Ms Adrienne Patterson
RMIT Human Research Ethics Committee University Secretariat
RMIT - City campus
GPO Box 2476V Vic. 3001
24th February 1998
Dear Ms Patterson
Simon Pockley has asked the National Library to write to you in relation to his Internet publication, The Flight of Ducks. He has given me a list of the questions that the members of the Human Research Ethics Committee have asked in relation to this title and they are addressed below.
Firstly some information about the Libraryıs PANDORA Project may be helpful. The National Library has a responsibility under its Act of 1960 to build a comprehensive collection of Australian documentary materials. Its efforts in relation to print, manuscript, pictorial and oral history materials are well known and during the last two years it has also been actively addressing the need to preserve Australian online publications.
During the first half of 1996, selection guidelines for online publications were formulated and we began to identify and select titles for preservation. The PANDORA Project (Preserving and Accessing Networked Documentary Resources of Australia) was set up in the second half of 1996 with the principle aims of building and archive of such publications and developing an archive management system to support it. A proof of concept archive was begun in October 1996 and The Flight of Ducks was one of the first titles to be added to it. Over 200 titles have been selected for preservation and there are currently 70 titles in the archive.
Once the title is selected, we contact the publisher/creator seeking permission to archive. A catalogue record is then created in the National Bibliographic Database and the Libraryıs online public access catalogue (OPAC). Access to a title in the PANDORA archive is via a World Wide Web interface to the OPAC, with the hypertext links from the catalogue record both to the publisherıs site and to copy in the archive.
1. Why was The Flight of Ducks chosen for the PANDORA Project?
While the National Library aims to develop a comprehensive collection of print materials, with online publications it is necessary to be more selective because of the large volume of material available and the low research value of much of it. Online titles are chosen for preservation by the National Library according to selection guidelines which are available on the Libraryıs server at http://www.nla.gov.au/1/scoap/scoapgui.html In essence, to be selected for preservation, a publication should be Australian, authoritative, have research value and contain information that is not available elsewhere. For Example, titles with a print equivalent are not selected. The Flight of Ducks meets all of these principle criteria. It contains the text of a journal and digitised photographs and objects, not available elsewhere, of a journey through Central Australia in the 1930ıs.
2. What value has The Flight of Ducks been in the development of this project?
The Flight of Ducks has been of considerable value to the PANDORA Project in assisting to us to understand the complexities on Internet publications and the kinds of procedure and technical solutions we must put in place to ensure their long term survival. While some Internet publications emulate the publication patterns of print items, (electronic journals, for instance) others, like The Flight of Ducks , have no print format equivalent and the Library has had to learn how to manage them. This title was an early example of an `evolving monograph', a book-like publication that keeps growing and changing. Having Mr Pockleyıs permission to archive it gave us the opportunity to experiment with how we could best download it, store and provide access to it and to explore the implications of the various options that we tried.
Most of the publishers who have given the Library permission to archive their work are primarily interested in using the Internet as a means to an end and their involvement with the Project has been limited to granting permission for archiving. Mr Pockley is interested in much more than this. He is not only concerned with making his content available on the Internet, but also with exploring the possibilities of this medium as far as he can. He has engaged a number of Library staff in an ongoing dialogue, raising many questions which have forced us to think more broadly about certain issues. These include the relevance and scope of certain Dublin Core metadata attributes, policy relating to and the management of culturally sensitive materials in the online environment, access to restricted files, and description and structure of large complex sites.
This kind of contribution from a publisher has been very valuable to the Project.
3. How as the National Library dealt with issues relating to the Internet access to Aboriginal material in The Flight of Ducks
The Library has no control over access to Mr Pockleys site. It has dealt with access to the copies of The Flight of Ducks in the PANDORA Archive in the same way it deals with the access to any of the culturally sensitive materials in its collections. The print, manuscript and pictorial collections all contain numerous items which may be offensive or cause distress to certain individuals or groups. The Library does not censor or restrict access to published materials, but does take a variety of measures to the likelihood of offence or distress to potential users. One of the measures employed is labeling items with an appropriate warning. An explicit warning of the existence of the culturally sensitive material within The Flight of Ducks has been provided by Mr Pockley on the Home Page.
In relation to unique materials such as manuscripts, objects and photographs, the Library may restrict access, depending on the nature of them and conditions established at the time of acquisition. Mr Pockley has secured images of cultural objects which he judges to be particularly sensitive in files that require password access. The unauthorised browser is unable to see the files without his knowledge and permission. This approach is consistent with what the Library would do under similar circumstances. For technical reasons, the Library has not yet been able to copy the secure files from Mr Pockleyıs site although we hope to develop the capability of doing so. Should we succeed, the responsibility for granting password access to these files, whether on his site or in the PANDORA Archive, would remain with him.
The Library investigates all complaints about culturally sensitive material in its collections and takes appropriate action in a case by case basis. No complaints about The Flight of Ducks have been received.
4. Does the National Library have any cause for concern about Mr Pockley's ethical conduct in relation to this Aboriginal material?
The National Library knows of no reason to be concerned about Mr Pockley's conduct in relation to the Aboriginal material contained within The Flight of Ducks . The publication is a large and complex one and we do not claim to be aware of all the material on the site and how it has been treated. We have not seen the material in the restricted files.
At the Cultural Crossroads Conference in Sydney in November, Mr Pockley presented a paper in which he addressed the issue of Aboriginal materials on his site. It was apparent that some members of the audience were very critical of the inclusion of these materials. However, his explanation of what he had done in an attempt to consult with members of the Aboriginal community who might have an interest in the materials satisfied the National Library representative present that he has taken reasonable steps in this regard.
5. Are there any other factors that might be useful to members of the Committee in understanding the scope of the work and its significance?
There are no additional factors that we are aware of. I trust that this information will assist the Committee to resolve the concerns that have arisen.
Margaret E Phillips
Australian Electronic Unit
cc Dr Erica Hallebone
Mr Simon Pockley
(CC) reserved S.Pockley Feb 1995: The Flight of Ducks 859