Kim Dulin, who is director of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and Associate Director for Collection Development and Digitization for the Harvard Law School Library, and former co-director of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, presented a talk on Taking on Link Rot: Harvard Innovation Lab’s Perma.CC as part of the Program on Information Science Brown Bag Series.
In the talk, illustrated by the slides below, Kim discusses how libraries can mitigate link rot in legal scholarship by coordinating on digital preservation.
In her abstract, Kim describes her talk as follows:
Perma.cc (http://perma.cc) is a web archiving platform and service developed by the Harvard Library Innovation Lab (LIL) to help combat link rot. Link rot occurs when links to websites point to web pages whose content has changed or disappeared. Perma.cc allows authors and editors to create permanent links for citations to web sources that will not rot. Upon direction from an author, Perma.cc will retrieve and save the contents of a cited web page and assign it a permanent Perma.cc link. The Perma.cc link is then included in the author’s references. When users later follow those references, they will have the option of proceeding to the website as it currently exists or viewing the cached version of the website as the creator of the Perma.cc link saw it. Regardless of what happens to the website in the future, the content will forever be accessible for scholarly and educational purposes via Perma.cc.
According to the talk, link rot in law publications is very high — approximately fifty percent of links in Supreme Court of the US opinions are rotten, and the situation is worse in law journals. Perma.cc has been successful in part because durability is a very important selling point for attorneysA signal of this is that the latest edition of the official editorial manual for law publications (the “blue book“), now recommends that links included in legal publication be archived.
Perma provides a workable solution to a problem of concern, centered on libraries. In her talk Kim focuses on the diverse role that libraries play. Libraries act as gatekeepers for the content to be preserved; as long-term custodians of the content (and technically as mirrors); and as direct access points.
(I will also note that libraries are critical in conducting research and develop standards in this area. The MIT Library is engaged in developing practices for collaborative stewardship as a member of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, and the Program is engaged in research on data management and stewardship.)
The talk discusses a number of new directions for perma, including perma-link plugins for Word and wordpress; an API to the service; creating a private LOCKSS network to replicate archival content; and establishing a formal structure of governance, archival policies, and sustainability (funding and resources),
These directions resonates with me. Perma.cc is currently a project that has been very successful at approaching the very general problem of link rot within a specific community of practice. The success of the project in part has to do with the knowledge of, connections with, and adaptation to a specific community. It will be interesting to see how governance and sustainability evolves to enable the transition from a project to community-supported infrastructure .