Virginia Tech to create digital archive of Southern history, culture

October 05, 2004

Blacksburg, Va. -- Digital Library and Archives (DLA), a department in Virginia Tech's University Libraries, will receive $250,000 as part of a $1.4 million partnership that the Library of Congress is awarding to a cooperative of six research libraries to create a MetaArchive of Southern Digital Culture, according to an announcement made by the Library of Congress.

Overall, the Library of Congress is awarding more than $14.9 million to eight groups of institutional partnerships to identify, collect, and preserve digital materials within a nationwide digital preservation infrastructure. The institutions will share responsibilities for preserving at-risk digital materials of significant cultural and historical value to the nation.

The project in which Virginia Tech is involved will be dedicated to preserving vital at-risk digital content of Southern culture and history. Virginia Tech; Emory University, the lead institution; Auburn University; Florida State University; Georgia Tech; and the University of Louisville comprise the cooperative.

"Virginia Tech will be involved in both identifying digital collections in need of preservation and developing the software to meet digital preservation needs. Tech will be on the forefront of the movement, encouraged and led by the Library of Congress' National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP), to address the needs of an increasingly digital society, one in which digital is becoming the principal medium to create, distribute, and store intellectual content of all kinds," said Gail McMillan, director of Virginia Tech's DLA and one of the cooperative project's co-principal investigators.

Eileen Hitchingham, dean of Tech's University Libraries, said that collaborating with other institutions "is the only way to approach a challenge so large as digital preservation. Creating a regional approach ensures that each institution will share the benefits of the MetaArchive while making cultural resources widely available."

According to McMillan, scholars have long been creating documents and displays to enhance understanding. "When those exhibits took physical form, it was assumed that the centerpieces of those objects would be preserved after the exhibit's time had passed," she said, "but more and more of those exhibitions are now taking a digital form in an attempt to reach people worldwide. Time and money are devoted to creating digital images and manuscripts, either as replicas of physical content or as original digital content. However, these digital resources are often not preserved once the online exhibit is removed from the spotlight. That's a tremendous waste of resources and a loss to the public."

Pablo Davis, director of the newly formed South Atlantic Humanities Center, called the project "the sort of initiative the center is eager to foster in order to link humanities scholars in the region."

During the three years the project is under way, the partner institutions will develop a prioritized summary of at-risk digital content of Southern history and culture, pull together the most critical content to be preserved, develop a cooperative agreement for ongoing collaboration, and form a distributed preservation network infrastructure based on LOCKSS software, which capitalizes on the traditional roles of libraries and publishers to create low-cost, persistent digital "caches" of authoritative versions of web-delivered publications. According to McMillan, "The current LOCKSS model enforces the publisher's access control systems. With NDIIPP in mind, Virginia Tech and its partners will modify the LOCKSS software to collaboratively archive each institution's one-of-a kind historical materials."

Virginia Tech's DLA has been prominent in the creation of digital content since 1989, when the Scholarly Communications Project, which worked with the university community to create and use online resources, was created. DLA is the home of the Virginia Tech ImageBase as well as the university's electronic theses and dissertations (ETD) and other digital initiatives. For additional information on DLA, see http://scholar.lib.vt.edu.

In December 2000, Congress authorized the Library of Congress to develop and execute a plan for a National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program and appropriated $99.8 million to establish the program. The goal of the program is to build a network throughout the country of committed partners working through a preservation architecture with defined roles and responsibilities. The complete text of the "Plan for the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program" is available at http://www.digitalpreservation.gov/. The site includes an explanation of how the plan was developed, who the Library worked with to develop the plan, and the key components of the digital preservation infrastructure. Congress approved the plan in December 2002.

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. Through its National Digital Library (NDL) Program, it is also one of the leading providers of noncommercial intellectual content on the Internet (http://www.loc.gov/). The NDL Program's flagship American Memory project in collaboration with other institutions nationwide makes freely available more than 8.5 million American historical items.
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Virginia Tech

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