Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The Digital Preservation Coalition

Neil Beagrie reports on proposals to establish a Digital Preservation Coalition in the UK.

1. Introduction

Electronic resources form an increasingly large part of our cultural and intellectual heritage. In addition to electronic publications, the Web, and e-commerce, there is an array of new UK initiatives and legislation, from Modernising Government to the Freedom of Information Act, which is putting an onus on public organisations to provide access to, manage and archive their information in electronic form. In the research arena, there are also significant developments particularly in the sciences towards very large primary research data sets in electronic form e.g. in genomics or earth sciences.

There are significant challenges associated with ensuring access and preservation of these materials into the future. Electronic resources regardless of whether they are created initially through digitisation or are "born" digital are threatened by technological obsolescence and physical deterioration. With content from international publishers, increasing globalisation and sharing of resources, and the involvement of a range of libraries, archives, services, and cultural heritage organisations, our ability to preserve access to these electronic resources into the future depends on the collaboration and engagement of a wide range of stakeholders.

National institutions and services, and individual local institutions increasingly need to raise awareness of digital preservation, and develop capacity, skills and expertise to administer or manage for the long-term intellectual and cultural assets they have developed in digital form. These institutions have recognised the value of collaboration in addressing digital preservation. Establishment of a Digital Preservation Coalition was the principal recommendation of the Warwick II digital preservation workshop held in March 1999, which had representation from a wide range of sectors, institutions, and practitioners in digital preservation.

There are a number of reasons why institutions at Warwick wished to establish a Coalition. First, attendees recognised they needed a collaborative effort to get digital preservation on the agenda of key decision-makers and funders in terms that they will find persuasive and understand. Secondly, projects and initiatives are proliferating and the institutions themselves felt there would be significant value in developing the umbrella organisation to help coordinate and keep a watching brief and monitoring role on their behalf. Thirdly, despite sectoral differences it was felt that most of the technical and some organisational issues remain the same for all organisations. There are therefore significant synergies and mutual self-interest in collaboration. At the same time the efforts of individual institutions and sectors can be leveraged and co-ordinated through collaboration to achieve wider national benefits. Finally, it was felt that the Digital Preservation Coalition could tap additional skills and funding and help address and contribute to development of national strategies, infrastructure and skills in digital preservation.

Concrete action towards the establishment of the Coalition is now in progress. In June 2000 JISC established a post within the DNER and appointed Neil Beagrie to provide a focal point for digital preservation activities within JISC and the higher and further education communities, and to help establish and support the Coalition proposed at Warwick. Although the exact remit, shape and programme for the Coalition will be resolved in consultation with proposed members, a draft outline of the Coalition and its remit and work was discussed at a digital preservation summit held in London on 16th January 2001.

2. Outcomes from the Summit

Participants representing a range of national, university and public libraries, archives, data archiving services, publishers, research councils, museums and government bodies unanimously endorsed the need for co-ordinated work on digital preservation and for the establishment of a Coalition. Participants recognised that the subject is bigger than any one institution or sector.

It was agreed that the aim of the Coalition will be to develop a UK digital preservation agenda within an international context.

The Coalition was seen as operating on four levels:

Suggestions for core activities and first programmes included:

Funding and the most effective organisational model for the Coalition were discussed, and JISC and the BL agreed to continue and widen discussions with potential partners in the Coalition and to co-ordinate its establishment.

Further general information and news on the Coalition will be disseminated via the digital- preservation email list on JISCmail (to subscribe to the list or view its message archive see the Web pages at http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/digital-preservation.html ). Wider discussion and participation on proposals for the Coalition from individuals and institutions are welcomed. Enquiries about the Coalition can be addressed in the first instance to Neil Beagrie at: preservation@jisc.ac.uk, JISC office, King’s College London, Strand Bridge House, 138 –142 Strand, London WC2 1HH.

Author Details

Neil Beagrie
email preservation@jisc.ac.uk
JISC office, King’s College London, Strand Bridge House, 138 –142 Strand, London WC2 1HH.