University of Illinois
Defining the term "authenticity" as it applies to digital resources or electronic records has been a growth industry of late. A number of library organizations have grappled with the concept. The Council on Library and Information Resources issues a recent report stating that term can mean different things to a law librarian, an archivist, or a rare book librarian. The term can apply differently to published and unpublished materials. Behind any definition of the term authenticity lie assumptions about the meaning and significance of content, fixity, consistency of reference, provenance and context.
Before coming back to law libraries I spent time working at a large unnamed Midwestern university's e-text center. A portion of my time was spent creating headers (metadata) for e-texts the library had downloaded from places like Project Gutenberg. In some cases, a great deal of effort was put into documenting the provenance of the original document the e-text was scanned from. More often, however, more effort was placed into the tagging of the text than into its descriptive metadata. This made the process of creating a header similar to that of upgrading a very sparse MARC record by using a text with no title page, cover or other front matter. Often we could not determine what text was scanned to create the digital version or if only one edition had been used.
These were primarily humanities texts. In law, many of our assumptions regarding authenticity of legal materials flow from procedural matters. We call something the authentic code of the state based upon who issues or publishes it or because the relevant legislative or official bodies have declared it the "authentic" copy. Provenance is a key factor in our determinations. Ultimately, though, the process is grounded in trust.
When we are in doubt about the authenticity of a digital version, we can often fall back to the print version as a means of comparison. This can no longer be considered a long term solution. As electronic publishing and distribution of information continues to grow and to be seen as a cheaper alternative to print that fall back print copy begins to appear less and less.
Determining a clear definition of authenticity is essential for both technical and public service librarians. As we attempt to acquire, catalog and preserve digital/electronic legal materials, knowing that we have the "authentic" version cataloged and preserved or that we are delivering to our clients the "authentic" statute or code cite should be as seamless as it is in the print environment. These issues need to be settled before users can feel confident in creating and relying upon digital information.
The issues relating to authenticity, trust and security of digital records and electronic publications have been discussed at length over the last few years. Perhaps we need to begin a dialogue among law librarians as well to determine what our definition of "authenticity" should be?
The following are two recent reports covering this topic that are worthy of review.
Defining Authenticity in the Digital Environment (Council on Library and Information Resources) May 2000. (http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub92/contents.html)
On January 24, 2000, CLIR convened a group of experts from different domains of the information resources community to address the question: What is an authentic digital object? To prepare for the discussion, five individuals were asked to write position papers that identify the attributes that define authentic digital data over time.
The authors were Charles T. Cullen (Newberry Library), Peter B. Hirtle (Cornell Institute for Digital Collections), David Levy (University of Washington), Clifford Lynch (Coalition for Networked Information) and Jeff Rothenberg (RAND Corporation).
The Cullen article is interesting in it use of legal history examples, especially regarding the papers of John Marshall. Cullen also describes an authentication strategy proposed by Andy Hopper of Cambridge University. In this scenario librarians would act as "trusted third parties" to authenticate materials for researchers.
David Levy's recent work has attempted to answer the question, "What is a document?" The essay included here as well as his recent book "Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age" are both good reads.
Authenticity Task Force Final Report (InterPARES Project) October 2001 (http://www.interpares.org/reports.htm)
The following description is from the InterPARES website.
The InterPARES (International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems) Project is a major international research initiative in which archival scholars, computer engineering scholars, national archival institutions and private industry representatives are collaborating to develop the theoretical and methodological knowledge required for the long-term preservation of the authenticity of records created in electronic systems. The InterPARES Project is based in the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia. The first phase of the project, InterPARES 1, began in 1999 and was concluded in 2001. It focused on the preservation of the authenticity of records that are no longer needed by the creating body to fulfill its own mission or purposes. This phase has produced conceptual requirements for authenticity and models of the processes of selection and preservation of authentic electronic records.
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) has granted a second phase of the InterPARES Project. InterPARES 2: Experiential, Interactive and Dynamic Records began on January 1, 2002 and will continue until December 31, 2006. Although based on the findings of the original InterPARES Project, InterPARES 2 is dramatically innovative in several ways:
1. it will address issues of reliability and accuracy in addition to issues of authenticity, where InterPARES 1 was only concerned with authenticity;
2. it will address them throughout the records' life-cycle (from creation to permanent preservation), where InterPARES 1 was concerned with non-current records destined to permanent preservation;
3. it will focus on records produced in new digital environments, exper-iential, dynamic, and interactive, where InterPARES 1 was concerned with records generated in databases and document management systems; and its object will be records resulting from artistic, scientific and government activities; whereas InterPARES 1 was concerned with records resulting from administrative and legal activities.