A Conversation on Digital Archiving Practices with Janneke Adema


by Davide Giorgetta and Valerio Nicoletti, with Janneke Adema


Davide Giorgetta and Valerio Nicoletti are both students from ISIA Urbino, where they attend the Master Course in Design for Publishing. They are currently investigating the independent side of digital archiving practices within the scope of the publishing world.

As part of their research, they asked some questions to Janneke Adema, who is Research Fellow in Digital Media at Coventry University, with a PhD in Media (Coventry University) and a background in History (MA) and Philosophy (MA) (both University of Groningen) and Book and Digital Media Studies (MA) (Leiden University). Janneke’s PhD thesis focuses on the future of the scholarly book in the humanities. She has been conducting research for the OAPEN project, and subsequently the OAPEN foundation, from 2008 until 2013 (including research for OAPEN-NL and DOAB). Her research for OAPEN focused on user needs and publishing models concerning Open Access books in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Davide Giorgetta & Valerio Nicoletti: Does a way out from the debate between publishers and digital independent libraries (Monoskop Log, Ubuweb, exist, in terms of copyright? An alternative solution able to solve the issue and to provide equal opportunities to everyone? Would the fear of publishers of a possible reduction of incomes be legitimized if the access to their digital publications was open and free?

Janneke Adema: This is an interesting question, since for many academics this ‘way out’ (at least in so far it concerns scholarly publications) has been envisioned in or through the open access movement and the use of Creative Commons licenses. However, the open access movement, a rather plural and loosely defined group of people, institutions and networks, in its more moderate instantiations tends to distance itself from piracy and copyright infringement or copy(far)left practices. Through its use of and favoring of Creative Commons licenses one could even argue that it has been mainly concerned with a reform of copyright rather than a radical critique of and rethinking of the common and the right to copy (Cramer 2013, Hall 2014).[1] Nonetheless, in its more radical guises open access can be more closely aligned with the practices associated with digital pirate libraries such as the ones listed above, for instance through Aaron Swartz’s notion of Guerilla Open Access:

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access. (Swartz 2008)

However whatever form or vision of open access you prefer, I do not think it is a ‘solution’ to any problem—such as copyright/fight—, but I would rather see it, as I have written elsewhere, ‘as an ongoing processual and critical engagement with changes in the publishing system, in our scholarly communication practices and in our media and technologies of communication.’ And in this sense open access practices offer us the possibility to critically reflect upon the politics of knowledge production, including copyright and piracy, openness and the commons, indeed, even upon the nature of the book itself.

With respect to the second part of your question, again, where it concerns scholarly books, research by Ronald Snijder shows no decline in sales or income for publishers once they release their scholarly books in open access. The open availability does however lead to more discovery and online consultation, meaning that it actually might lead to more ‘impact’ for scholarly books (Snijder 2010).

DG, VN: In which way, if any, are digital archiving practices stimulating new publishing phenomenons? Are there any innovative outcomes, apart the obvious relation to p.o.d. tools? (or interesting new projects in this field)

JA: Beyond extending access, I am mostly interested in how digital archiving practices have the potential to stimulate the following practices or phenomena (which in no way are specific to digital archiving or publishing practices, as they have always been a potential part of print publications too): reuse and remix; processual research and iterative publishing; and collaborative forms of knowledge production. These practices interest me mainly as they have the potential to critique the way the (printed) book has been commodified and essentialised over the centuries, in a bound, linear and fixed format, a practice which is currently being replicated in a digital context. Indeed, the book has been fixed in this way both discursively and through a system of material production within publishing and academia—which includes our institutions and practices of scholarly communication—that prefers book objects as quantifiable and auditable performance indicators and as marketable commodities and objects of symbolic value exchange. The practices and phenomena mentioned above, i.e. remix, versioning and collaboration, have the potential to help us to reimagine the bound nature of the book and to explore both a spatial and temporal critique of the book as a fixed object; they can aid us to examine and experiment with various different incisions that can be made in our scholarship as part of the informal and formal publishing and communication of our research that goes beyond the final research commodity. In this sense I am interested in how these specific digital archiving, research and publishing practices offer us the possibility to imagine a different, perhaps more ethical humanities, a humanities that is processual, contingent, unbound and unfinished. How can these practices aid us in how to cut well in the ongoing unfolding of our research, how can they help us explore how to make potentially better interventions? How can we take responsibility as scholars for our entangled becoming with our research and publications? (Barad 2007, Kember and Zylinska 2012)

Examples that I find interesting in the realm of the humanities in this respect include projects that experiment with such a critique of our fixed, print-based practices and institutions in an affirmative way: for example Mark Amerika’s remixthebook project; Open Humanities’ Living Books about Life series; projects such as Vectors and Scalar; and collaborative knowledge production, archiving and creation projects, from wiki-based research projects to AAAARG.

