Sun sheds light on digital archiving

Schools and libraries have a growing number of digital materials to archive, but how can they get started on such a project? How will they store and preserve materials in digital format, and how will they grant the appropriate levels of access to their stakeholders? These are just some of the questions that pose significant challenges for schools–and now a new effort from Sun Microsystems might be able to help.

Sun has announced the formation of the Sun Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG) to share best practices for digital archiving. The Sun PASIG will bring together global leaders in government, broadcasting, education, and library services, with the goal of supporting organizations challenged with preserving and archiving important research and cultural heritage materials in electronic format.

"There is a large and growing need to preserve scientific, historic, and cultural heritage materials for sharing, and also just to keep for future generations," said Art Pasquinelli, education market strategist for Sun’s Global Education and Research division.

Schools and libraries not only must consider how they will digitize materials in their print collections, but they also must consider how they will maintain items in digital format.

"Much ‘born digital’ information is at risk of just being lost or going through ‘bit rot’ if it isn’t maintained regularly," Pasquinelli explained.

Schools and libraries have much to learn and gain from the new interest group, he said. Some challenges that organizations face as they approach digital archiving include clearly defining their goals, determining their technical capabilities, and figuring out how to get started.

"Figuring out who is actually doing what in this field is also key," Pasquinelli said. Many companies and open-development communities are just now creating solutions to meet the needs of organizations, he added.

Schools and libraries should ask several key questions as they approach digital storage and preservation, Pasquinelli said. These include: What are your goals, and how do you intend to use the content you’re looking to archive? Who will be using this content? And, are there any areas where you can apply the experiences of other organizations, companies, and the open-source development community?

Pasquinelli said a growing number of groups are focusing on digital archiving standards, architectures, and application development. Many of these are working on the digitization of books, while some are focusing on electronic research materials or web-site archiving.

The technical architecture involved in digital archiving can be complicated, but schools and libraries can examine what is going on in communities such as FedoraCommons, DSpace, and EPrints, Pasquinelli said. These are web sites that help scholars, educators, and others access the technologies necessary for digital archiving and preservation.

The PASIG community is open to anyone except Sun competitors. Founding members are the Alberta Library, the British Library, Johns Hopkins University, Oxford University, Stanford University, the Texas Digital Library, and other leading global libraries and universities.

"We are trying to meet the needs of the evolving ‘cybrarian’ community that is grappling with data storage and management, workflow, and high-level architecture trends in the area of preservation and archiving," Pasquinelli said.

At semi-annual meetings around the globe, group members will share their knowledge of storage technology trends and best practices, using both commercial and community-developed solutions.

"Libraries and universities around the world face a common problem: how best to capture and archive valuable knowledge. Global discussion is the first step toward finding solutions that meet institutions’ individual preservation needs," said Michael Keller, a university librarian and director of academic information resources at Stanford University. "With the formation of Sun PASIG, we are looking forward to working with our peers to discover and create the best digital preservation options available, from infrastructure to interfaces."

Sun currently collaborates with institutions to develop digital repository infrastructures. The company is working with Oxford to develop a digital asset-management system (DAMS) that will be based on Sun’s advanced storage technologies. The DAMS will be used to provide long-term preservation of Oxford’s digital collections, including some 1 million 19th-century books digitized for the Bodleian Library as part of the Google Libraries Program.

The next Sun PASIG meeting will be held in Paris Nov. 14-16.






Laura Ascione

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