From June 1-December 30, 2018 members of the ELL Team received funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to build the ELO Repository for the Electronic Literature Organization, which has been hosted by the CMDC Program at WSUV for the past two years. Though the official deadline has long past, the popularity of the work were doing meant ELO continued to receive collections to add to the site––a phenomenon we were hoping to occur. The number has expanded from the seven ELO originally owned or managed to now 15 collections. The newest one was received yesterday: the nearly complete works of Stephanie Strickland.
Below is the final report Grigar, the Lead PI of the project and Director of ELL, submitted yesterday to the Mellon Foundation. We are all very proud of our work.
We would like to thank Emma Dickson who came on board of the project as our Ruby on Rails developer. We also appreciate the support of our partner, the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab at the University of Victoria, Compute Canada, and of course WSUV for its support of the ELO and this lab.
Comprehensive Online Portal for Electronic Literature Works (COPE) Final Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
A Comprehensive Online Portal for Electronic Literature Works (COPE, https://hyrax.elo-repository.org/) saw the development of a repository––entitled the “ELO Repository”––for hosting collections owned or managed by the organization and the ingestion of the available metadata for works of electronic literature held in the seven collections the ELO had developed. The PIs included Dr. Dene Grigar, Professor & Director, Electronic Literature Lab at Washington State University Vancouver; Nicholas Schiller, Librarian III, Washington State University Vancouver; Dr. Abby Adams, Digital Archivist, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin; and Dr. Leonardo Flores, Professor, University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez. The work commenced on June 1, 2018 and was completed on December 20, 2018, on deadline. This project aimed to make works of electronic literature discoverable and accessible to the public, and viewable in their native software environments. It constituted the first step in the larger vision to preserve this form of experimental literature that is in danger of being lost because the technology needed to experience it is becoming outmoded, thus rendering the work inaccessible to the public.
In this first stage, the team implemented the comprehensive digital asset management system, Samvera, for the creation of the ELO Repository. This work required that we set up an instance of Samvera on the server provided the project by Compute Canada and, then, build the infrastructure for the repository with the programming language, Ruby on Rails. We worked with a programmer from the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab (ETCL) at the University of Victoria on the former activity and with programmers from the company, Notch8––recommended to us by Anna Headley at Princeton University––on the latter. While the site was under development, undergraduate researchers led by Grigar and Schiller at the Electronic Literature Lab at Washington State University Vancouver, inputted available metadata for each work in the seven collections onto spreadsheets (one per collection) developed by Adams that followed the MODS protocol. Once the spreadsheets were completed, Adams and Schiller oversaw the refinement of that metadata in OpenRefine. When the site was ready for ingesting metadata, Greg Philbrook, tech support for the project from Washington State University Vancouver, uploaded the information from the spreadsheets into the ELO Repository. While works were ingested, Grigar and Flores worked with a programmer to design the front end of the ELO Repository so that the site would be user-friendly and the collections easy to find and access. In sum, this project, stage 1 (of three stages we envision for the ELO Repository) accomplished the following items promised in the grant proposal: 1) the development of a digital storage management for preservation and access copies, 2) full-text searchable database of metadata for all entries, and 3) public discovery so that all works in ELO’s archives can be discovered by the public through a digital asset management system.
To date, the PIs not only completed the project on time and on budget, they also were able to expand it by including other collections given to ELO for the ELO Repository. Promised in the proposal were seven collections amounting to approximately 1000 works of electronic literature. They included:
- trAce Online Writing Centre
- ELO’s video collection of readings and performances
- BeeHive Hypertext/Hypermedia Journal
- Individual artists’ archives
- N. Katherine Hayles’ personal collection
Once we worked closely with the collections and the metadata from the works, we arrived at, as of this report, 11 collections containing 1412 works. They include:
- Turbulence.org: 344 items
- trAce Online Writing Centre: 34 items
- The ELO Collection: 31 items
- The ELC 3: 109 items
- Pathfinders: 404 items
- BeeHive Hypertext/Hypermedia Journal: 242 items
- The Sarah Smith Collection: 17 items
- The David Kolb Collection: 22 items
- The Robert Kendall Collection: 6 items
- The N. Katherine Hayles Collection: 38 items
- The Museum of the Essential and Beyond That: 165 items
Some of the decisions we made in organizing the ELO Repository, like separating the Individual Artists Archives into separate collections and moving the ELC 3––originally conceived as part of the ELO Collections––into its own collection because it made the organizational structure more logical, helped to shift the number from 7 to 10. But another, more significant phenomenon that occurred resulted in the 11thcollection: the donation of “The Museum of the Essential and Beyond That” to ELO. This particular collection includes works by international artists exhibited during the heyday of net art in late 1990s and early 2000s in an online gallery founded by Brazilian artist Regina Pinto.
