I spent the morning Thursday at a workshop of the Digital Futures Alliance,
an initiative begun in September of 2005 with the ambitious goal of catalyzing
cross-sector cooperation (public, private, non-profit) to promote preservation
of digital assets. The University of Washington Library is spearheading
the effort, and the charter partners include many of the best-known technology
companies of the Pacific Northwest. OCLC is a
charter partner of the activity as well, represented at the meeting by CEO Jay Jordan.
Digital preservation is a hot topic. There are many efforts along a variety of international axes in this space. The first question that comes to mind in such an activity is what can a regional effort accomplish? If it remains regional, its reach may be limited (though, the well-known players at the table would undoubtedly have an impact simply by embedding successful approaches in the business practices of their given industries).
The attempt to build a cross-sector alliance is central to the strategy, and the enthusiasm of the participants was evident. UW's strong research library, a dynamic and diverse community of researchers in the iSchool, and the amalgam of innovation-rich companies in the region make for an ideal incubator for leadership in such an endeavor.
Thursday’s session represented an attempt to refine a common understanding of the problems, and anticipate the form that solutions might take. A survey of a broad cross-section of businesses in the region had been conducted by NewEdge, Inc. following the September, 2005 kickoff meeting, and these results were presented by Greg Zick of UW.
Lee Dirks, Director of Research Business Systems at Microsoft, then launched working group discussions in several areas (access and usage, selection, technical issues, and education & outreach). Short reports from each discussion table were shared in plenary session, and these results will be synthesized and used to formulate ongoing working groups to identify opportunities for progress.
There is considerable enthusiasm and expertise in this group for tackling one of the great challenges of the digital age. The commitment of Betsy Wilson, Dean of Libraries at UW, is evident, and she has strong support from the University. Converting this regional effort into a broader initiative will be a formidable challenge, and teasing out the commonalities of the problems that can be addressed in scalable, reproducible solutions is daunting indeed. I’m looking forward to participating.