future knowledge and scholarly activity? I’m sure it was in a pub. In Oxford. Or Bristol. Trust you to forget…

    Posted by tom | November 4, 2009, 6:37 pm
  3. Hi Dr A
    Thought you might be interested in these links, an attempt to join things up here


    Do you remember the NOF project I worked on I am sure that was all about digital archiving and the British Library had about £2,000,000?

    Yours Mr Jones

    Posted by Mark Jones | January 25, 2010, 6:18 pm

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