The donation also heralded the beginning of many donations of archives to ELO to own or manage. We are now in the process of adding the journals Riding the Meridian, Word Circuits, and The Iowa Review Web; personal papers and archives from artists M.D. Coverley, Deena Larsen, Tim McLaughlin, and Richard Holeton; and additional donations from David Kolb and Alan Sondheim. We are also in talks with the editors of Cauldron & Net andPoems That Go, journals that published electronic literature from 1999-2002, about taking over the management of those archives. Also of note has been the arrival of paper archives to accompany the works of electronic literature. Already ELO had been given eight boxes of physical archives associated with Turbulence.orgthat includes paperwork for its commissioned works by artists such as Cory Archangel, Kate Armstrong, and Michael Takeo Magruder, among hundreds of other artists. We also have been holding paper archives for the trAce Online Writing Centre, given to us by Sue Thomas who founded the organization, and digital archives of Robert Kendall and Sarah Smith. Most recently we received four boxes of notebooks, papers, media art, and ephemera from pioneering e-lit artist Deena Larsen that can be used to document the provenance of her own work as well as by other artists, and five boxes of materials from Alan Sondheim that includes not only his personal papers but also his personal collection of books related to science and technology and early radio and signaling machinery. Put simply, the development of the ELO Repository has struck a nerve in the electronic literature community that has resulted in the donations of many important archives and the awareness of the need to preserve this cultural heritage. Thanks to Mellon funding we have already received, ELO is well poised to meet its goal to document, preserve, and thereby make available pioneering works of born digital literature.
The ELO Repository can be found at https://hyrax.elo-repository.org. Because we are still ingesting new collections where bulk ingestion of metadata is required, we have not yet moved the site out of production mode. In this stage we have not yet ingested the works themselves, so we have created a web interface for public access (http://elo-repository.org). Visitors to the ELO Repository can also find a link to works if they are still available online and we have permission to show them.
Setbacks or Challenges:
We did not experience setbacks, but we did face two challenges.
One challenge that we considered to be intellectually stimulating emerged early on while we were working with the metadata: Current name authority files (VIAF, LCNA, ULAN, etc.) are not adequate for the existing and rapidly growing corpus of electronic literature, born-digital art, videogames, and software applications. The role, 3D Modeler, for example, does not yet exist, so when encountering it, we resorted to the general term, “Creator”––which was the same term we used for the Author of a work. Wanting to be more accurate with our documentation, we reached out to Dragan Espenshied, the Preservation Director at Rhizome.org to see how he was handling it. This communication led to a collaboration between ELO and Rhizome.org to address the challenge presented by current practice relating to name authority files, as well as to share metadata and provenance across the two organizations. At Rhizome.org’s invitation Grigar and Adams attended its Linked Open Data/Wikibase workshop held in September in NYC. It was there the Co-PIs decided that in order to collaborate effectively with Rhizome.org, ELO would need to set up a Wikibase and align it with Rhizome.org’s. To that end, ELO recently set up an instance of Wikibase on the server. That step makes it possible for ELO to work with Rhizome.org to structure the site. Finally, this collaboration has also led ELO to adopt the Linked Open Data Five-Star approach to its preservation projects (see accompanying .pdf), which we see as a necessary step for making works findable by the public, sharable among collaborators, and as important, accurate.
The second challenge we encountered related to a personnel change at the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab (ETCL): The new programmer hired was not an experienced Ruby on Rails developer. This meant that we had to find someone from outside ETCL to handle the installation and development of the ELO Repository. Contact with a colleague at Princeton University, mentioned previously in this report, led to the hiring of Notch8 to take over the Hyrax development of the Repository. Another contact led us to hire an independent programmer, Emma Dickson, to work with Grigar and Flores on the front end of the site.
