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Temple nabs nationwide grant to develop the archives of the future

Joseph Lucia, Dean of Libraries at Temple University, is ready to start work on what he calls a "monumental challenge" of the 21st century.

"How do we render the digital records durable for the longterm in the way that physical records have been?" he asks. "What does digital permanence look like? [How can we achieve it] in a complex inter-organizational way that’s not just about one place and its records?"

In late June, Temple University School of Media and Communications received a $35,000 grant -- it lasts through December 20, 2016 -- from the Knight News Challenge, which awarded grants totaling $1.6 million to libraries across the country "for ideas that help libraries serve 21st century information needs."

Future-Proofing Civic Data, the Temple-led project helmed by Lucia, was conceived for this grant, but it relates closely to a lot of work Temple has been involved with for a long time.

First, Temple is home to a collecting enterprise called Urban Archives, which focuses on "social, cultural, ethnic and demographic history of 19th through 21st century Philadelphia," explains Lucia. "It’s a very broad and fairly unique archival collection of materials documenting urban life in a major American city."

Temple has also been a leading partner in the Pennsylvania metadata service hub of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which works to "narrow the cultural and intellectual record into a public space that is not commercially oriented, and fill the library mission in the digital world."

That work means diving deep into the realms of both traditional collections and digital data.

"We’ve been looking at ways of expanding that collecting motion and focus," adds Lucia, "making sure that the digital, cultural, and social record becomes part of what we can provide access to."

That in turn led to close ties with OpenDataPhilly, which, while it identifies and aggregates data from a wide range of city institutions and organizations, does not have the mission of developing a permanent archive.

It’s what Lucia calls "an essentially unaddressed emerging issue." The days of poring over nineteenth century census data on paper archives, for example, are limited. As the world goes digital, what will archives look like and how will they function? Who will own, fund, maintain and access them?

"What happens right now with a lot of digital data is that it’s very ephemeral," he says. "It’s online for the duration that its providers see some value or benefit in having it there," but most providers of digital content aren’t thinking about its life in the long term.

$35,000 from Knight won’t solve the issue or even finish defining it, but it will "help us put time and thought into describing the scope of the problem and some possible solutions that could be deployed over time to address the problem," Lucia continues.

The initiative will involve partners at OpenDataPhilly as well as professionals from Temple’s School of Media and Communications.

"[It's] a project to really build a conceptual foundation for how would this look," he concludes. "What would the technical requirements be? What would the organizational requirements be? And who would come to the table to work on something like that?"

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Joseph Lucia, Temple University
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