Talk about nightmares for creative people! Dennis Cooper, a novelist, poet, performance artist, and more, entrusted Google-owned Blogger with most of his artwork over the past 14 years. It’s gone now.
Visitors just see notification that “denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.com has been removed.”
While the Cooper blog contained some sexually explicit material, it appeared with an 18+ alert. The sex may or may not have been the reason for Cooper’s blog going AWOL. But one message comes through loud and clear. We can’t trust for-profit corporations to undertake long-term preservation, as my friend Beth Wellington discovered some years back. Google is a great example of the risks here.
Now The Digital Reader is beating up on Cooper for not backing up his work as he went along. Obvious! But also consider that it’s tough enough being a writer or an artist with only so much time or money. Furthermore, as Nate Hoffelder at TDR acknowledges, some platforms lack provisions for easy backups.
Beyond the wisdom of backups, the real message I’m getting is that libraries should worry more about born-digital content. Here’s a dream for the future. As a recognized writer and performance artist, Cooper could have archived his work at a trustworthy library site as he went along. Perhaps he would have paid a small fee. But with the right APIs and infrastructure in place, the process could have been a lot less cumbersome than it is now. That’s not the only factor to consider. While backup services exist, they are only short-term solutions. Like commercial blogging platforms and others, they can go out of business.
The optimal solution for the ages would be national digital library systems with sustainable financing and low-thresholds for creators to qualify for free long-term preservation of their work. Those not qualifying could still enjoy eternal storage through payment of reasonable fees even if their output was not the center of attraction of search engines. Later, should critics rediscover their words, images or sounds, they could also be included in the main shows.