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Subject:

Re: OPEN ARCHIVE - a new web based system for accessing our past

From:

Dan Hull <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 1 Oct 2009 13:59:47 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (94 lines)

The recent announcement of the new 'Open Archive' service for
archaeology by the British Archaeological Jobs Resource and Digital Past
has raised a number of questions (for example, here on the Britarch
discussion list). While the Open Archive certainly has good intentions,
it raises some important points about long-term digital archiving and
sharing of information which have ramifications for everyone in the
archaeological community. In particular, whilst data-sharing
environments are potentially useful, the approach adopted in the 'Open
Archive' does raise some concerns pertaining to both its use as a form
of reporting mechanism and also the use of the term 'archive'.

 

Regarding a reporting mechanism, an online reporting mechanism for
archaeological events already exists for Scotland and England (and
similar arrangements are under discussion in Wales) in the form of OASIS
(Online Access to the Index of Archaeological Investigations) which has
been developed over a decade and tailored to meet the requirements of
Discovery & Excavation in Scotland (DES). Users in Scotland can include
all relevant details into one form serving the HER, NMR and DES. This
was done after careful consultation with archaeological practitioners,
national heritage agencies and the HER/SMR community. It is free and
open access, and has the added benefit that should practitioners wish to
upload grey literature then these reports are archived with the ADS and
made available via the Grey Literature Library. While there should be
nothing to stop practitioners also using the 'Open Archive' system, it
should perhaps be made clear that the OASIS system is frequently the
required method of reporting fieldwork, including to DES. It would be
useful to clarify what the mechanism of transfer is between documents
held in the 'Open Archive' and DES, or the relevant HER and NMRs around
the UK?

 

The second concern focuses on the 'archive' element of 'Open Archive'.
While the site has a method for delivering information to the public
over the web it is unclear in what way it actually constitutes an
archive. The Archaeology Data Service (ADS), which hosts both the Grey
Literature Library and numerous PhDs, as well as the hugely varied
outputs of archaeological projects such as databases, image collections,
CAD files and so on, follows the OAIS reference model (Open Archival
Information System, ISO 14721:2003). 

 

ADS works closely with RCAHMS which carries out a similar function in
Scotland. These archives have to have all the necessary technical, legal
and financial systems in place to ensure data security and long-term
sustainability irrespective of commercial factors. At ADS, this is
monitored by an advisory group which represents all the various sectors
of archaeology across the UK in an open and transparent way which gives
more confidence in the long-term sustainability of their approach.

 

With the ADS, deposition of both grey literature reports via OASIS and
PhD theses from the UK is currently free of charge. In addition to the
use of the OAIS framework when dealing with deposited data, archives
such as the ADS hold an endowment fund and actively maintain
relationships with other professional archival systems (in particular
the UK Data Archive) to ensure long-term sustainability of the data. It
is not clear what processes and safeguards the 'Open Archive' has in
place to guarantee the long-term safety of its contents? What is the
migration strategy either on format change or when it proves necessary
to transfer documents to a system other than 'Scribd'?

 

Archaeological archiving works best when it is based on cooperation and
collaboration, and the groups and mechanisms to facilitate this are
broadly in place. While we are very pleased to welcome new approaches in
this field, and encourage innovation and data re-use, it would be useful
to know more about the Open Archive's long-term data storage strategy,
its future plans for inter-operability and its relationship to the
existing digital archives and data standards bodies.

 

 

Stuart Jeffrey, Catherine Hardman (Archaeology Data Service)

Dan Hull, Mike Heyworth (Council for British Archaeology)

Keith May (English Heritage)

Diana Murray (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments
of Scotland)

Hilary Malaws (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments
of Wales)

 

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