Disappearing Resources On Institutional Web Sites

I recently received the publisher’s proofs of an accessibility paper which will be published in the new year. The reviewers spotted a number of broken links in the references. Some of them were links to previous papers I had published, and the errors were introduced by the publisher (which I confirmed by checking the details of the paper which I submitted). But for a couple of other references the pages did seem to have disappeared. I contact Stuart Smith, one of the co-authors, and asked him if he knew anything about the references he had supplied which seemed to have disappeared.

Stuart told me that a new e-learning team in his institution has rebuilt the e-learning Web site, resulting, it seems, in the loss of existing resources. Stuart wrote a blog post about this incident entitled “Mummy I lost my MP3!“. Stuart felt that “My MP3 problem shows to me that the argument that the ‘cloud’ is too unstable doesn’t hold water … because institutional systems are open to the same criticisms“. Stuart concluded that “My solution to my MP3 problem will probably lie in the ‘cloud’ I’ll find a suitable archiving host that I like and also keep a backup offline (like I should have done in the first place) and if that host disappears at least I will know about it“.

I’m sure Stuart isn’t alone. How many resources do you think will have disappeared following the establishment of new Web teams or the release of new software?  Maybe institutional repositories will have a role to play, as they try to address the persistent identifier problem by at least decoupling the address of the resource form the technology used to access the resource.  But repositories won’t be used to manage all resources on an institutional Web site, will they?

Since our institutions don’t seem to have yet cracked the problem of management of resources across changes in policies, staff and technologies, is Stuart right, I wonder,  in regarding ‘the cloud’ (e.g. services such as the Internet Archive, perhaps) as the place (or one of the places) to deposit resources for safe-keeping?  Or perhaps the question is whether such services may be more reliable than the institutional Web site. After all, if your own institution misplaces your resources, you can;’t sue them, can you?

1 Comment

  1. Hi Brian. Modern historcal record has often been made possible because in the past many private individuals established their own libraries and collections. Over time for various reasons many of these were donated to public or educational bodies. In some ways the Web is in a not dissimilar position. We haven’t really worked out yet how to ‘keep’ important digital artifacts and its something that needs to be addressed. In the meantime I think we need to become a little like the private collectors of yesteryear and recognise that for now we need to take responsibility for our production. So at least when the elegant solution(s) emerges there will be something to store.

    With regards to institutional responsibility, I would ask the question if academic reputations (and consequently institutional ones as well) exist by virtue of publications and those publications are becoming increasingly digital then is there a duty of care of the institution towards the academic to ensure the preservation of work published within their own systems? I don’t know but would be interested to hear more views.



  1. JISC-PoWR » Blog Archive » “Why you never should leave it to the University” - [...] lament that “Mummy I lost my MP3!“, which I summarised in a post on “Disappearing Resources On Institutional Web Sites” …
  2. JISC PoWR » Blog Archive » “Why you never should leave it to the University” - [...] lament that “Mummy I lost my MP3!“, which I summarised in a post on “Disappearing Resources On Institutional Web Sites” …

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