It is worth mentioning that setting up the system by which WSUV pays invoices sent by ETCL took much time and caused the final budget report to be generated for this report.
This is the only report we were expected to do, so there have been no changes.
As mentioned above, we came to realize quickly that the current approach to working with metadata does not align completely with the needs of digital records that are participatory, interactive, and experiential and many times for works produced by large teams of artists, designers, content developers, and programmers. As mentioned previously, we found that we needed to create a workaround in some instances. Because the discrepancy in publication dates and versions for a number of electronic literature works we were working with, we also regret that we had not planned to ingest the paper archives that validate information reflected in the metadata for the electronic works. We agreed that the Wikibase the ELO plans to build in order to follow the 5 Star Linked Open Data will be invaluable in the future for this reason. We also wish we could have had a full-time archivist working on the project with us because it would have helped us with the organizational and preservation strategies for the various collections.
Goals Following the Grant End:
As mentioned at the beginning of this report, this project represents the first stage of three envisioned for the ELO Archives. The next two stages include:
This stage includes five activities:
- Continuing to refine the metadata for the works already ingested into the ELO Repository
- Continuing to take in archives, preparing them for the ELO Repository, and ingesting them into the site
- Adding content to the ELO Wikibase, aligning it with Rhizome.org for the purpose of sharing data, training members of the ELO’s Consortium of Electronic Literature (CELL) to add data to the Wikibase, and tying it to the ELO Repository––an activity for which Grigar is planning to write a National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation and Access Education and Training grant
- Digitizing paper archives that accompany works of electronic literature and for which we have permission and ingesting this information into the ELO Repository to accompany their appropriate works
- Ingesting the actual works of electronic literature (for which ELO has the appropriate permissions), including all the born digital files they are composed of, into the digital management system where the migrated metadata can accompany the works
At the completion of this stage the works with appropriate rights can be downloaded and viewed from the ELO Repository, provided the software needed to access the work is available. Additionally digital archives that provide provenance for the works will be available to the public.
This stage includes two activities:
- Providing recordings of appropriate works created with Adobe Flash, Macromedia Director and other outmoded multimedia software, via Rhizome.org’s open-source platform, Webrecorder
- Utilizing emulation software for all works of electronic literature that ELO owns or for which it has secured the copyright to make accessible to the public
At the completion of this stage, works in the ELO Repository will be available online for viewing and study as emulations by the public. Thus far, Grigar and Schiller have experimented with Webrecorder as a way to preserve Flash-based works. Additionally, Grigar and Adams met with representatives with the Software Preservation Network about the EaaSI program to “develop . . . technology and services that support distributed management, documentation, sharing, and use of emulated software across a broad range of disciplines.” Specifically, we are interested in legacy software (i.e. HyperCard, Storyspace, ToolBox) that was used for the production of early works published on removeable disks for stand-alone computers and web-based software like Flash and Director that was used extensively for web-based net art.
While the activities, described above, are important for preserving works collected and managed by ELO, there is in fact a larger, more significant step that needs to be undertaken in order to preserve interactive and multimedia works of born digital media––and that is the development of a formal Institute where representatives from organizations like the Wikimedia Foundation, Rhizome.org, EaaSI, ELO, and others; digital archivists, digital librarians, and cataloguers’; and media artists and scholars have the opportunity to re-think best practices for preserving this kind of cultural and historical artifact. To that end, Grigar has been in discussions with WSUV about supporting this larger project, identifying space in the library for it. With access to the digital and physical files, legacy computers for viewing outmoded works and doing forsenics activities, ample server space for holding the works themselves, and trained technical staff and library staff, an Institute––as she is envisioning––can tackle issues from the constraints of MODS (discussed previously in this report) to ways to present digital and physical artifacts in a collection more effectively, to implementing the Five Star Linked Open Data to an already existing archive. The Institute ultimately is a natural outgrowth of the work Grigar, together with her team and many partners (e.g. Rhizome.org, ETCL), have been doing in her lab for the last seven years.
Success was defined as completing the task of building the ELO Repository and ingesting the seven collections belonging to or managed by the Electronic Literature Organization.
