Challenges of long-term sustainability of DH projects: the LAM (Libraries, Archives and Museums) perspective

Format: online workshop (presentations and breakout sessions)
Date: 7 March 2023, 15:00-17:00 CET / 09:00-11:00 ET
Organisers: Olga Holownia (IIPC), Helena Byrne (British Library) and Grace Bicho (Library of Congress)
Intended audience: Anyone working in the ALM sector with Digital Humanities support, outreach, training, and research; DH project managers
Relevance to the CfP topics: “Critical, theoretical and empirical perspectives on digital preservation, long-term archiving and accessibility, as well as software and data sustainability”


Workshop Description

Status of the field

In 2009, an entire issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly was dedicated to a topic that is likely to resonate with anyone ever involved in managing a Digital Humanities project – “How do we know when we’re done? What does it mean to “finish” a piece of digital work?” (Kirschenbaum, 2009). Open-ended nature of DH projects can be quite liberating but may also result in limited planning for long-term sustainability, discoverability and access to completed projects. Funding focused on starting up does not help with creating standards and workflows for preservation of digital projects. What happens to project websites and databases once the funding runs out? What is the “natural” home point once the projects have been completed? Regarding lessons learned, does it remain important to ask; “Whatever happened to Project Bamboo”? Can web archives support long-term preservation and access? A number of issues related to the longevity of DH projects have been more recently discussed in the context of King’s Digital Labs and lessons learned from their experiment are a good starting point for this workshop along with the initiative by the Portuguese Web Archive to preserve research and development project websites hosted on the .eu domain. How far do current practices in research data management and the development data management plans cater for the long-term preservation requirements of DH projects? Could ALM institutions partner with research infrastructures such as DARIAH and CLARIN to address this issue?


While partnerships with cultural heritage institutions won’t necessarily mean that they will become long-term custodians of outputs of DH projects, their expertise can certainly contribute significantly to the development of best practices. Increasingly, university IT departments are introducing  policies that define shutdown dates for project websites and databases that have not been regularly maintained, and are viewed as security risks. Due to playback and access limitations, web archives are still not considered a good solution for the project’s ultimate “shelf life”. Yet, to date, there is no long-term solution to preserve the institutional memory of these, often publicly funded, DH initiatives.  


The aims of this workshop are: 1) to explore current practices related to long-term preservation of DH projects, including websites and custom-built databases, 2) to identify challenges related to maintenance as well as storage and cataloging of such initiatives, 3) identify barriers of archiving and accessing such content via web archives, and 4) to work out shared solutions for providing discoverability and access to such projects. We would also look at the ways ALM institutions help promote DH projects, e.g. through educational programmes, GLAM Labs initiatives and linking the projects to existing digital collections, etc.


The workshop aims to bring together DH researchers and ALM practitioners interested in the topic and would focus on current standards and workflows, ways of enhancing discoverability, use cases as well as outreach programmes. Invited speakers will present short talks on best practices in their institutions. This will be followed by a brainstorming breakout session the goal of which is to create generic guidelines that could be used to create workflows for individual institutions and web domains where the projects are hosted. This workshop follow-up on the DHNB 2022 workshop Digital Humanities and Support Units in the Nordic and Baltic Countries (2022) could contribute to connecting the activities of the DHLAM Working Group and the IIPC Research Working Group.