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Outside of the process of grantsmanship, determining the foundational level of support that can be accessed and built upon by individual projects has proven to be a challenge. College IT, which has a share in the DRC, is a separate entity from university ITS, each carries out different roles and has different regulations concerning their activities and ours. These are not always clearly defined, and sometimes that means that the initial response to a request—“No, you can’t do that”—is not the only response available to a researcher. Part of the process of establishing this work at an institutional level is, first, communicating with university ITS about specific needs that go beyond the somewhat limited services currently available and second, establishing clearly evident roles and responsibilities of the various units and staff at all levels of the university.

According to Dr. Rick Bunt, Chief Information Officer and Associate Vice-President, Information and Communications Technology, research support for digital projects in the humanities is an area where ITS needs to develop a better understanding of how to provide support. Support for research is a high priority for the next two years and, he explains, it is not merely “providing more cycles and getting supercomputer access.” He explains that ITS needs researchers to articulate their needs and contribute to the development of a foundational level of support infrastructure committed to research in the various areas of information technologies. Data storage, he says, can be accommodated easily and cheaply, but how long we keep the data and how we organize it still needs to be determined. When I suggested I want it to be accessible and running forever, we both laughed. But longevity is what I want, and one aspect of the process seems to involve repeatedly explaining to those outside of the humanities what “data” is to us. Unlike other disciplines, the texts produced in the humanities are not immediately superseded by new discoveries. We expect any text or project we produce to have a long life, and this means that, in addition to support and infrastructure for building and storing these new forms of editions, we will need to have access to means for upgrading and maintaining them long after any initial funding has been depleted. “Curation,” Bunt suggests, will be the responsibility of the scholar; I suspect it should be a joint responsibility of the library and the scholar, but the library too will need a significant investment of resources and infrastructure if it is to ultimately host digital projects over the long term.

The university has made definite improvements over the last ten years: at one time an individual scholar was not allotted enough server space for a single edition of scanned pages; currently, for a class or small project where the demands are not too high, the DRC server can meet basic requirements (PHP is installed, and 5–10 GB of server space is readily available). However, the ordinary needs that are normally quite inexpensive and readily available through a commercial provider are prohibitively expensive, cannot be managed by the researcher due to security constraints, and require wait time for assistance in a university setting (i.e., larger amounts of free server space are not available: due to the requirements imposed by external funding, the DRC cannot provide for free what other projects pay for through particular grants; hosting a domain is unusual, creating a database and adding users, creating ftp accounts or new directories, providing levels of access for different groups, a programming environment that as a matter of course would allow researchers to develop with Perl, ASP, .Net, JSP and Ruby on Rails, etc.). I pay about $2 per month for hosting my site on iWeb, a commercial service in Quebec, with these capabilities built in. To get access to a virtual server in the DRC, with some of these capabilities, would cost $500 per year. I am fortunate to have some of this support from ITS in the form of server space, a domain, and MYSQL databases which I have access to login and manipulate myself, in part because I am known and trusted by the webmaster, but inquiries about hiring programmers from ITS have taken months for a response. This is understandable, albeit frustrating. They have many priorities and are in much demand: one small project with limited funds is unlikely to be at the top of the list.

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Source:  OpenStax, Online humanities scholarship: the shape of things to come. OpenStax CNX. May 08, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11199/1.1
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