The Walt Whitman Archive – Greene 2
2What are its weaknesses? What do you wish it would let you do? What changes would you suggest?
Mark A. Greene
Director, American Heritage Center – University of WyomingPast President – Society of American Archivists
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The weaknesses I have noticed in the Archive are not unique to this site. One problem is the site’s misunderstanding—and thus its improper assertion—of copyrights.[ref]I am a founding member of the Society of American Archivists’ Intellectual Property Working Group.[/ref] Specifically the site asserts the existence of copyright in the transcripts and facsimiles and more broadly in Whitman’s writings—because transcripts and facsimiles are “slavish copies” neither is entitled to copyright protection;[ref]The term is from the U.S. Second District Court of New York’s decision in Bridgeman Art Library Ltd v. Corel Corporation, 1998.[/ref]published or unpublished anything written by Whitman is in the public domain.[ref]See “Conditions of Use,” TWWA. Unpublished works are public domain for authors deceased prior to 1940; published works for everything published prior to 1923. For an authoritative source, see Peter Hirtle, “Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States: 1 January 2010,” online at http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm.[/ref] Only original contributions of editors are copyrightable at this late date.[ref]Such mistakes are not unique to The Walt Whitman Archive, certainly. Copyright statements for the In the Valley of the Shadow Civil War project (http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/VoS/usingvalley/copyright.html) and the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition site (http://lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu/read/?_xmlsrc=lc.privacy.xml&_xslsrc=LCstyles.xsl) are much more egregious.[/ref] What distresses me about the inaccuracies is they suggest that there are limits to use of the main site content by researchers—notwithstanding frequent assertions that the purpose of the archive is “to make Whitman’s vast work electronically accessible” to all.[ref]Katherine L. Walter and Kenneth M. Price, “An Online Guide to Walt Whitman’s Dispersed Manuscripts,” TWWA (2004).[/ref] Making the archive accessible but incorrectly claiming limitations on actual use is paradoxical at best.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 There are other issues causing me unease, for example the inadequacy of site use data. The site does not regularly report use statistics, and what statistics it does provide—average daily hits in 2007[ref]Ed Folsom, “Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives,” TWWA (2007).[/ref]–are of dubious value even when current.[ref]Google Analytics: “the number of hits a website receives is not a valid popularity gauge, but rather is an indication of server use and loading” (http://www.google.com/support/analytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=33026). Better measures are unique visitors or page views, coupled with visits’ duration.[/ref] In addition there is little similar data at similar websites to compare to (though to their credit one of the site editors did gather some parallel data in 2008).[ref]The data, from the Willa Cather Archive and the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, is presented in Kenneth M. Price, “Electronic Scholarly Editions,” TWWA (2008).[/ref] Thus this is an endemic weakness of major “archive” sites, a weakness related to a broader disinterest in the economics and sustainability of such sites.[ref]And of bricks and mortar archival operations, though this is beginning to change, as suggested by the questions—“Does the level of onsite use of special collections justify the resources being expended? What are the most appropriate measures by which to evaluate use?”—in Jackie M. Dooley and Katherine Luce, Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives (OCLC, 2010), 34-36, online at http://www.oclc.org/research/publications/library/2010/2010-11.pdf.[/ref] The greater viability of websites such as The Walt Whitman Archive is ultimately the $64,000 question and the focus of my essay for Part II of this roundtable.