Report: Complexities of Project Logistics Workshop
One of the three pre-conference workshops leading up to the ESTS 2016 / DiXiT 3 conference held in Antwerp at the beginning of October was organised by DiXiT and focussed on complexities of project logistics.
The workshop was convened by Peter Boot (Huygens ING) and included the following short presentations as a lead-up to an open discussion:
- Jan Burgers (Huygens ING): Editing Medieval Charters in the Digital Age.
- Rik Hoekstra (Huygens ING): Changing Editing Policies of the States General of the United Dutch Provinces (1576‒1796).
- Martine de Bruin (Meertens Institute): The Dutch Song Database.
- Anna-Maria Sichani (Huygens ING) and James Smithies (Kings Digital Lab): Designing a Sustainable Future: An Approach to the Assessment, Archiving and Preservation of Digital Projects.
- Thomas Stäcker (Herzog August Bibliothek): Fighting the Digital Quicksand – The Role of Research Libraries in Building up Reliable and Sustainable Infrastructures for Digital Editions?
Lex Heerma van Voss (Huygens ING) had been asked to follow the talks, to try to identify some of their common threads, and later to draw them together by asking leading questions in opening the discussion.
One of the emerged major themes was sustainability. It had been approached from a number of different perspectives by the presentations and the subsequent discussion: for example, Anna-Maria Sichani asked such maintenance-related questions as ‘what happens after the innovation?’ and described King’s Digital Lab‘s systematic approach to assess the set of over 150 legacy projects of the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London. Another perspective was that of institutional sustainability: Thomas Stäcker, discussing the roles that libraries could play in maintaining digital editions, offered experiences from the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel and mentioned that the library had been founded in 1572 and that their oldest digital editions from 2003 are still there; in comparison, relative newcomers such as KDL, which has its official launch event this November, look positively green in the face of long-term sustainability. Another sustainability-related thread had to do with funding: while some projects aim to sustain their activities for extended periods of time, they have to deal with financial realities where twists and turns in funding allocation trends can occur very rapidly; often, the projects have to resort to a practical stance and to adapt their activities accordingly in order to try to keep attracting funding.
Another of the major themes discussed was the projects’ impressive scale: for example, the Dutch Song Database contains over 170 000 song descriptions, and the Resolutions of the States General material that is being worked on spans for a period of over two-hundred years and runs up to some 200 000 pages. The ability to work on such a scale was seen both an advantage and a pain. It was also seen as something that had already, relating to institutional decision-making and allocation of funding, had an impact on many long-term projects’ working methods. For example, Jan Burgers seemed to be of the opinion that the arrival of the digital era was a timely blessing in the sense that the traditional editing of charters had been coming to a dead-end, but also a curse in the sense that the new digital methods were at a disconnect with the traditional ones, and that, in the end, scholars would have to adapt. Within the discussion, it also became clear that the products generated by the vast projects of today will likely be integrated into or directly stood on by future projects: for example, the Dutch Song Database has already been used and built on by more than a dozen projects; and, one can imagine how the preparation of the Resolutions will result in a tool for historians and as such a resource that will also be built on.
In addition and around the above themes, the discussion touched upon topics such as the need to still to reconsider the distances between traditional editing methods and new digital ones and both of their products; how to deal with and maintain legacy projects and heritage editions; and what could be the roles of libraries in hosting digital editions and in supporting their creation; as well as, a series of horizontal issues spanning across many of the questions, such as technical infrastructures and standards, etc. But before long, the inspiring morning had to wind to a close to allow us to scurry along and enjoy other standards, this time that of the lunch fare of Antwerpian sandwiches.