February 2009

UK Research Data Service (UKRDS) International Conference

160 people gathered today at the Royal Society at the one day international conference on the UK Research Data Service (UKRDS) Feasibility Study.

The eight page management summary from the final report has been made available on the UKRDS website to co-incide with the conference. This recommends to HEFCE that the UKRDS is feasible and should be funded over a period of at least 5 years. In the first instance it recommends a 2-year Pathfinder phase should be funded at a cost of £5.31m.  It estimates overall savings delivered by a scaled-up UKRDS service to be the financial equivalent of 63.5 FTEs over a period of five years.
You can also find the presentations from the day available online.

HEFCE is still considering the report but it said to regard it favourably. A final decision is awaited.

New International Society for Biocuration launched

A potentially important development in digital curation is the creation of a new International Society for Biocuration.

The mission of the Society will be to:

1. Define the work of biocurators for the scientific community and the public funding agencies;
2. Propose a discussion forum for interested biocurators, developers, scientists and students.
3. Organize a regular meeting where biocurators will be able to present their work and discuss their projects.
4. Lobby to obtain increased and stable funding for biocuration resources that are essential to research;
5. Build a relationship with publishers and establish a link between researchers and databases through journal publishers
6. Organize a regular workshop where new biocurators, or interested students can be trained in the use of the common tools needed for their work.
7. Provide documentation on the use of common database and bioinformatics tools.
8. Provide ‘Gold Standards’ for databases, such as the use of unique, traceable identifiers, use of shared tools, etc.;
9. Share documentation on standards and annotation procedures with the aim of developing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
10. Foster connections with user communities to ensure that databases and accompanying tools meet specific user needs;
11. Maintain a biocurator job market forum.

The new Society will have its official launch at the 3rd International Biocuration Conference 16-19 April 2009 in Berlin.

Mass File Format Obsolences – A Digital Preservation Urban Myth?

Some years ago (February 2006) Chris Rusbridge, director of the DCC,wrote a great article in Ariadne entitled “Excuse Me… Some Digital Preservation Fallacies?” . The aim of the article was to challenge some potential “digital preservation urban myths” , a number of common assertions about digital preservation that had begun to worry him.

One of the assumptions Chris challenged was that a large number of commercially-orientated file formats become rapidly obsolete and inaccessible. He had been unable to find any good examples where a large amount of content is completely inaccessible today.

Memories of Chris’s article came back to me when  reading some recent press reports in the BBC and national newspapers mentioning that:

“Britain’s National Archive estimates that it holds enough information to fill about 580,000 encyclopaedias in formats that are no longer widely available.”

So should I start emailing Chris now? I’m afraid not. I remember that 580,000 figure from an a 2007 TNA press release. Going back to it, you can see that this figure of 580,000 encyclopaedias was intended as an approximation for the TNA’s combined paper and digital records. A growing proportion of this is digital and to quote the press release ” in some instances, applications that support older file formats are no longer commercially available”.

Sorry Chris no email yet :-)

A Digital Preservation Workshop at The Hague, April 2009

The Dutch National Library (the KB), The Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche (Association of European Research Libraries – LIBER), and the Dutch Digital Preservation Coalition (NCDD) are holding a digital preservation workshop titled e-Merging New Roles and Responsibilities in the European Landscape on 17 April at the KB, The Hague, Netherlands.

The workshop aims to develop a basic understanding of the issues presented by long-term digital curation and preservation of resources which are (to be) deposited in institutional and subject-based repositories – both within research institutions and research communities. It will highlight the state of the art in digital curation and will cover best practices, including possibilities for outsourcing.

I will be chairing the afternoon session on “Policy, preconditions and costs: opportunities and pitfalls in long-term digital preservation”  with Marcel Ras, Head of the e-Depot at the KB. Attendees registering for the workshop have the opportunity to  list a specific question or problem they would like to see covered, so the session content will be tailored to your suggestions! For further information see the workshop webpages linked above.

ComputerWeekly tips digital preservation as an emerging technology

Digital Preservation has been tipped as an emerging technology to watch by a leading IT magazine.

