Author: kevin.ashley

Endangered digital content list released by DPC for International Digital Preservation Day

Today, 30th November 2017, is the first International Digital Preservation Day. This is coordinated by the Digital Preservation Coalition, an organisation we’re proud to be a member of. As part of the day’s activity the DPC has released the BitList, a list of endangered digital species loosely modelled as a concept on the IUCN’s Red List. In this short blog post I highlight some of the items on the list of particular interest to the DCC community.

Like the Red List, the Bit List classifies materials at different levels, from lower risk through concern to critically endangered and practically extinct. At one level everything on the list is of concern to research; almost any type of digital content, from teletext to videogames, has the potential for research to be carried out on it. But some are particularly close to home for those concerned with the curation of digital research material. Two items on the critically-endangered list stand out. The first is unpublished research outputs, which includes research data that hasn’t been placed in a repository, research software, and community resources like fishbase.org that may face sustainability rather than technical challenges to their longevity. Another item on the critically-endangered list that’s of undoubted research interest is what’s described as ‘media art’, encompassing a variety of digital and interactive art forms with a significant degree of technological dependency. The fragility of some forms of art isn’t something that’s exclusive to the digital domain but it is one which acquires an increasing degree of urgency when art is dependent on sometimes obscure formats, hardware and software, and the loss of such art will leave a significant gap for art historians of the future.

Also on the critical list and of unquestionable research interest is gaming, virtual worlds and related forms. These have been a significant cultural form for well over a decade; measured by consumer spend alone they exceed the cultural significance of the film industry, which itself is increasingly derivative of the gaming world. The problems of preservation they pose aren’t purely technical, but also include challenges relating to intellectual property rights and their absence from the collecting mandates of most cultural heritage institutions.

Moving up to the next level of endangerment – those which are merely endangered – we encounter many more classes of material of concern to research. Published research outputs, including electronic journals, are on this list and work by our colleagues on the Keepers Registry makes clear why they should be. This is an area where it is all too easy to be complacent. But every other item on the endangered list will worry researchers. It includes corporate records, digital legal records, master radio recordings, many forms of digital music and born-digital records from local government and smaller government agencies, where the infrastructure and mandate which deals with the products of national government are often absent.

There’s much more to read about in this first edition of the Bit List. As with the IUCN, the DPC intends to update the list periodically both to celebrate those areas where attention has resulted in positive changes to risk and to highlight those digital ‘species’ which are newly endangered. Read the list both to see what action you might take to improve the chances of survival of some of those on it, and to see if you are aware of other types of digital content at risk that we should add in future years.

 

The DCC and its services

The DCC has undergone continuous change since it was established as a consortium in 2004 jointly funded by JISC and the UK E-Science programme. Periodically it’s important for us to clarify what these changes are and what implications they do – or don’t – have for the services you expect from us. The last six years have been marked by a deliberate diversification of the DCC’s income streams, an intensification of its international role and a corresponding reduction in its dependence on a core funding stream from Jisc which was under increasing pressure as that organisation went through a transition process following the Wilson review. Over the years, we’ve moved some activities to a cost recovery basis, increased project funding from other sources such as the European Commission and grown a healthy income stream from online services and consultancy. This trend continues as the core funding stream from Jisc came to an end in July 2016.

What does this mean for UK universities and researchers? In many ways, very little – in others, potentially a lot. Our existence is secure and our finances are healthy. We have a business plan for the next 5 years that anticipates growth and is grounded in reality. That’s been enough for our lead host, the University of Edinburgh, to give us the backing we need for continuity of services and staff. The University recognises the importance of having an impartial, national service and values the international recognition and prestige that hosting the DCC brings.

The main service we want to provide assurances on is DMPonline. We will continue to provide this as a UK national and international service and can guarantee ongoing support for a minimum of 2 years with a promise of at least 2 years notice should we need to make changes to that provision. We already have overseas customers for DMPonlne to whom we have made long-term commitments. The service is also a key component of a number of European e-infrastructure projects.  We’re engaging in discussions with key UK representative organisations to find the right business model for long-term UK provision and we welcome your views on that. The DCC has pioneered work in this area with funding support from BIS, Jisc, the European Commission and the University of Edinburgh’s Information Services Innovation Fund amongst other sources. We’re grateful to all of them for their support, past and present. We continue to commit significant resources, and in collaboration with our partners at the California Digital Library, are co-creating a single DMP platform that we’re confident is the world’s best. Current international initiatives on DMPs require collaboration and coordination of the key players and the DCC will continue to push that agenda through the Research Data Alliance and other appropriate bodies.  We are committed to ensuring that the rich expertise held by our staff remains accessible to the community. DMPonline will remain free to use to researchers. We continue to be able to provide support for institutional branding and customisation on a service contract or consultancy basis.

Our events such as RDMF and IDCC have been covering their costs now for some years, and we will continue to operate them as long as demand exists, and initiate new events where we see a requirement that is unlikely to be met by another agency. Identifying issues of common concern and providing fora to bring communities together to address them has always been part of our remit.  Our training has also been running on a cost-recovery basis for some time, and has expanded as a result. We continue to run courses that are open to all as well as in-house custom events for organisations in the UK and elsewhere.

We’ll also continue to produce publications and guidance of the quality you have come to expect from us alone or in collaboration with others, including The International Journal of Digital Curation (IJDC). We will also continue to engage with international bodies such as the Research Data Alliance, of which we are a founding organisational member. We’ll report back to you on what is happening and provide a channel for your concerns and ideas and/or foster participation by you and your colleagues.

Many of you will know that we continue to be involved in a number of European projects building and exploiting research infrastructures such as EUDAT, OpenAIRE and the European Open Science Cloud Pilot, and are doing an increasing amount of consultancy, which now provides over 20% of our income.  Our clients include universities, funders and a variety of international bodies.

We’ve spoken with many of our contacts about these changes but we realise that they may be a surprise to some. We’re sorry if that’s the case; be assured that our mission remains unchanged – to increase the capability and capacity of organisations worldwide to engage in data curation which fosters data use and reuse.  If you would like to know more about any aspect of our work, explore a collaboration or offer input on anything covered by this post, contact the DCC information desk at info@dcc.ac.uk or, if you prefer, contact me directly – director@dcc.ac.uk.