3rd LIBER workshop on the process of data curation

In May 2014 the Association of European Research Libraries (LIBER) organised a conference on digital sustainability. Theme of the meeting was 'Keeping Data: the Process of Data Curation'.

Key note speaker was Herbert Van De Sompel (Los Alamos) who gave an interesting insight in the challenges that research libraries will have to face now that scientific papers are becoming increasingly complex. In addition to text and diagrams, modern papers contain data sets in various formats and software produced in the framework of the research; an article will only continue to be understandable if the references it contains to items on the web will stay available. But this will be difficult to realise: with the passage of time, link rot increases, and even if links still function, the content of the webpage will continue to change after the article has been published.

Researchers are now learning to work with Data Management Plans. This is good in itself, but will not be sufficient. Scientific librarians will have to make the transition from the archiving of items to the archiving of processes. The future will demand Process Management Plans. 

PERSIST

LIBER also invited Marco de Niet, director of DEN Foundation, to give an introduction on the PERSIST project for its Workshop  on Digital Curation. De Niet explained the goals of the PERSIST project and suggested how Academia can contribute to the policy dialogue between government, industry and heritage institutions that is pursued in its framework. Universities and university libraries are pioneers in digital preservation, and lessons learned in this field are of great importance for society as a whole. Furthermore, there is a need to have a critical examination of the dialogue that will be held between the three corners of the PERSIST triangle and researchers are well placed to check the quality of the arguments of the various stakeholders. This places the research community in a circle around the triangle.

‘Society’ has also found there place in the diagram. In is understood in PERSIST that all the stakeholders identified in the project are working for digital preservation for the common good, for consumers and creators of valuable things in digital form.

Fissure

During the meeting, the deep fissure between the ‘visionaries’ and the ‘practioners’ was striking. Librarians ‘on the ground’ are struggling enormously to have researchers comply with relatively simple things, like loading up data sets in repositories. This is already a complicated affair, because there are few incentives for researchers to do so. But how much more complicated will it be to implement process management plans, when all relevant changes in the laboratory logbooks, all interaction between researchers inside and outside the project, and the whole evolution of the data and the article will have to be captured! The visionaries set their hopes on flawlessly working automatic processes. This, indeed, is a conditio sine qua non for these plans to work. One of the conclusions of the PERSIST Kick Off Conference was that the division of labour between man and machine in digital preservation should change dramatically. The LIBER Conference forcefully showed how important this issue is.

At the end of the workshop LIBER decided that it wants to continue to be engaged in the organisation of PERSIST.

Digital information is difficult to preserve over longer periods of time. Carriers like hard disks have a short life span, and even if one manages to keep the bits and bytes, the risk that current hard- and software is unable to process the old data is very real. Archives, museums and libraries are acutely aware of these problems, yet they cannot find solutions on their own. The UNESCO PERSIST Project stimulates the debate between these institutions, government and the ICT-industry in order to promote digital sustainability. In its first phase PERSIST was coordinated by the Netherlands National Commission for UNESCO.

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