“Archiving Digital Cultural Artifacts”

Category: Article Critique

In their article “Archiving Digital Cultural Artifacts,” Lyman and Kahle discuss the problem of digital preservation and archiving and present their solutions for the issue. The authors compare digital information to oral culture, claiming that it is a medium only “for the present, neither a record of the past nor a message to the future” (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). I have found that statement rather strange because I have always thought that the storage of digital information was the best method of culture preservation of all times. The authors argue that digital information only seems ever-present, but, in fact, it is transient (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). The authors state that it is impossible to provide a formal definition of a digital cultural artifact because the concept is still being formed (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). However, it is apparent that such artifacts differ from the physical ones. For example, I have learnt that it is cheap to copy digital documents numerous times and to distribute them to many individuals within seconds, and people all over the world can contribute to their creation.

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Further, I have found out that digital cultural artifacts can be “born digital or born again” in the process of converting them from various media to the digital format (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). The World Wide Web is an example of the first category of such artifacts. The information about its character is rather scarce, primarily because this medium is decentralized and still relatively new (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). To understand the structure of the Internet, it is necessary to employ different types of cultural artifacts as guiding metaphors. It is worth noting that most of them are obtained from print publications. It is obvious that the Web is neither a library collection nor an archive. Alexa Internet and the Internet Archive were invented to solve this problem. The former is a digital library that identifies the intellectual composition of the Internet to help users find the information they are seeking for through link analysis (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). The Internet Archive, in its turn, is a nonprofit organization that receives all the data from Alexa Internet and makes it available to researchers and scholars concerned with the Web development (Lyman & Kahle, 1998).

The authors present some quite impressive statistics of Alexa Internet that describe the Web’s both technical and social characteristics. For example, I have learnt that a typical Internet page is only two months old, and one user visits around twenty pages a day (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). Every year, the Web doubles in size, and the quantity of its users constantly increases (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). I find it interesting that the authors call the Internet “a society that, although global, is not universal” (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). For instance, the world online population consists of only 65% English speakers (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). The paradox of today is that, although digital media is developing at a fast rate, computer scientists have not figured out yet how to save digital cultural artifacts (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). Although 1.5 million new pages are added each day, the majority of them vanish annually (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). I often wondered what a “404, File Not Found” response meant, thinking that the Web contained all the previously uploaded information at all times. Thanks to the article, I have learnt that Alexa Internet developed an archive of deleted documents that can be accessed by downloading the software from the Alexa website (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). The authors also list other technologies that help define the quality and organization of the Web information, such as DejaNews, Digipaper, and Internet Movie Database (Lyman & Kahle, 1998).

Lyman and Kahle raise many questions regarding the preservation of digital documents with a single purpose of commencing a discussion between scholars, librarians, computer scientists, and policy makers. They only explore these issues, without any attempt to provide definite answers. Lyman and Kahle (1998) seek to encourage the groups of people listed above to work together and learn how to preserve data efficiently if they want to see the issue resolved. Having read the article, I have learnt about their model of technical work organization. It consists of five stages, each being a logical continuation of the previous one. “Infrastructure Technologies” is the first phase; it requires the construction of a legal infrastructure that will support digital museums, archives, and libraries (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). The “Technologies for Digital Publishing” stage encourages the development of templates (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). The “Technologies for Digital Libraries” step discusses various tools of digital collections (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). The “Technologies for Digital Archives” stage addresses the long-term bulk storage of data at a low cost (Lyman & Kahle, 1998). The final phase, “Time Capsule Technologies”, considers the development of a technology that will not require maintenance for one thousand years (Lyman & Kahle, 1998).

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