DG, VN: In which way does a digital container influence its content? Does the same book — if archived on different platforms, such as Internet Archive, The Pirate Bay, Monoskop Log — still remain the same cultural item?

JA: In short my answer to this question would be ‘no’. Books are embodied entities, which are materially established through their specific affordances in relationship to their production, dissemination, reception and preservation. This means that the specific materiality of the (digital) book is partly an outcome of these ongoing processes. Katherine Hayles has argued in this respect that materiality is an emergent property:

In this view of materiality, it is not merely an inert collection of physical properties but a dynamic quality that emerges from the interplay between the text as a physical artifact, its conceptual content, and the interpretive activities of readers and writers. Materiality thus cannot be specified in advance; rather, it occupies a borderland— or better, performs as connective tissue—joining the physical and mental, the artifact and the user. (2004: 72)

Similarly, Matthew Kirschenbaum points out that the preservation of digital objects is:

logically inseparable from the act of their creation’ (…) ‘The lag between creation and preservation collapses completely, since a digital object may only ever be said to be preserved if it is accessible, and each individual access creates the object anew. One can, in a very literal sense, never access the “same” electronic file twice, since each and every access constitutes a distinct instance of the file that will be addressed and stored in a unique location in computer memory. (Kirschenbaum 2013)

Every time we access a digital object, we thus duplicate it, we copy it and we instantiate it. And this is exactly why, in our strategies of conservation, every time we access a file we also (re)create these objects anew over and over again. The agency of the archive, of the software and hardware, are also apparent here, where archives are themselves ‘active ‘‘archaeologists’’ of knowledge’ (Ernst 2011: 239) and, as Kirschenbaum puts it, ‘the archive writes itself’ (2013).

In this sense a book can be seen as an apparatus, consisting of an entanglement of relationships between, among other things, authors, books, the outside world, readers, the material production and political economy of book publishing, its preservation and material instantiations, and the discursive formation of scholarship. Books as apparatuses are thus reality shaping, they are performative. This relates to Johanna Drucker’s notion of ‘performative materiality’, where Drucker argues for an extension of what a book is (i.e. from a focus on its specific properties and affordances), to what a book does: ‘Performative materiality suggests that what something is has to be understood in terms of what it does, how it works within machinic, systemic, and cultural domains.’ For, as Drucker argues, ‘no matter how detailed a description of material substrates or systems we have, their use is performative whether this is a reading by an individual, the processing of code, the transmission of signals through a system, the viewing of a film, performance of a play, or a musical work and so on. Material conditions provide an inscriptional base, a score, a point of departure, a provocation, from which a work is produced as an event’ (Drucker 2013).

So, to come back to your question, these specific digital platforms (Monoskop, The Pirate Bay etc.) become integral aspects of the apparatus of the book and each in their own different way participates in the performance and instantiation of the books in their archives. Not only does a digital book therefore differ as a material or cultural object from a printed book, a digital object also has materially distinct properties related to the platform on which it is made available. Indeed, building further on the theories described above, a book is a different object every time it is instantiated or read, be it by a human or machinic entity; they become part of the apparatus of the book, a performative apparatus. Therefore, as Silvio Lorusso has stated:


DG, VN: In your opinion, can scholarly publishing, in particular self-archiving practices, constitute a bridge covering the gap between authors and users in terms of access to knowledge? Could we hope that these practices will find a broader use, moving from very specific fields (academic papers) to book publishing in general?

