Friday, August 27, 2010

International scope

I mentioned 'market demands' for digital asset management (I'm going to bite the bullet and start calling it DAM from now on), as well as my interest in international cultural heritage and development, so it seemed worthwhile to get rolling with an examination of these related topics.

At a conference on The State of Digital Preservation: An International Perspective which took place in Washington, DC in 2002, 'international' seemed to be limited to the EU and Australia, outside of the United States. This was probably a reflection of those institutions employing best practice in digital preservation at the time, but since then, digital preservation has expanded exponentially; digitisation projects seem to be taking place almost everywhere, from the Tibetan Digital Library Project creating copies of endangered Tibetan manuscripts in India, Nepal and Bhutan, to the Afghanistan Digital Libraries (see below) and World Digital Library. Concurrently, internet usage has become as free and widespread as ever, providing the digital preservation community with one of its greatest challenges: the preservation of the world's web content.

The demand for digital assets in the developed world seems clear enough, and the digital influence on education is especially noteworthy, where even US higher education institutions are seen to be falling behind in digital provision for students (though I don't think that I can pass up the opportunity to highlight an example from the opposite end of the spectrum: the Boston prep school that removed all of its books in favour of digital learning). But what use is DAM elsewhere, such as in countries with a developing digital infrastructure?

As a starting point, a lot can be done right here to enhance cultural relations, and one project that I witnessed recently that was particularly exciting was the Islamic Heritage Project managed by Stephen Chapman of Harvard College Libraries, with the support of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. This provides free access to Islamic manuscripts, maps &c. from Harvard's museums and libraries, and provided its own unique challenges as a project (metadata for Arabic and reverse script, for example). But, in a developing country, how much digital infrastructure is required for DAM to be useful?

Some regions get more attention than others, certainly, but in terms of establishing digital infrastructure the Afghanistan Digital Libraries is a collaborative project between USAID, the University of Arizona and Afghan higher education institutions to digitise and provide access to what they term 'unique Afghan records'. While previously I discussed some distinctions between the preservation of hard-copy and digital preservation, projects such as this (and the Tibetan Digital Library Project) are perhaps the best chance, overall, to preserve rare and vulnerable hard-copy.

It's encouraging that key standards for digital preservation have already been embraced internationally - OAIS has been an ISO standard since 2003 (ISO 14721:2003 OAIS) - and certainly within Europe, groups such as DigitalPreservationEurope exist to promote 'collaboration and synergies' amongst the various digital preservation efforts occurring throughout the EU. There's a great deal of very open dialogue going on, which makes sense, since we all share the same problems, and this bodes well for international digital preservation projects.

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