Late night musings

So, the Library of Congress’ website will be going dark (perhaps this link won’t even work by the time you’re reading this) in the event of a government shutdown. Since we’re talking about the digital world in general this semester, I found myself wondering just how much overhead running a website (perhaps with limited functionality?) costs? As people who will potentially be participating in scholarly endeavors in the digital world in both the production and dissemination of knowledge, this overhead is certainly something that needs to be considered when thinking about project scope and the back end costs that I’m not certain everyone has been considering when planning their future projects (I know I hadn’t really given it much thought prior to seeing another article on Facebook when I got home).

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9 responses to “Late night musings

  1. Pingback: Late night musings | Clio Wired

  2. The issue with LC websites and others (like NASA) is the cost of labor. The actual production and maintenance of these sites doesn’t cost much (if anything), but for the LC website, someone needs to process research requests, there are elements of that website that need constant monitoring, things like ILL etc… These are nonessential services, so employees don’t get to work.

    There is also the issue of accessing government servers during the shutdown, which during the shutdown is against the law and carries a fine of $5000 and up to two years in jail. Federal employees access email, can’t use their work phones, can’t access any files or materials to do work from home. This has nothing to do with the cost of the project, just arbitrary politics.

  3. Well, I suppose the first instances (processing/monitoring) could be covered by limited functionality. As for the second, I suppose that’s most certainly a reason to pull the sites down, but it just seems odd that one of the points in the first link (which now leads to the general “our site is shut down” page) was the cost of the functional portions of the site (such as ILL) rather than the inability of people to legally access government servers.

    While the latter is clearly an impasse that we can’t really do anything about at present, it seems like there should be a fairly easy workaround for the former (they could just put the exact same message on the pages that require processing/monitoring while leaving the pages that don’t alone).

  4. Well technically, federal agencies don’t have the money to run anything (see The National Endowment for the Arts tweet. This isn’t true (for instance my husband is a contractor at NASA who’s working on a project which already has funding for the next several years, but still can’t go to work) so yes any cost is enough reason to shut it down. The largest of which I’m still sure is labor but whatever. Much of the information on what you’re allowed to do during the shutdown is very confusing and from what I’ve heard its better for people to just close it down all together than try and work around things.

  5. It’s actually pretty frightening to know that such big resources for historians can just go dark overnight. You’re right. We need to consider the implications of this, especially if we are moving toward a world where we have more digital and digitally-born archives.

    • I think that this is particularly true when we aren’t in direct control of the resources that maintain the project site. In fact, they could go down the same road that Flickr might go down – sure, your images will be saved somewhere out there in the aether and you’ll maintain ownership over them, but who knows when you’ll be able to access them if Yahoo goes out of business and decides to pull the site down?

      • Exactly. More variables for us to consider as we move forward in an academic world (and regular world!) that is becoming more and more digitally-based.

  6. At first, I was only worried about the future access to digital materials and the damages on researchers. But as you pointed out, the cost that runs behind running a web is something that we must keep in mind. I thought this shutdown also shows the weakness in digital history.

    • I think that this is a good point, and it’s illustrated in Prom’s article (http://www.digitalculture.org/hacking-the-academy/hacking-institutions/ – for the people who might want to participate but who aren’t in the course). As we use more and more digital tools in more robust manners, they are less and less likely to be locally/personally owned. I see it as both a strength and a weakness though – as things like cloud applications come to the fore, projects are less likely to be subject to accidental destruction (like a server or hard drive crashing) than they would be if they were personally owned, but, as we’ve already seen, they’re also subject to being potentially unavailable to the public (and/or the researcher/academic) at the discretion of the third party host. So they are at once more secure (from destruction) and less secure (from being randomly taken offline at the whim of someone who is not personally vested in the project). It’s also interesting to see how some will qualify the Library of Congress as a trusted third party source (http://www.digitalpreservation.gov/documents/ndiipp_plan.pdf – page 66), when it becoming more readily apparent that they are beholden to yet another party which can determine whether or not access is granted to researchers and the public alike, thereby throwing into question first, its reliability, and second, what forces are acting on our third parties which might impact our ability to interact with these important sources.

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