Monday, January 14, 2008

Medieval Ephemera on the Web

Just before going completely off the air for a Christmans holiday break, I had an interesting conversation with a fellow independent medieval website owner in Canada. We found we had some similar gripes about the state of educational material on the web.
It seems that many sites produced by web pioneers in universities are no longer being properly maintained and updated, or are even simply disappearing altogether, as their authors move on to new positions or retire. Some very excellent work is simply disappearing into the ether. While museums and archives are setting up massive projects to make their material accessible to a wide range of users, universities are becoming more anally retentive about making their material available only to their registered (fee paying) students. They seem to feel they have no charter to increase access to knowledge by the public at large, nor to keep material available if a specific course is not currently being taught within the institution. Given that the academic community invented and pioneered the internet, and the World Wide Web, in the first place, and they hold all the resources for providing web material easily, this seems to be a niggardly attitude.
Back in the 1990s, when I first started experimenting with digital presentation of material, universities here in Australia were only interested in this kind of material if they thought they could sell it to other areas of the educational community for profit, or at least save themselves some money by using a machine instead of a tutor. There seemed to be no wider vision for increasing access to quality material through new technology. More than a decade on, it seems nothing has changed.
Meanwhile, those of us battling to fly solo have no guarantee that if we were hit by a bus tomorrow that our work would survive beyond the next due payment to our website provider. Out of print books can be found in secondhand bookshops, but off the air websites can only be scrounged from
The Internet Archive if you are lucky and know exactly what to look for. Should we be lobbying our universities to expand their social conscience and use their experience and expertise to increase access without promise of immediate cash reward, or should we give up on such idealistic hogwash and try to find some other way to ensure that valuable educational material can remain available for as long as it is of use to someone?

1 comment:

JB Piggin said...

Libraries are at least aware of the problem. The British Library keeps snapshots of one of my sites through its Web Archive programme (they do not always limit it to sites with the domain uk) and it is now possible to nominate other people's sites for preservation. I'll be nominating the antiquity and medieval pages of Piggin.Net for preservation when they are in a more complete state. (Thanks by the way for putting your very helpful site on the web.)