October 2007

Australias Cultural Heritage: A Digital Future

I thought this was an interesting example of national collaboration and advocacy.

Press release available at http://www.nla.gov.au/media/digitalfuture/
Australias Cultural Heritage: A Digital Future

The Australian public has always valued the important role that the national collecting institutions play in keeping the record of our nations intellectual, social, political, administrative, and cultural development.

Cultural expression in Australia is now predominantly in digital form
Digital has become the preferred medium for Australian government agencies, authors, researchers, film makers, musicians and creators. Increasingly, the primary evidence of public administration is created in digital form. The vast majority of film and television works, and virtually all music and recorded sound created in Australia are now released in digital form.

Australia s ability to maintain a permanent and accessible record of these activities is therefore linked to our preparedness to cope with this digital tidal wave of images and sounds. As the Collections Council of Australia noted in its background papers for the 2006 Summit on Digital Collections: ‘ The growth of digital information and the need to store, manage and preserve access is an issue of truly global proportions.’

National collecting institutions are not resourced to cope with this digital tidal wave

The National Film and Sound Archive, National Archives of Australia, and National Library of Australia have the commitment, skills and vision to embrace the digital world. But their resources are largely committed to their traditional collections. To save Australias digital cultural heritage will require significant new funding.

Elsewhere, the Government has recognised the need for support to sustain the role of its agencies in a digital world. Substantial funding has been allocated to digital film, radio and television, and for the management of digital resources by bodies such as the ABC, GeoScience Australia and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

Doing nothing is simply not an option

If not for the action of the National Library, the Sydney Olympics web site and the Centenary of Federation web site would no longer be accessible.

If not for the action of the National Archives, Commonwealth records kept on five and a quarter inch disks could have been lost.

If not for the action of the National Film and Sound Archive, early television heritage such as Homicide, Division Four and the Melbourne Cup would have become inaccessible.

Information in digital form is fragile, as it relies on technology that is constantly changing. Our heritage can disappear overnight from the Web, become trapped inside obsolete hardware or software or become unplayable due to obsolete equipment.

Weve already lost many of our important moments and many of our creative ideas and cultural expressions. There is a danger that in ten years time Australians will look back at today as a digital dark-age.

Doing nothing will deprive Australians of their cultural heritage

Australians are embracing the online world and seek their information increasingly in digital form. If Australias national cultural institutions dont collect and preserve the work and inspiration of our researchers and creators in digital form today, it will not be there for the public to access tomorrow.

To maintain our relevance and visibility in the digital world, the National Library of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive and the National Archives of Australia are seeking an expansion in the support we receive from Government.

The three agencies are proposing an investment of $90M over four years to address this major issue. The proposed investment has been examined by Access Economics, who have identified benefits exceeding costs by six fold over time. Access Economics commented: ‘ The benefits are significant and in large part accrue to users of the agency’s material. The investments allow more material to be collected or preserved, and that material in digital form is more accessible to potential users.’

Investing in Australias digital heritage is an investment for the future

NSF DataNet call

A major new development in the USA. The US National Science Foundation’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure (OCI) has released a new call for proposals for “Sustainable Digital Data Preservation and Access Network Partners (DataNet).” The DataNet seeks to foster the development of new types of organizations that “integrate library and archival sciences, cyberinfrastructure, computer and information sciences, and domain science expertise .” Up to $100,000,000 plus indirect costs is available in this program over a five year period, with the possibility of a five year renewal; it is anticipated that there will be around five grantees, with no single award exceeding $20,000,000. Funding is expected to ramp down for each project in successive years, encouraging the development of sustaining strategies. Although U.S. academic and not-for-profit organizations must be the lead submitters, commercial partners are encouraged. Preliminary proposals must be submitted by 7th January 2008 and full proposals by 21st March 2008. Full details of the call are available from here.