An additional measurement not envisioned at the outset of this project was the excitement generated in the electronic literature community for the work we were doing that resulted in the donation of numerous other collections to ELO. Web journals, Riding the Meridianand Word Circuits, and the personal papers and works belonging to Richard Holeton, Mez Breeze and other artists constitute a few given to ELO since announcing the project. We estimate that by May 30, a full year after beginning this project, we will have archived over 2000 works of electronic literature.
Publications and Press:
“Coping with Bits, Part 2.” With Abby Adams, Leonardo Flores, and Nicholas Schiller. Electronic Literature Organization Conference & Media Art Festival. July 2019; Cork, Ireland.
Adams, Abby. “Coping with Bits: An Archivist’s Perspective.” Preservation and Access Special Interest Group (PASIG). February 2019; Mexico City, MX.
Grigar, Dene. “Born Digital Literature: History, Theory, and Practice.” The 2019 Modern Language Association Conference. January 2019; Chicago, IL.
Grigar, Dene and Abby Adams, “Working with Born Digital Open Data.” Linked (Open) Data/Wikibase Summit. September 2018; NYC.
Grigar, Dene, Abby Adams, Leonardo Flores, and Nicholas Schiller. “Coping with Bits: Developing a Comprehensive Online Portal for Electronic Literature Works.” Electronic Literature Organization Conference & Media Art Festival. August 2018; Montreal, Canada.
Grigar, Dene and Astrid Ensslin. “Rethinking the Canon of Pre-Web Hypertext Literature: A Call to Action about Preserving Our Early E-Lit Cultural Heritage.” Electronic Literature Organization Conference & Media Art Festival. August 2018; Montreal, Canada.
Grigar, Dene.“Archiving Electronic Literature: Selection Criteria, Methodology, and Challenges.” Journal of Archival Organization. Essay in production.
The project maintained a project website, entitled Coping with Bits, managed by Leonardo Flores. It’s URL is http://copingwithbits.org.
Additionally, Electronic Literature Organization publicized the work the team has done on its own website, eliterature.org, located at http://eliterature.org.
Grigar also provided weekly updates about the work the Electronic Literature Lab team was doing on the project and monitored the analytics for these postings. The web address for this site is http://dtc-wsuv.org/wp/holly-sandbox/. The site has received 16.9 average daily page views. Since June 1, 2018––the date we began the project––the site has had 4751 total page views and 2528 unique visits.
ELO promoted the project on its own Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/6189208410/) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/eliterature) sites. It has 1773 Facebook members and 4422 Twitter Followers. These are managed by Communication Director Mark Marino.
The Electronic Literature Lab also maintains an active Twitter account (https://twitter.com/ELitLab) that Grigar manages that has 272 Followers. During the month of November, for example, we had 15.0K Impressions with a majority of them stemming from Tweets relating to our work with the project and archives we were preparing for ingestion.
As mentioned, this project elicited much excitement in the community because there has not been a concerted effort to collect, preserve, and make available early works of electronic literature at this level before. Artists like Mez Breeze who have been reticent about allowing for their works to be archived by libraries in the past are now sending us work to ELO for long-term management. Artists who have been unsure what to do with their papers, like Tim McLaughlin, are likewise donating them to ELO. The result is that by May 30, 2019, one year after we launched this project, ELO will have preserved the metadata of over 2000 works of electronic literature in the ELO Repository and expanded its archives to include close to every major online journal publishing electronic literature during the 1990s to early 2000s; many major artists in the field; and ephemera from conferences, exhibitions, workshops, performances and readings. We expect with the demise of Adobe Flash in December 2020, artists will turn to ELO for help maintaining and making available much of the web-based electronic literature developed with this software.
After paying all expenses, we are left with $1793.72 in “Salaries” in the budget. This overage is due to Grigar not taking the full stipend, $2500, allotted her in the budget. There were increases in Goods & Services and Travel, but these expenses are offset by money not spent in the other category.
ELO is taking advantage of Fair Use to make the metadata of the works in these collections available to the public. ELO has received permission to host all works that reside on the ELO server, such as TrAce, Turbulence.org, and The Museum of the Essential and Beyond That. ELO has not made any work under copyright, such as those published by Eastgate Systems, Inc., available to the public, whether it has access to the files or not. ELO does link to public versions of works that artists have made public elsewhere.