Preservation and Re-Use of Digital Data: The Role of the Archaeology Data Service

By Richards, Julian D. | Antiquity, December 1997 | Go to article overview
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Preservation and Re-Use of Digital Data: The Role of the Archaeology Data Service


Richards, Julian D., Antiquity


Archaeologists have always been good at creating huge quantities of data, but not so good at arranging to preserve them in ordered, accessible and public archives, or at re-using other peoples' data themselves. The Information Age presents particular problems for the preservation of digital data (Eiteljorg above, pp. 10547) but also provides unique opportunities for their re-use. Within the Higher Education sector in the United Kingdom there is now a national initiative to establish an Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS). This paper will describe the role of the Archaeology Data Service (ADS), one of the services embraced by the AHDS, and will indicate how it proposes to provide access to other peoples' data.

The AHDS emerged from a feasibility study commissioned by the Information Services SubCommittee (ISSC) of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) of the UK Higher Education Funding Councils (Burnard & Short 1994). Burnard & Short recommended the creation of a central coordinating group to carry out a range of management and user-support functions, and a number of geographically dispersed 'service providers' to offer services to particular disciplines or groups of disciplines. JISC established the AHDS and in June 1995 awarded the contract to host the central Executive to King's College London. Over the next 12 months the five discipline-based service providers were also approved as:

* OTA: the Oxford Text Archive (Oxford University Computing Service); http://ota.ahds.ac.uk/

* HDS: the Historical Data Service (The Data Archive, Essex University); http:/hds.essex.ac.uk/

* PADS: the Performing Arts Data Service (University of Glasgow); http://pads.ahds. ac.uk/

* VADS: the Visual Arts Data Service (Surrey Institute of Art and Design); http://vads.ahds.ac.uk/

* ADS: the Archaeology Data Service (University of York et al.); http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/ahds/

The OTA and HDS were established services which have been brought within the AHDS fold, whereas PADS, VADS, and the ADS were completely new services. Each service provider has a responsibility for digital data within its own discipline but also has a special responsibility for standards definition and best practice for a particular class of data. The Archaeology Data Service, for example, has an AHDS-wide responsibility for good practice for the preservation of spatial data, including Geographical Information Systems. The philosophy behind the distributed but integrated approach is that there are discipline-specific needs and problems, but that there are also economies of scale, for example, in developing shared migration strategies for specific data types. In addition, there is the vision of the humanities researcher of the future being able to conduct cross-disciplinary searches from their desktop and in response to a query for holdings relating to Shakespeare, for example, recovering an electronic text of the Complete Works from the OTA, a video of the Royal Shakespeare Company performance of King Lear from PADS, an unattributed portrait of the bard from VADS, an historical database of 16th-century London from the HDS, and maybe the excavation archive for the Rose Theatre from the ADS.

The specific brief of the ADS is to collect, describe, catalogue, preserve, and provide user support for the re-use of digital data generated in the course of archaeological research by British archaeologists, wherever they are working. In theory, therefore, there are no geographical limits to its collection policy. In practice, the focus of ADS collections is expected to be on the archaeology of the British Isles and it hopes to work with equivalent organizations in other countries to develop reciprocal archiving policies. Although the ADS is based in York, its consortium structure recognizes that digital archives can be dispersed, so long as a single gateway can provide integrated access to distributed collections.

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