Developing a scholarly digital project is a complex process. In addition to the research and writing typical of any scholarly project, authors must choose a platform or a framework that suits the needs of both the argument and content. Depending on their digital literacies, they may need to learn these systems and recruit collaborators with the skills to fill in their knowledge gaps or to handle some of the more technical aspects of the format. Once the project’s development is underway, they need to coordinate the work and ensure the team is implementing strategies for the project’s longevity even as they create innovative and sophisticated scripts and styles that will make the project clean yet innovative and robust. It can be difficult for everyone involved to always be on the same page, especially when work is divided among a large team of people each contributing their specialized knowledge. But it’s crucial that everyone contributing to a project has a clear idea of the goals, and one of those goals must be the longevity of the final product.
To help our authors continue to develop their work after they’ve agreed to publish with us, we recently made publicly available a thorough set of guidelines that cover a range of recommendations for the technical aspects of their projects. So to complement and alternate with our FAQ series, I’m launching a technical guidelines series to highlight each of the topics covered in our guidelines package. While these guidelines were written specifically for SUP’s digital publishing program, the ideas are applicable to any web-based project, and I hope they might be helpful for individual scholars pursuing digital modes of sharing their work as well as fellow publishers implementing digital scholarly works into their programs.
But in reality, none of the projects that fit our program are immediately or 100% web–archivable.
The first section in our technical guidelines package serves as a perfect starting place for the series as it encompasses many of the philosophical concepts that drive the other sections. It’s rather generally titled “Archivability,” and it essentially describes a spectrum onto which all web-based content falls. Rather than providing strict directions to authors and developers about what they have to do, this document explains what makes a project archivable or not and what kinds of precautions and supplementary material authors should be considering in the face of the persistent challenges of preserving web content.
For all the complexity of today’s digital scholarship, we’re all way behind when it comes to preservation.
Jasmine Mulliken is Production and Preservation Manager, Digital Projects, at Stanford University Press. She coordinates the production and preservation workflow of born-digital projects, including recommending platforms and coding standards to authors, consulting with authors on projects’ technical attributes, and evaluating best practices for archiving and preservation.