Yesterday’s ComputerWeekly has an  article in its IT Management section on How to beat the recession using underutilised technology by Michael Pincher. It focuses on how IT vendors can look at emerging technologies and customer requirements to innovate and begin to buck the recession.

Its an interesting article looking at overlooked areas of corporate innovation, key markets, “hype cycles”, and emerging technologies.

The emerging technologies section particularly caught my eye mentioning that digital preservation is a growth area in data management. In addition related issues such as regulatory compliance technologies, content management and repositories, infrastructure protection, storage management, and risk management are highlighted.

The list of emerging technologies is provided to give food for thought and help advise on business and innovation potential in the marketplace. The content of the article however should be of interest to a much wider readership and I highly recommend reading it.

NY Times article: Digital Archivists in Demand

Readers of the blog may be interested in the article Digital Archivists in Demand which appeared in the Fresh Starts column of business section of the New York Times on Saturday in both print and online editions. This is a monthly column covering emerging jobs and job trends.

The piece focusses on careers for digital asset managers, digital archivists and digital preservation officers and how demand for them is expanding. It features Jacob Nadal, the preservation officer at the University of California, Los Angeles and Victoria McCargar, a preservation consultant in Los Angeles and a lecturer at U.C.L.A. and San José State University.

Vicky McCargar estimates that 20,000 people work in the field today — plus others in related areas — and she expects that to triple over the next decade, assuming that economic conditions stabilise before long.

US rates of pay for Digital Archivists are also cited in the article. Digital asset managers at public facilities would do well to make $70,000 a year. Salaries for their corporate counterparts are generally higher. Consultants who can make recommendations on systems can make $150 an hour.Those who manage them in the commercial sector once they’re up and running make from the $70,000’s up to $100,000 a year.

Despite the higher pay in the corporate world Jacob Nadal outlines the case for working in the public sector: “Public-sector institutions just strike me as far, far cooler. They have better collections, obviously, and they are innovative, connected and challenging in ways that seem more substantial to me.”

It is good to see that mainstream newspapers are beginning to see digital archiving as an emerging career path. I have given short seminars on digital preservation and curation to students on the Information Studies courses at UCL over the last couple of years. I always emphasis to them that not only is it intellectually challenging field but a very good career option for those with a traditional archive or library training and an interest in electronic information.

Merger of JSTOR and Ithaka

JSTOR and Ithaka have recently announced the merger of their organisations. The new combined enterprise will be called Ithaka and will be dedicated to helping the academic community use digital technologies to advance scholarship and teaching and to reducing systemwide costs through collective action.

JSTOR was founded in 1995 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as a shared digital library to help academic institutions save costs associated with the storage of library materials and to vastly improve access to scholarship. Today, more than 5,200 academic institutions and 600 scholarly publishers and content owners participate in JSTOR.

Ithaka was started in 2003 with funding from the Mellon Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation. It is probably best known for incubating and hosting Portico its digital preservation service for e-journals and e-books. Ithaka is also the organisational home to NITLE, a suite of services supporting the use of technology in liberal arts education and has produced a number of influential reports including the 2007 “University Publishing in A Digital Age” and the 2008 “Sustainability and Revenue Models for Online Academic Resources.”

The merger makes sense in containing expenses at a time when endowments are under severe pressure. JSTOR and Ithaka already work closely together (for example over the Portico service) and share a common history, values, and a fundamental purpose. During 2008, the Ithaka-incubated resource Aluka was integrated into JSTOR as an initial step, further strengthening ties between the organisations. JSTOR will now join Portico and NITLE as a coordinated set of offerings made available under the Ithaka organisational name. In addition to JSTOR, Portico, and NITLE, Ithakas existing research and strategic services groups will be important parts of the enterprise.

Kevin Guthrie will remain President of Ithaka and Michael Spinella from JSTOR will become Executive Vice-President. The board will be composed of Ithaka and JSTOR Trustees, with Henry Bienen, President of Northwestern University, serving as Chairman and Paul Brest, President of the Hewlett Foundation as Vice Chairman.