In the Information Age, digital data powers our work, entertainment and economy, and helps shape the context for our daily lives. Yet, these precious electronic bits -- stored in memory sticks, on DVDs, in hard drives, and on magnetic tape -- are surprisingly fragile and far more susceptible to obsolescence and loss than more traditional ways of preserving information such as stone, parchment and paper.
Indeed, the lifetime of electronic media is relatively short, often requiring the migration of data between new generations of storage, as well as the management of that information at every point of its life cycle. Understanding how to keep digital data safe now, and how to ensure its economic sustainability for the foreseeable future is fundamental to the Information Age, affecting virtually every aspect of modern life.
To address this critical challenge for digital preservation, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation are teaming to fund a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access. Also participating in Task Force activities are the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, the Council on Library and Information Resources, and the Joint Information Systems Committee of the United Kingdom.
"Digital information illuminates our world, and modern life, work, education, and research depend on it," said Chris Greer, program director in NSF's Office of Cyberinfrastructure. "The time to act is now to ensure the digital information is reliably available as an engine for progress in our global knowledge society and to secure our digital heritage for future generations."
The Task Force will be co-chaired by Fran Berman, director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego and a pioneer in data cyberinfrastructure; and Brian Lavoie, a research scientist and economist in the Office of Research with the OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc., with strong interests in data preservation.
Berman and Lavoie will convene an international group of prominent leaders to develop actionable recommendations on economic sustainability of digital information for the science and engineering, cultural heritage, academic, public, and private sectors. The Task Force is expected to meet over the next two years and gather testimony from a broad set of thought leaders in preparation for the Task Force's Final Report.
"It is impossible to imagine success in the Information Age without the availability of our most valuable digital information when we want it now and in the future," said Berman. "It's critical for our society to have a long-term strategic plan for sustaining digital data and we are excited about the potential for the Task Force to help form that plan."
"Persistent access to digital information over long periods of time is vital for the future progress of research, education, and private enterprise," said Lavoie. "In addition to developing sound technical processes for preserving digital information, we must also ensure that our preservation strategies are economically sustainable. The work of the panel will be an important step toward achieving that goal."
The Task Force will bring together a group of national and international leaders who will focus attention on this critical grand challenge of the Information Age. Task Force members will represent a cross-section of fields and disciplines including information and computer sciences, economics, entertainment, library and archival sciences, government, and business. Over the next two years, the Task Force will convene a broad set of international experts from the academic, public and private sectors who will participate in quarterly panels and discussions.
Though significant progress has been made to overcome the technical challenges of achieving persistent access to digital resources, the economic challenges remain daunting.
In its final report, the Task Force is charged with developing a comprehensive analysis of current issues, and actionable recommendations for the future to catalyze the development of sustainable resource strategies for the reliable preservation of digital information. During its tenure, the Task Force also will produce a series of articles about the challenges and opportunities of digital information preservation, for both the scholarly community and the public.