Letters to the Editor


D-Lib Magazine
December 2005

Volume 11 Number 12

ISSN 1082-9873

To the Editor

The letter below was received in response to the article, Requirements for Digital Preservation Systems A Bottom-Up Approach, by David S. H. Rosenthal, Thomas Robertson, Tom Lipkis, Vicky Reich, and Seth Morabito in the November 2005 issue of D-Lib Magazine.

To the Editor:
November 30, 2005
D-Lib articles1 have lately exploited prior work inadequately – a laxity illustrated by Rosenthal et al. "Requirements for Digital Preservation Systems," D-Lib Magazine 11(11), Nov. 2005.2
I find the paper to be generally good and instructive, teaching analysis aspects that are often overlooked in articles about digital preservation. However it displays troubling lapses, among which this letter mentions only a few involving uncited prior literature.
(1) 'Emulation' is a term that is too vague without a clear identification of what is to be emulated. Some preservation work under this label makes sense, and much is nonsensical. The paper's citation [56] (Rothenberg) has long since been called into question in D-Lib itself. See the Opinion piece by David Bearman, "Reality and Chimeras in the Preservation of Electronic Records," D-Lib Magazine 5(4), 1999. As far as I know, nothing has been published to refute Bearman's criticisms.
(2) The Rosenthal et al. paper calls DSpace a digital preservation system without pointing out that it provides little preservation functionality beyond that of about 80 open source and 20 commercial content management offerings. The authors seem to have accepted DSpace promotional literature without checking the facts.
(3) §4.3 emphasizes the problems of obsolete repository software and the importance of open source without mentioning that conformance to the Content Repository API for Java™ (JSR 170) standard can mitigate the problems. See, for instance, Making Repository Software Replaceable.
(4) The paper makes an unidentified (but common) assumption – that to solve the long-term digital preservation challenge we should focus on repository software. This might be partly appropriate, but to assume it without question leads away from what proves to be a better alternative. The print world teaches that preservation depends more on information object characteristics than it does on the procedures of any small number of holding institutions. The oversight would be excusable if no one knew how to accomplish durability for digital objects – however we do. See Trustworthy 100-Year Digital Objects: Durable Encoding for When It's Too Late to Ask, ACM Trans. Info. Sys. 23(3), 299-324, 2005, and Trustworthy 100-Year Digital Objects: Evidence After Every Witness is Dead, ACM Trans. Info. Sys. 22(3), 406-436, July 2004.
(5) §4.5.calls for "further crawling ... to ensure that the content unit is complete." However, there is no pertinent objective meaning for "complete" for an information collection unless someone writes a rule defining "complete". However, that's seldom, if ever, done. Furthermore, how can any mechanical process decide which references/links are essential relative to some specified purpose and which are not?
(6) §4.5.2 treats the same topic as Evidence After Every Witness is Dead, which claims a solution to a problem the paper leaves open (evidence for authenticity). Proper service to D-Lib readers would include deciding whether or not this claimed solution is sound and economical and defending the opinion. In general, D-Lib readers might expect its authors to be well informed about prior work on their topics and to be vigorous in evaluating its best examples. Rosenthal et al. illustrates that this expectation is not necessarily fulfilled. I believe such weakness to be much too common among D-Lib articles.
H.M. Gladney, Ph.D.
HMG Consulting
1. It is unclear whether such laxity is relatively new or a long-standing weakness. It almost certainly occurs in other periodicals, but the current letter limits itself to D-Lib articles. The problem is not evident in the refereed ACM and IEEE periodicals.
2. The current letter abbreviates e-mail sent to Reich on 7th September, two months before the article was published, asking for reactions, and recommending readily executed improvements before publication. Neither reactions nor improvements occurred.

Below is David Rosenthal's response to the letter from Henry Gladney.

We received comments on a pre-print of our paper from Dr. Gladney making these and other points in somewhat less measured terms. We reviewed them with three criteria in mind. First, as the introduction to our paper makes clear, we restricted ourselves to techniques found in systems in, or approaching, production use. Second, we wanted the paper to maintain a constructive tone. Third, we did not want to add significantly to what was already a rather long paper (we had requested a waiver from D-Lib's normal limit).
On this basis we rejected Dr. Gladney's comments. Our failure to notify him of this decision was a discourtesy, for which we apologize whole-heartedly.
David Rosenthal, December 3, 2005

D-Lib Magazine welcomes letters related to digital library research and electronic publishing issues. Also welcome are letters with questions or comments about the magazine in general, or about articles appearing in the magazine. Please do not send letters that are primarily commercial, promotional, or advertising in nature.

Letters concerning articles selected for possible publication as Letters to the Editor will be forwarded to the article authors for response. If published, the Letter to the Editor will appear with the article authors' responses whenever possible. D-Lib Magazine reserves the right to edit or shorten letters. If you prefer, you may request that your letter not be published.

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