Members named to Blue Ribbon Task Force on a Sustainable Digital Future

December 18, 2007

With literally every 'bit' of information now being digitally processed and stored, our computer-centric society is faced with one of the greatest challenges of our time: how best to preserve and efficiently access these vast amounts of digital data well into the future - and do so in an economically sustainable manner.

While the Information Age has created a global network society in which access to digital information via the Internet and other means has revolutionized science, education, commerce, government, and other aspects of our lives, this technology has also spawned some unwanted side-effects. Unlike earlier mediums of information - including stone, parchment and paper - miniscule electronic "data banks" often stored in memory sticks, hard drives, and on magnetic tape are far more fragile and susceptible to obsolescence and loss.

The challenge is considerable on several fronts, and epic in proportion. For this reason, the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation was launched by the National Science Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in partnership with the Library of Congress, the Joint Information Systems Committee of the United Kingdom, the Council on Library and Information Resources, and the National Archives and Records Administration. Their two-year mission: to develop a viable economic sustainability strategy to ensure that today's data will be available for further use, analysis and study.

Simply keeping pace with the rapid change in technology that has made things such as VCRs and cassette tapes curious antiquities in our own lifetimes is just one concern to be addressed by the task force. Establishing economically sustainable infrastructures and global standards to ensure that massive quantities of digital information are efficiently migrated to new mediums is also critical. Yet another challenge will be managing the storage of such vast amounts of data so that a wealth of scientific, educational and business information is not lost. Last but not least, how will we determine which digital data should be saved"

"NSF and other organizations, both national and international, are funding research programs to address these technical and cyberinfrastructure issues," said Lucy Nowell, Program Director for the Office of Cyberinfrastructure at the National Science Foundation, in announcing the members of the task force. "This is the only group I know of that is chartered to help us understand the economic issues surrounding sustainable repositories and identify candidate solutions."

Task Force members include: "This Task Force is uniquely composed of people with economic and technical expertise," said Nowell. "We believe this rare combination will enable the group to explore dimensions of the sustainability challenge that have never been addressed before, and make the societal and institutional cases for supporting data repositories."

Using its members as a gateway, the Task Force will convene a broad set of international experts from the academic, public and private sectors who will participate in quarterly discussion panels. The group will publish two substantial reports with their findings, including a final report in late 2009 that will include a set of actionable recommendations for digital preservation, taking into account a general economic framework to establish those objectives.

The first meeting of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access will be held in Washington, DC, in January, 2008. The group will also establish a public website to solicit comments and encourage dialogue on the issue of digital preservation.

University of California - San Diego

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