David Bearman corrects me on my reference to the principle of “Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe” (which I incorrectly called “Keep Lots of Copies of Stuff Everywhere”). The LOCKSS principle is more than 10 years old, credited to Sun Microsystems Laboratories’ David Rosenthal and Stanford University Library’s Vicky Reich. The technical details of the implementation of the principle by online archives and libraries is somewhat beyond me, but the basic idea is a compelling one. How do we make sure that simple and powerful projects like this one get highlighted at the World Summit on the Information Society?
The objectives of the LOCKSS project are simple but profound:
The goal of the LOCKSS project is to enable libraries to take custody of the material to which they subscribe–in the same way they do for paper–and preserve it permanently. Using a clever polling system, the LOCKSS system permanently caches copies of online content–enough copies to assure continuous access around the world. This helps ensure that links and searches by authorized individuals continue to locate the published material even if it is no longer available from the publisher. And when a copy of an online journal is misplaced or damaged, the LOCKSS system takes notice and replaces it.
Thus even if the initial website goes under, cached copies of the material will still be retained elsewhere. The LOCKSS system is founded on a few basic notions:
- Acquire lots of copies.
- Scatter them around the world so that it is easy to find some of them and hard to find all of them.
- Lend or copy your copies when other libraries need them.
- And collaborate only with competent and trusted libraries.
The LOCKSS principle is focused mainly on online scientific journals, but the applications for many other spheres — from music to art to indigenous knowledge — are profound. We could use this process to make available lots of civil society documents that are constantly in danger of disappearing forever when somebody’s website dies or an NGO closes its doors. The LOCKSS principle is a more articulated version of the “peer-to-peer” model of content distribution, with more of an emphasis on archiving than on sharing of knowledge.
Ideas such as LOCKSS are just the kind of concepts that deserve wider consideration in the ICT policy community within the WSIS and beyond. For just this reason, perhaps UNESCO should have a very strong role in the follow-up to the WSIS beyond November. Because who else will make sure that these kinds of ideas get out there?
For more information see http://research.sun.com/features/tenyears/LOCKSS.html