Thursday, June 16, 2005

Digital Knowledge for all, but what about forever?

For Immediate Release Contact: Emma Poole, 020 7273 1459

London, 16 June 2005 – A report published today by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) throws out a challenge about the future access to digital museum, library and archive collections.

Digitisation is making more museum, library and archive collections accessible across the internet. MLA and DPC are working with a range of national partners to ensure that the knowledge held in those institutions can be accessed wherever and whenever it is needed. Digitisation mean that objects and information in different places can be brought together to create virtual collections, matched to the particular needs of the searcher. But a new survey shows that these digitised collections may be at significant risk of being lost to future generations if the issue of digital preservation is not addressed.

The survey, which will inform the development of a national digitisation strategy, looked at non-national museums, libraries and archives in two English regions – the North East and West Midlands – to discover how well prepared they are to deal with the problems of keeping digital material in the long term. The results show that there is a significant commitment to digitisation, with over 80 digitisation projects currently in place. However, the survey highlighted a major concern that 90 per cent of the projects were externally funded and therefore took no account of the need to provide the long-term, sustainable support needed to preserve and protect public access to the digital collections.

Some key findings are:

  • The organisations surveyed expressed a need for help and advice on a range of digital preservation issues.
  • Awareness raising on the whole issue of digital preservation is needed
  • The bulk of activity covered by the survey has been the digitisation of existing collections rather than in tackling the issues raised by born-digital material.
  • Long-term management of digital material needs to be more firmly embedded in corporate thinking and planning.

Chris Batt, Chief Executive of MLA, said: “Digitisation of collections has significantly improved public access. We wanted to know how museums, libraries and archives were coping with the challenges posed by their increased responsibility for sustaining digital materials. This report will help us all to develop more effective policies for management of the collections that define the knowledge sector and will assist us in lobbying for adequate funding to secure for the future the nation's investment in digital resources.”

Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the British Library and Chair of the DPC said: “This survey is key in helping us to build an overall picture of the challenges UK institutions face in managing their digital resources. The results of the survey serve as a wake up call to all institutions. The current investment in digitisation will be wasted if we cannot provide sustainable levels of access for the long term. The survey provides valuable evidence for the importance of the Digital Preservation Coalition and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council working together to develop a national policy that will ensure that digital preservation is embedded in funding streams as we move towards a fully digital economy and e-society.”

The report is available on the MLA website at: http://www.mla.gov.uk/documents/mla_dpc_survey.pdf

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Notes to editors:
For further information please contact Emma Poole, MLA Media and Event Manager, 020 7273 1459/ emma.poole@mla.gov.uk

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) is the national development agency working for and on behalf of museums, libraries and archives, advising the government on policy and priorities for the sector. MLA's roles are to provide strategic leadership, to act as a powerful advocate, to develop capacity and to promote innovation and change. MLA is leading the implementation of Framework for the Future, the government's vision for English public libraries over the next ten years.

Museums, libraries and archives connect people to knowledge and information, creativity and inspiration. MLA is leading the drive to unlock this wealth, for everyone. For further information visit the MLA website at www.mla.gov.uk

The survey involved a sample of museums, libraries and archives in two English regions – the North East and the West Midlands, in collaboration with the North East Museums Libraries and Archives Council (NEMLAC) and Museums, Libraries and Archives West Midlands (MLAWM). It was conducted for MLA by Duncan Simpson over the period December 2004 to April 2005.

The Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) was formed in 2001. It was established in the belief that a concerted, cross-sectoral effort was needed to ensure continued access to valuable digital resources. The 27 members of the Coalition are major national bodies with an interest in digital preservation. They include JISC, CURL, MLA, the British Library, the National Archives, The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, the National Archives of Scotland and the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales. The DPC website is at: http://www.dpconline.org/graphics/index.html

Duncan Simpson is a former director of The National Archives (TNA); now an independent consultant in records management, archiving, access to information and digital preservation and Honorary Senior Research Fellow of the Constitution Unit in the School of Public Policy at University College London, specialising in the records management aspects of access to information, including issues of public access to information and of the long term preservation and availability of material.

-ends-

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