Monday, 5 October 2009

iPres 2009 Conference 2: BRTF-SDPA panel

Brian Lavoie introduces the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access. Sustainability is much more than a technical issue; very much an economic issue. The Report of the task force (full disclosure: I’m a member of this TF) is due early next year.

Definition of economic sustainability was in the interim report, published last year. Requires:

  • Recognition of benefits [demand-side]
  • Incentives to preserve [supply-side]
  • Selection to match means to ends
  • Mechanisms to support ongoing allocation of resources
  • Appropriate organisation & governance

Digital preservation is a process where active intervention/investment is needed to reduce the risks to the assets. Mostly this has been seen in technical terms, but we also need to reduce the economic risks, and ensure active support by decision-makers.

Abby Smith moderating the panel, which includes Martha Anderson, Paul Courant (both on the TF), and Tricia Cruse (not on the TF but here acting as control). Although the TF is anglo-centric (albeit US-focused), we think the problem is universal. Questions first on demand-side.

Tricia Cruse on how CDL Preservation program serves UC & UC Libraries; the Libraries certainly see the value, but they are now taking the issue out to the academics. Phrase from Climate Change debate: challenge to preserve in a dynamic environment. Problem is that 3 or 5-year grant doesn’t encourage long-term thinking. Need to re-articulate preservation as a way to help with their current problem, rather than long term.

Martha Anderson on issues that are persuasive to Congress & national government. The most important argument is to demonstrate value to the nation. Again, this is value for now, rather than value for the future. Use for education is often a winning argument. NDIPP has conditions, one of which is “demonstrate they have used the money well” so gaining trust is an issue. Funding subject to changing administration, which does mean arguments have to be slightly longer term.

Paul Courant on how to deal with 5 years being the new forever. Except for those here present (and following remotely) almost nobody cares! Waxing rhapsodic doesn’t well. Preservation is what major institutions are about? There’s a need to express non-monetised value. Libraries grew because bigger collections attract better faculty, but that compact is breaking down; I don’t need to be at an institution to use their resources. Plus the preservation was happening almost by accident, because the books tended to live so. Is the answer, get the first 5-10 years out of the way? Hold on for things for “long enough”, so you can decide later on what is worth while. “Show me the value”. Now for the supply-side.

Tricia: at the administrative level. Can we try scare stories; what is the cost of not preserving. Can tools and services help people to exploit their data better, in ways that bolster reputation? Also, think of data more as publications; could be real incentive to researchers; needs data citation mechanism (eg the DOI for data movement (personally a little unconvinced).

Martha: for cultural and public policy records, what are the barriers? Mass and complexity are barriers: the problem is so major, it’s overwhelming. Strategy is to share the work, share the burdens; this needs a public policy framework. Two aspects; one is change in copyright legislation (eg section 108 report) to give more powers for other libraries to preserve. Second is tax incentive etc for individuals, corporations etc to pay attention to preservation, offsetiing costs, and enhancing motivations to donate.

Paul: what better incentives are there? Design of mechanisms often difficult. General principle is, demand creates supply. So if we can articulate demand, then supply will follow, but well articulated demand means money attached! NSF conditions on data management plans are OK, but Paul is yet to meet the person who does not get the next grant because of doing a bad job previously, so this is perhaps not yet working. But it’s hard to get current money on many potential future uses, especially scholarly ones. An intermediate case is the notion of handoffs: those with current interest and those with future interest are different people, so can we put mechanisms (eg libraries) to deal with that.

Questions from the floor: what’s the economic argument for preserving open access journals, since there’s no financial interest? The only way those journals will become part of the formal record of scholarship, is if we do preserve them. [Mind you, OA journals are surely low-hanging fruit?]

How can economies of scale come into the argument? >500K libraries across the world; does this help or hinder? Too many dispersed, closed efforts. Preserving for everyone introduces the free rider problem, which reduces incentives to pay to preserve if you can live off the activities (and costs) of others. Can we build up networks to coordinate better? [Mind you, uncoordinated is good; avoids coordinated failure…]

Focus on 5 years is no use if the record set is going to be closed for 30 years? Perhaps there is a middle way here; ways to study closed portions of collections in privileged ways. Handoffs might help here (with anonymisation in place), but handoffs represent possible single points of failure.

Does winning the argument tip us over an economic cliff? Claim that costs of digital preservation are orders of magnitude higher than physical preservation [which I dispute!]. Paul: keeping print is much more expensive because of the huge space implications, and that’s a real cliff! Archives might be different in that respect.

To end, Abby asks that each organisation that can answer yes to the 5 impklied question, come see us afterwards!


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