JA: On the one hand, yes. Self-archiving, or the ‘green road’ to open access, offers a way for academics to make their research available in a preprint form via open access repositories in a relatively simple and straightforward way, making it easily accessible to other academics and more general audiences. However, it can be argued that as a strategy, the green road doesn’t seem to be very subversive, where it doesn’t actively rethink, re-imagine, or experiment with the system of scholarly knowledge production in a more substantial way, including peer-review and the print-based publication forms this system continues to promote. With its emphasis on achieving universal, free, online access to research, a rigorous critical exploration of the form of the book itself doesn’t seem to be a main priority of green open access activists. Stevan Harnad, one of the main proponents of green open access and self-archiving has for instance stated that ‘it’s time to stop letting the best get in the way of the better: Let’s forget about Libre and Gold OA until we have managed to mandate Green Gratis OA universally’ (Harnad 2012). This is where the self-archiving strategy in its current implementation falls short I think with respect to the ‘breaking-down’ of barriers between authors and users, where it isn’t necessarily committed to following a libre open access strategy, which, one could argue, would be more open to adopting and promoting forms of open access that are designed to make material available for others to (re) use, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, translate, modify, remix and build upon? Surely this would be a more substantial strategy to bridge the gap between authors and users with respect to the production, dissemination and consumption of knowledge?

With respect to the second part of your question, could these practices find a broader use? I am not sure, mainly because of the specific characteristics of academia and scholarly publishing, where scholars are directly employed and paid by their institutions for the research work they do. Hence, self-archiving this work would not directly lead to any or much loss of income for academics. In other fields, such as literary publishing for example, this issue of remuneration can become quite urgent however, even though many free culture activists (such as Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow) have argued that freely sharing cultural goods online, or even self-publishing, doesn’t necessarily need to lead to any loss of income for cultural producers. So in this respect I don’t think we can lift something like open access self-archiving out of its specific context and apply it to other contexts all that easily, although we should certainly experiment with this of course in different domains of digital culture.

DG, VN: After your answers, we would also receive suggestions from you. Do you notice any unresolved or raising questions in the contemporary context of digital archiving practices and their relation to the publishing realm?

JA: So many :). Just to name a few: the politics of search and filtering related to information overload; the ethics and politics of publishing in relationship to when, where, how and why we decide to publish our research, for what reasons and with what underlying motivations; the continued text- and object-based focus of our archiving and publishing practices and platforms, where there is a lack of space to publish and develop more multimodal, iterative, diagrammatic and speculative forms of scholarship; issues of free labor and the problem or remuneration of intellectual labor in sharing economies etc.


  • Adema, J. (2014) ‘Embracing Messiness’. [17 November 2014] available from [17 November 2014]
  • Adema, J. and Hall, G. (2013) ‘The Political Nature of the Book: On Artists’ Books and Radical Open Access’. New Formations 78 (1), 138–156
  • Barad, K. (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press
  • Cramer, F. (2013) Anti-Media: Ephemera on Speculative Arts. Rotterdam : New York, NY: nai010 publishers
  • Drucker, J. (2013) Performative Materiality and Theoretical Approaches to Interface. [online] 7 (1). available from [4 April 2014]
  • Ernst, W. (2011) ‘Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus History and Narrative of Media’. in Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications. ed. by Huhtamo, E. and Parikka, J. University of California Press
  • Hall, G. (2014) ‘Copyfight’. in Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities, [online] Lueneburg: Centre for Digital Cultures (CDC). available from [5 December 2014]
  • Harnad, S. (2012) ‘Open Access: Gratis and Libre’. [3 May 2012] available from [4 March 2014]
  • Hayles, N.K. (2004) ‘Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis’. Poetics Today 25 (1), 67–90
  • Kember, S. and Zylinska, J. (2012) Life After New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process. MIT Press
  • Kirschenbaum, M. (2013) ‘The .txtual Condition: Digital Humanities, Born-Digital Archives, and the Future Literary’. DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly [online] 7 (1). available from [20 July 2014]
  • Lorusso, S. (2014) The Post-Digital Publishing Archive: An Inventory of Speculative Strategies. in ‘The Aesthetics of the Humanities: Towards a Poetic Knowledge Production’ [online] held 11 June 2014 at Coventry University. available from [31 May 2015]
  • Snijder, R. (2010) ‘The Profits of Free Books: An Experiment to Measure the Impact of Open Access Publishing’. Learned Publishing 23 (4), 293–301
  • Swartz, A. (2008) Guerilla Open Access Manifesto [online] available from [31 May 2015]

  1. Although open access has been able to legally elude problems related to the transfer of copyright to publishers through forms of self-archiving, such practices are not as easy to establish for books. For more on this see Adema and Hall 2013: 148.  ↩

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