Libraries used to be the main stewards of the cultural and scientific record. But in the era of digital storage “cloud computing,” the institutions best-positioned to manage vast quantities of data are often companies such as Google and Elsevier.
That is a big problem, said James Hilton, the chief information officer at the University of Virginia, in a talk on Thursday here at Educause.
For all their current stability and rhetorical commitments to preserving their records, Google and Elsevier cannot be trusted with the task of digital preservation in the long term, said Hilton.
The Virginia CIO recalled meeting with representatives from Elsevier back when he was an interim library director at the University of Michigan. “We were talking about this problem of digital preservation,” he said. “And Elsevier’s response was, ‘We got it, don’t worry about it; we were Galileo’s publisher, we’ve been around for hundreds of years, we got it.’ ”
But Elsevier’s stewardship of its archive thus far is no guarantee that the contents of that archive will be safe if the company does not pull off the rare feat of surviving hundreds more years, Hilton said. The safety of those hundreds of years’ worth of research literature, he said, should not depend on the fortune of any single entity, let alone one whose priorities are oriented to its bottom line.