Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Profile of the AHDS

Karlin Lillington, University researchers delve into world of digital archiving, Irish Times, March 16, 2007.  Excerpt from the OA copy at News for Medievalists:

A pioneering service run by six universities is creating a vast, free-to-access 'digital library', writes Karlin Lillington.

From monks preserving books by the Greeks and Romans to modern library collections of letters from historical figures or photographs of a famous event, archiving special collections has a long tradition and a widely recognised cultural value.
But what about a database of archaeological data? Or jpeg images? Or a scholarly website? Or even three-dimensional maps or virtual-reality artworks?

In Britain, such items find a home in the government-funded Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS), an organisation spread across six universities and overseen by two higher-education bodies, the Joint Information Systems Committee and the Arts and Humanities Research Council....

People send data collections to the AHDS, which converts them to neutral formats. It transfers data from proprietary formats, such as Microsoft Word, to non-proprietary, open-source formats that are freely available, explains [AHDS communications manager Alastair Dunning, who is based at King's College London]. Avoiding proprietary formats gives the best chance of information being accessible over the long term, he says. Databases, documents and images can all be moved to non-proprietary formats.

All of this is done on an altruistic rather than a commercial model, says Dunning. Donors sign a release that allows the material to be placed online. This can then be used by others free of charge, provided it is for non-commercial use....

Would the AHDS consider creating a business around managing copyright material? Dunning says it goes against the spirit of the open-access archive....

Another challenge is "paying for all of it". People accept the need for public funding for libraries, he says, but digital data is just as important....[J]ust as libraries do not charge patrons for looking at books, Dunning prefers data to be free at the point of use. Dunning was in Dublin recently to give a lecture as part of Trinity College Dublin's Long Room Hub initiative, which examines ways to expand scholarly and research connections in the arts and humanities. Dunning says he hopes the AHDS might serve as an example of how such material can be archived and made available to the public.