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EU project seeks to preserve digital heritage

Scientific, artistic and cultural information worldwide is becoming increasingly digitised, and this digital drive is particularly encouraged in Europe as it can ensure that information is accessible to all, bringing about a knowledge-based economy. However, given the speedy e...

Scientific, artistic and cultural information worldwide is becoming increasingly digitised, and this digital drive is particularly encouraged in Europe as it can ensure that information is accessible to all, bringing about a knowledge-based economy. However, given the speedy evolution of software and computer systems, there are significant challenges associated with ensuring access and preservation of this digital information for use by future generations. CASPAR (Cultural, Artistic, Scientific knowledge Preservation), a new Integrated Project, aims to address this problem by developing a Europe-wide digital preservation infrastructure based on existing and emerging standards. The project received €8.8 million in EU funding and brings together a consortium of scientific, cultural and creative experts, as well as commercial partners, and experts in knowledge engineering and information preservation from across Europe. Dr David Giaretta of the Council for the Central Laboratory for the Research Council in the UK is the coordinator of the project: 'CASPAR will address the issue of how digitally encoded information can still be understood and used in the future when the software, systems and everyday knowledge will have changed. Things we take for granted now would otherwise be completely unfamiliar, something to be guessed at, even if we preserve the bits and bytes,' he explains. The CASPAR infrastructure will comprise applications and services which can be adapted to multiple areas. The platform will be developed according to OAIS, the current standard for Open Archival Information System. However, the preservation of this infrastructure, including issues such as authentication, accreditation and digital rights management, must itself be preservable if it is to be fit for purpose. In addition to OAIS, the project will develop models of virtualisation, and a number of high-level components that put 'knowledge' at the heart of preservation. 'By this we mean that besides simple data semantics, CASPAR will also capture higher-level semantics. Furthermore, we will use Semantic Web techniques to enable the infrastructure components to survive changes over time,' says Dr Giaretta. Semantic Web is a mesh of information linked up in such a way as to be easily processable by computers, similar to a globally linked database. The CASPAR consortium will demonstrate the validity of the framework through a series of testbeds. These will cover a wide range of disciplines from science to culture, contemporary arts and multi-media, and will provide a reliable common infrastructure that can be used or replicated in other areas. Although the long term objective is to preserve digital data for future generations, immediate benefits can be identified, says Dr Giaretta. For example, online data exists with which users are already unfamiliar. And while it would be possible to contact the producer of the data in order to find the relevant tool to access it, CASPAR will instead develop generic automated processes that can access any data source correctly. The project consortium says that CASPAR is the first European initiative with the aim of producing broadly applicable components and a framework for digital preservation. However, regardless of how successful CASPAR is as a project, it nevertheless has a limited life. In order to provide long-term support, the consortium aims to embed CASPAR results into the production processes of existing organisations such as CCLRC, the European Space Agency (ESA), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and France's National Audiovisual Institute (INA), all of which are partners in the project. In addition, CASPAR also aims to participate in a strategic alliance involving other major data holders, forming the basis for a Europe-wide preservation infrastructure. It is also hoped that a European Digital Information Infrastructure for Preservation and Access (EDIIPA) will be added to the ESFRI Roadmap, an initiative to identify new research infrastructure of pan-European interest.

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