Letter from the Editor
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In 1997 Terry Kuny, a consultant for the National Library of Canada, prophesied the world was entering a digital Dark Ages. He wrote: “...it is important to know that there are new barbarians at the gate and that we are moving into an era where much of what we know today, much of what is coded and written electronically, will be lost forever.”**
Happily, much that has happened in the following thirteen years makes the prognosis far less grim. We still suffer from an over-abundance of digital information, rapid obsolescence of hardware and software, and increasingly restrictive intellectual property regimes. At the same time, the government, scientific, and cultural heritage sectors have taken the problem to heart and made substantial investments in research and infrastructure to ensure continued access to the human record. A vibrant international community of preservation specialists has moved rapidly from problem definition to the prototyping of solutions, and we observe an increasing emphasis on integrating digital curation and preservation tools into the working environments of libraries, archives, and data centers.
Watching standards evolve in such a young and rapidly growing field has been interesting. Although we often hear it said that premature standardization can have a stultifying effect on experimentation and innovation, the digital preservation community has shown a tremendous thirst for shared specifications of all sorts: frameworks, process models, best practice guidelines, and technical standards. The bible of the preservation domain, Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System (OAIS) (ISO 14721:2003) came out of the space science data community but was immediately adopted by cultural heritage institutions. XML file descriptions output by a format identification and validation tool called JHOVE have become de facto standards for format-specific technical metadata, as implementations strive for consistency. The PREMIS Data Dictionary for Preservation Metadata had implementations worldwide within two years of being issued, despite having no formal standing as a standard. We see more examples of the drive for common standards in the articles by Angela Dappert and Markus Enders, Andrea Goethals, Carl Fleischhauer and others in this issue of Information Standards Quarterly.
We also see how standards development mirrors digital preservation itself in being a highly international, global endeavor. No one country, or even continent, is dominant in leadership. In their ISQ article, Robin Dale and Emily Gore reference initiatives led by Canada (InterPARES), the U.K. (DCC Lifecycle Model, DRAMBORA), Germany (Catalogue of Criteria), and the U.S. (TRAC). The articles by Evelyn McLellan and by Kevin DeVorsey and Peter McKinney discuss efforts underway in Canada and New Zealand, respectively. The vast majority of standards efforts have international participation: the group that developed OAIS represents space agencies in 28 nations; the PREMIS Editorial Committee has members from seven countries. Most preservation-related specifications aiming for formal standardization go directly to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
This is not to say, however, that there is global homogeneity of approach and focus. For example, one striking difference between North American and European programs is the amount of attention and effort paid to educating the library and vendor community and involving practitioners at all levels. In the U.S., the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Project (NDIIPP) has focused on building a community of partners and funding their initiatives. In contrast, the European Planets Project has had broad outreach and training in both theory and practice as a core part of its mission. Digital Preservation Europe (DPE) and the U.K. Digital Curation Centre (DCC) have also had strong core outreach components. The Opinion piece by Mary Molinaro hints that the U.S. situation may improve, which would be a welcome development
Priscilla Caplan | Assistant Director for Digital Library Services, Florida Center for Library Automation and ISQ Guest Content Editor