November 17, 2004
Today in the department here at Penn, I heard David S. H. Rosenthal, of Stanford and Sun, speak on “Lots Of Copies Keep Stuff Safe: Peer-to-Peer Digital Preservation” – the Stanford-based LOCKSS program for providing academic journals in a distributed, reliable way, through libraries.
The brief description of LOCKSS on their site does a much better job than my summary of the talk would do. I will mention one very clever thing about the project, though. Those who developed it began by considering why it is that libraries have already worked so well for centuries: They provide access to massively replicated texts that they keep copies of, for their community. That concept, rather than some more techno-utopian one or some more technically motivated one, is the basis for the project. Libraries keep copies of journals (with publishers’ permissions) as backups, passing through requests to the publishers in most cases, querying each other to make sure the copies they have are and remain uncorrupted. While the project is technically impressive, can resist failures and even severe attacks of many sorts, and allows for greatly improved access to texts at lower costs than print journals would provide, what really impressed me is how it is thoughtfully based on an existing institution in our culture.