Reading the tea leaves on data preservation


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The National Digital Stewardship Alliance detailed suggestions for the future of data preservation in its annual National Agenda for Digital Stewardship report, in conjunction with the Library of Congress.

Released Dec. 10, the report outlined key technological trends, gaps and opportunities for data preservation for professionals and policymakers.

“Effective digital stewardship is vital to the nation’s cultural heritage, scientific evidence base and the public records necessary for understanding and evaluating government actions,” according to the report.

Public libraries have been dealing with numerous challenges in preserving digital data in the 21st century. Growing financial pressures coupled with insufficient manpower and other problems have made preservation difficult.

“I see the biggest challenge in terms of resources and staff,” said Trevor Owens, a digital archivist with the national digital information infrastructure and preservation program at the Library of Congress. “Digital preservation is not a niche issue; increasingly, federal records, the entertainment industry, data and tools in the sciences and cultural resources written large are born digital. That is, there is almost no area of society that hasn’t been affected by the digital revolution. With this noted, the resources and staff need to ensure long-term access to this content are not being added to member organizations at the rate that the members organizations feel they need.”

The report suggested a number of ways to improve preservation despite these problems.

NADS urged libraries to specialize in one area of preservation expertise. Instead of requiring libraries to waste resources learning all types of preservation, each library should pick one area and rely on the others for preserving different media.

“It is key to identify preservation functions that could be outsourced versus the functions that each organization prefers to do or must do for itself,” the report stated.

Some of the bigger data challenges deal with which electronic media should be preserved. The proliferation of digital diaries, blogs, tweets and other platforms have led libraries to question is it all worth saving. The report suggests educating the public to save its electronic data long-term to circumvent this issue. Still, the Library of Congress is doing its best to keep these materials with its Internet archive and Twitter archive.

Keeping all of this data is a daunting obstacle as well. NADS wants libraries to share information about file obsolescence, meaning when files fall out of public favor or are replaced by newer, better technologies.

Standards and best practices can also mitigate problems for libraries by making information easy to share and accessible. NADS also recommended research into cost modeling and studies into questions about possible threats to information.

The National Digital Stewardship Alliance was created in 2010. It is a consortium of preservationists from libraries and universities across the country.

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Applications & Software, big data, data, data analytics, Library of Congress, open data, open source, Tech, trevor owens
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