Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Arts and Humanities Data Service... next steps?

In an earlier post, I mentioned the decision by the AHRC (and later JISC) to cease funding the
AHDS from March 2008. Since then the AHRC have re-affirmed their decision. On 28 June, the Future Histories of the Moving Image Research Network made public an open letter to the AHRC, to no avail it would appear.

In her response to the announcements, Sheila Anderson (Director of AHDS) wrote:
"In the meantime, and at least until 31st March 2008, the AHDS will continue to give advice and guidance on all matters relating to the creation of digital content arising from or supporting research, teaching and learning across the arts and humanities, including technical and metadata standards and project management. If you have a data creation project, please do not hesitate to contact us for advice.

The AHDS will continue to work with those creating important digital resources to advise on the best methods for keeping these valuable resources available and accessible for the long-term in a form that encourages their further use for answering new research questions, and their use in teaching and learning. This advice will include exploring with content creators and owners suitable repositories in which they might deposit their materials for long term curation and preservation, and how to ensure that their materials can continue to be discovered and used by the wider community. If you are currently in negotiation with the AHDS to deposit your digital collection, please continue to work with us to ensure the future sustainability and accessibility of your resource.

The AHDS will continue to make available its rich collection of digital content for use in research, teaching and learning, and to preserve those collections in its care. The AHDS intends to discuss with the JISC and the AHRC the long term future of these collections beyond April 2008 with the intention of securing their continued preservation and availability."
This is a great expression of commitment, and deserves our support. However, the lack of long-term funding must raise questions of sustainability.

Explicit in the AHRC's decision was the view that the community is mature enough to manage its own resources. There is doubt in many people's minds about this, but we are effectively stuck with it. So what are the implications? There are implications both for existing collections and for future arts and humanities resources. I would like to spend a few paragraphs thinking about the existing collections.

AHDS is not monolithic; it is comprised of several separate services (I suspect in what follows I may be using historical rather than current names). We already know that AHRC is privileging the Archaeology Data Service (ADS), which will continue to receive some funding (and which has a diverse funding base), so their resources are presumably safe. The History Data Service (HDS) resources are embedded within the UK Data Archive (which has recently received an additional 5 years funding from ESRC); it would presumably cost more to de-accession those resources than to keep preserving them and making them available, so even if HDS can take no more resources, the existing ones should be safe. Literature, Language and Linguistics is closely related to the Oxford Text Archive; I imagine the same kinds of arguments would apply there.

I have heard suggestions that Kings College London might continue to support the AHDS Executive for a period, and it appears there are some discussions with JISC about some kind of support "to ensure the expertise and achievements of the AHDS are not lost to the community".

That leaves Performing Arts and Visual Arts; I can't even surmise what their future might be, since I don't know enough about their funding and local environment.

I appreciate that it's still early days, and no doubt crucial discussions are going on behind the scenes. But if any part of AHDS resources are in danger of loss, the resource owners need to consider plans to deal with those resources in the future. This will take some time, particularly since for more complex resources, it is clear that existing repositories are generally NOT yet adequate for purpose. I guess the picture itself will be complex; I can think of at least these categories:
  • Some resources still exist outside of AHDS, and no action may be needed.
  • Some resources will not be felt worth re-homing.
  • Some resources can be re-homed in the time and funding institutions have available.
  • Some resources should be re-homed, provided that time and funding are provided by some external source (this might be for developments on an institutional repository; it might be for work on the resource to fit a new non-AHDS environment).
I tried to find out what resources were deposited by the University of Edinburgh. It's not an easy search, but ignoring a bunch of stuff where the University was only peripherally mentioned, I came up with:
  1. HOTBED (Handing on Tradition By Electronic Dissemination) pa-1028-1
  2. Lemba Archaeological Project arch-279-1
  3. Gateway to the Archives of Scottish Higher Education (GASHE) exec-1003-1
  4. Avant-Garde/Neo-Avant-Garde Bibliographic Research Database lll-2503-1
  5. Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, 1563-1736 hist-4667-1
  6. National Sample from the 1851 Census of Great Britain hist-1316-1
HOTBED appears on further research to be a RSAMD project that ended in 2004; however, a Google search produced a web site ( that did not appear to be functional this afternoon. GASHE still exists as a working resource, so far as I can tell, and anyway is run from Glasgow. Lemba is archaeology, and so maybe safe. The Avant-Garde bibliography still exists separately. The two history resources seem safe.

Are we OK? Is there more? Who knows! I think we need much better tools to tell what is "at risk", so that plans can start being made. Of course, this could be happening, maybe I'm just not "in the loop".

Will AHRC consider bids for funding transitional work? I certainly hope so, although I don't know how this might be done. JISC is (I believe) planning one last round of its Capital Programme. Will they include provisions to enhance repositories so as to take these more complex resources? I certainly hope so!


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