Saturday, February 8, 2014

Article Analysis: Peter Johan Lor and J.J. Britz, "An ethical perspective on political-economic issues in the long-term preservation of digital heritage"

      Lor, Peter Johan and J.J. Britz. "An ethical perspective on political-economic issues in the long-term preservation of digital heritage." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 63:11 (2012): 2153-2164.

Main Topic
      Lor and Britz explore the ethical and political-economic impacts of archiving items of heritage without consent through a social justice lens. This is achieved via two theoretical scenarios that involve a wealthy nation (Opulentia) and a poor nation (Povertopia).

      Drawing on the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) definition of heritage as “our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations,” Lor and Britz note that heritage includes “the natural environment, the built environment (buildings and monuments, townscapes, archaeological sites), and artifacts (books and documents, objects, pictures)” (2153). While many people may seem to think that preservation and cultural memory is inherently good, Lor and Britz argue that it must be examined more closely than at “face value,” and use two models to discuss the ethical and political-economic impacts of archiving items of heritage, specifically artifacts (2154).
      In the first scenario, scholars at universities in Opulentia create digital copies of the Web sites of the opposition parties in Povertopia for scholarly research, knowing that the Web sites will be taken down once the ruling party wins the rigged elections. However, an official from Povertopia uses this archive to place political dissidents in jail (2154-5).
      In the second scenario, a library in Opulentia offers to provide the necessary materials for a library in Povertopia to digitize its items of enduring value. The library in Povertopia will have access to this digital repository free-of-charge, as will the library in Opulentia. However, Opulentia will retain the right to license the content to others, as it will retain the digital copyright (2155).
      From both of these scenarios, Lor and Britz enter into a discussion of the ethical questions relating to different parties, or “moral agents,” when it comes to digital preservation and archiving: authors, originating communities, rights holders, holding institutions, persons depicted or described, digitizing or acquiring institutions, users, and project funders (2157). Each of these parties may have different goals, and that they should act with moral integrity towards one another. In scenario two, for example, there should be full disclosure in the nature of the project and of Opulentia's intent to make money from the digital collection.
      Lor and Britz conclude by stating that further research is needed, and that it “is in the nature of ethical reflection to be concerned with rights, duties, and moral responsibilities, and with what should be as distinct from, and in relation to, what is and what can be(2162).

Audience and Publication
      This article was published in 2012, at which point in time the World Wide Web and Google were in existence. As it was written by two information professionals, and published in a scholarly journal (Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology), this article's intended primary audience is that of information professionals, or students of information science and technology, who are generally well-educated and have some background knowledge about digital humanities and whom are cognizant of information ethics.

       Peter Johan Lor

Photo Credit:
      Lor is an information professional who began his library science career in 1968 as an Assistant Librarian with the Information and Research Services Department of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria, South Africa. He graduated with an Honors Bachelors Degree in Library Science in 1970, which was later followed with an MLS (1978) and a Doctor of Philosophy in Library and Information Science (1990), all from the University of Pretoria. He has been the National Librarian and Chief Executive Officer of the National Library of South Africa (1999-2003), the Secretary General of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (2005-2008), a visiting professor at the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2009-2011), and currently is a part-time professor in the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria, where he has been on the faculty as Professor Extraordinary since 1998.

      Johannes Britz
Photo Credit: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

      Johannes Britz, who frequently writes under the name J.J. Britz, is currently the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, and Professor in the School of Information Studies, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he has been since 2004. He has received two doctorates (1997 and 2007) from the University of Pretoria, South Africa, where he currently holds the title of Professor Extraordinary. Britz's specialty is in information poverty and social justice, and he has more than 90 professional publications to his name. He co-organized the first African Information Ethics Conference in 2007, and has partnered with UNESCO, the European Union, and several African nations in a professional capacity as researcher/consultant. He currently serves as co-editor of the International Review of Information Ethics (IRIE).

Article Impact
      According to citation statistics for “An Ethical Perspective on Political-Economic Issues in the Long-Term Preservation of Digital Heritage” in Wiley Online Library and Web of Knowledge (a citation database), there are zero known instances of this article being cited as of 8 February 2013.
      A quick type of the article's title into Google on the same date yielded three citation hits: a paper from a conference at IFLA Singapore in 2013, “Legal and Technical Difficulties of Web Archival in Singapore” (; a bibliography by Charles W. Bailey, Jr., entitled “Digital Curation Bibliography: Preservation and Stewardship of Scholarly Works, 2012 Supplement” (; and in “Ethical Issues in the Preservation of Digital Content,” which was a paper by Peter Lor (one of this article's authors) at the Internet Government Forum in Baju, Azerbaijan, in November 2012 (

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