Digging deeper into digital preservation

Author: Alistair Grant
Posted: 2 Sep 2013 | 19:20

A few months have gone by on the Pericles project (see my earlier post), more meetings have passed and more are coming up, but in between meetings, we do actually get some work done as well!

Preserving art, records and other items has been a challenge throughout history, not just how to store them but how to help future generations to understand them. Even in the short time digital art and records have been around, this problem has become increasingly apparent in modern technology. It is exacerbated by the rapid cycles that technology follows. Pericles is attempting to define and develop a framework or method to manage how digital data is stored in archives and how to keep the archives relevant and accessible. A small challenge it is not.

In June there was a big meeting in Brussels, which helped to flesh out a lot of the questions in the project. Not many answers yet, though we are beginning to ask better questions, accrue more information and understand how to find some of the answers.

Not only was the content of the Brussels meeting illuminating, it was held in the Royal Observatory of Belgium. This had many interesting aspects including a display of old and different telescopes. Looking at these items gave everyone a chance to stop and breathe.

Although the project has two case studies to look at (Digital Art and Space Science Data), we have to be careful not to create solutions just for these areas, or for this moment in time. Pericles is to consider how to build a framework that will last and adapt through different types of change including policy and technological changes.

So far it all sounds simple, right? The real test will be when technology changes. All systems change eventually to cope with advances in the state of the art and deprecation of old technologies. How will a framework cope with this over decades?

Over the coming months there are two further meetings: a technology meeting in London and a project meeting in Greece. At these meetings, the next steps for the project will be laid out and maybe we’ll start to answer some of the questions, but almost certainly at the expense of more questions appearing! That, however, is no bad thing; indeed, having no more questions to ask would be awful.


PERICLES (Promoting and Enhancing Reuse of Information throughout the Content Lifecycle taking account of Evolving Semantics) is a four-year project that aims to address the challenge of ensuring that digital content remains accessible in an environment that is subject to continual change.

This can encompass not only technological change, but also changes in semantics, academic or professional practice, or society itself, which can affect the attitudes and interests of the various stakeholders that interact with the content. PERICLES will take a ‘preservation by design’ approach that involves modelling, capturing and maintaining detailed and complex information about digital content, the environment in which it exists, and the processes and policies to which it is subject.

This Integrated Project is funded by the European Union under its Seventh Framework Programme (ICT Call 9).


Alistair Grant, EPCC

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