Sustainable preservation and access : Interim report

19 December, 2008
I'm a member of the grandly titled Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access, which has just released the interim report of its first year's scoping activity. Neil Beagrie spotted the press release, and blogged it earlier.

As the Executive Summary says
"There is general agreement that digital information is fundamental to the conduct of modern research, education, business, commerce, and government. Future accomplishments are accelerated through persistent access to data and digital materials, and their use, re-use, and re-purposing in ways both known and as yet unanticipated.

"There is no general agreement, however, about who is responsible and who should pay for the access to, and preservation of, valuable present and future digital information. "
So that's the focus of the Task Force. It's been a really interesting group to be on; for various reasons, I only managed to get to one of its 3 face to face meetings this year, but there's a wide range of views and skills there (ranging from economists, not at all dismal, to representatives from various digital communities). There was also the interesting approach of taking "testimony" from a number of experts in the field: asking them to come, make short presentations based around some questions we asked them, and to join in the debate. And of course, the inevitable regular telephone conference, as always at an inconvenient time (spanning so many time zones). But, as I say, the conversations have always been interesting, and the discussion yesterday on the methodology for the second year, leading to the final report, was fascinating.

Just one last quote, this time from the Preface:
"The sustainability of the long-term access and preservation of digital materials is a well-known challenge, and discussion frequently focuses on the difficult technical issues. Less clearly articulated are the organizational and economic issues implicit in the notion of sustainability which, at the risk of over-simplification, come down to two questions: How much does it cost? and Who should pay?"
I guess the over-simplified answer to the last question is: if we want it, we all will.