Vol. XII, No. 1

   
Spring, 1999

Electronic Publication for the Archaeological Data Archive Project


Electronic publication of book-length archaeological material ó the electronic equivalent of the monograph - seems to be an idea whose time has come, at least that is implied by the number of people and institutions thinking about or actually creating digital monographs. One of the requirements of digital publication, one not always recognized at the outset, is that any digital publication must be archived and migrated to new forms to be kept "in print." As a result of that requirement, the overlap with digital archiving is significant, and Archaeological Data Archive Project personnel have investigated the implications of electronic publication. After some consideration, it has been decided that the ADAP should become a digital publisher; planning has begun.

Digital publication here is taken to mean publishing material in digital form for access over the Internet. At the moment, that means creating Web documents, though one should not equate the Web with Internet access into the indefinite future. One must assume that the current Web format will, sooner or later, evolve into another format - and then another, and so on. As that process unfolds, ADAP electronic publications will be re-cast as necessary. (CDs may also be produced as a by-product, but the principle product will be a Web publication, because the long-term utility of CDs cannot be assured. See "Using CDs for Important Information," CSA Newsletter, Spring, 1998, Vol. XI, No. 1)

The first demonstration of ADAP electronic publishing plans is a cooperative agreement now being worked out between the ADAP and the Society for American Archaeology. The SAA will seek to publish electronic monographs, and the ADAP will serve as the SAAís publication agent. The SAA will be responsible for accepting proposals, vetting the publications, and approving the presentations. The ADAP will assist with the vetting, plan and implement the layout of the publication, direct the editing of the text and the refinement of presentation schemes, host the final product on the Internet, archive it, and migrate the publication in the future to keep it "in print."

The ADAP will assist with the vetting, because vetting an electronic publication will be more complex than vetting a standard paper publication. Content and presentation are not so easily separated as when dealing with printed publications, and it can be difficult to be sure that all parts of an e-publication have actually been examined. Processes to evaluate both content and presentation, each as independently as possible, will be developed, as will mechanisms to guarantee that all parts of a manuscript have been properly examined.

Those evaluation processes will be crucial to the success of this enterprise. Quality must be assured, and readers must have confidence that the publication is reliable. That reliability, of course, is the sine qua non of scholarly publication, but the requirement of quality extends to the presentation system as well as the content.

Planning and implementing the layout will be the other major task of the ADAP in this process. Although the point of e-publishing is to take advantage of the possibilities of the medium, given the ADAPís archival focus, the presentation mechanisms chosen will also be very carefully analyzed with regard to their archival implications. The mechanisms used in the publication must not be permitted to complicate long-term preservation of the publication unnecessarily. Electronic processes that are considered difficult to maintain or to migrate to other environments and those requiring proprietary software will therefore be avoided. For instance, no process dependent on a specific Web browser (Internet Explorer, Netscape, or any other choice) will be used. At a more general level, every effort will be made to keep programming to a minimum and, when required, to utilize the most generic programming tools available.

While every effort will be made to keep the electronic documents simple and straight-forward, there is little reason to publish electronically if none of the real advantages of the medium is utilized. Simply producing an electronic version of a lengthy text brings few benefits to the ultimate user. The object is to find appropriate ways to use the possibilities of the medium without complicating the long-term preservation. In some cases, that may mean hybrid publications, part on paper and part on the Internet.

Even without other complications, as discussed in the last issue of the Newsletter ("To E-Publish or Not to E-Publish," Winter, 1999, Vol. XI, no. 3) and alluded to again in this issue ("Preservation for the Future - with Emulation or Migration?"), archiving of an electronic publication is an inherently difficult process. It may be relatively easy to migrate a data file from one format to another, but it is substantially more difficult to migrate documents to new formats when the documents are complex, inter-related, multi-file presentations consisting of text, images, data files, connecting links, and more. The problem does not lie in preserving the files and their information. It lies in preserving the way the total product, the artifact that is the finished publication, looks and responds to a user, the so-called "look and feel" of the publication. That being the case, the underlying assumption must be examined. Must an archived version of a contemporary electronic publication be capable of mimicking the "look and feel" of the publication in some unknown future computing environment, despite the fact that the "look and feel" of today may be an unnecessary anachronism by then?

The ADAP position is that scholarly publications need not be preserved with the "look and feel" of their originals. The point is the preservation of information and argument. In this connection, the process used by Davis, Livingood, Ward, and Steponaitis in publishing their work on the Occaneechi site (see "To E-Publish or Not to E-Publish?") is taken as an exemplar. Although they published the site report on a CD using non-standard software, they took care to provide for the long-term preservation of the work by including, in addition to the software-dependent materials, the text, the images, the connections, and the underlying data in multiple standard formats (three common formats for text, for example). A century from now it should be possible to rehearse the arguments, read the text, examine the supporting tables, and so on - but not to experience the publication as it exists today. As with the Occaneeche publication, the ADAP will not attempt to archive an exact copy of the publication so that a reader may see and experience the work in the future as he or she would today. Rather, the readers in the future will, at a minimum, be able to access all the same information and arguments, possibly with new and improved forms of access. In short, the archival job here is not the preservation of the publication as an object but as a collection of argument and accompanying data. The latter will be preserved; the former may not.

ADAP personnel are looking forward eagerly to the work of creating the ADAPís first e-publication, and readers who may have projects of interest are encouraged to contact the ADAP. ADAP publications will not be limited to cooperative work with the SAA; submission of other scholarly publications on archaeology is encouraged.


For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of electronic media in the humanities or the ADAP, consult the Subject index.

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