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IASSIST Conference Recap

During the first week of June, I attended the International Association for Social Science Information Service and Technology, (IASSIST) 2010 Conference—Social data and social networking: Connecting social science communities across the globe. Held at Cornell University, this conference addressed several issues that are becoming increasingly important to academic and research libraries as they are rapidly evolving in this digital information age. Topics discussed such as digital preservation, data curation, and data collaboration are quickly becoming fundamental practices of librarianship.

As Smithsonian Institution Libraries creates and manages a growing collection of digital content, we must plan for its future use and enhancement—the information life cycle. Having managed specific digitization projects at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Library, I am particularly interested in digital preservation.

Digital preservation is the practice of protecting and ensuring that our digital assets (images, audio, video, and data files) will last and be usable for future generations. Just as librarians have traditionally been the keepers of physical books, we must now also be stewards to intangible digital pieces of information valuable to research. Unlike books, we cannot see the deterioration of digital files, so we need learn how to monitor conditions we can’t see with our eyes. Libraries must plan for the future use of this digital material, if not it will deteriorate and become unusable, paving the road to a Digital Dark Ages.

Nancy McGovern, Digital Preservation Officer, ICPSR taught a two part workshop—Digital Preservation Management: Standards and Practice, Trends and Sustainability. The first part covered the major concepts and foundations of digital preservation. The discussion was framed by using the Trusted Digital Repository (TDR) and Open Archival Information System (OAIS) models for organizational context and infrastructure requirements. The second part emphasized the importance of every organization to adopt and digital preservation policy and a review of recent trends and the challenges of establishing sustainable digital preservation programs.

Sandy Payette, Chief Executive Officer of DuraSpace and creator of Fedora, gave a plenary lecture, Repositories and Cloud Services for Data Cyberinfrastructure. She discussed the history of infrastructure and compared the emergence of electric grids, railways, and the Internet and how they all reached a stage where stand alone systems were interconnected via adapters and gateways. The digital repository domain is now at that point where they are becoming integrated into larger systems by connecting repositories across institutions. She commended libraries for heading the repository movement and predicted that the next big wave coming will be data intensive research and data cyberinfrustructure. She ended by discussing the advantages of cloud computing and promoted the DuraCloud Phase 1 including a mention of the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), of which the Libraries is a major contributor.

While these issues are heavily technical and can make traditional librarians feel they need a computer science degree to understand the particulars, we must embrace and plan for digital preservation just as we have done with physical collections for centuries.

—Jen Cohlman

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