A project to create an electronic ‘ark’ for digital and paper-based archives has received a cash injection. The project will address the problem of archiving digital data from many different kinds of systems all across Europe.
The European Commission has awarded £6M to archiving and digital preservation specialists to create E-ARK, a revolutionary method of archiving data that is set to become the gold standard across Europe. The system will ensure current digital archives, including ‘big data,’ are future-proofed. (Big data is data sets of such a size that it is difficult to manage with traditional software and databases.)
Digital preservation specialists at the University of Portsmouth are leading the project, which involves over a dozen major partners including a core group of European national archives. The University’s Dr Janet Delve and Professor David Anderson are tackling what they describe as a mammoth undertaking to address an issue which becomes larger by the day.
Dr Delve said: “The size of the problem is huge. We are looking at years of accumulated data across almost 30 countries that have been stored using a variety of different methods and on different systems. With the onset of e-government and open data initiatives, archives now have to cope with storing huge amounts of digital material. The size of the problem is growing because of the colossal quantity of electronic data generated on a daily basis from organisations as diverse as banks, public health organisations and national archives.
“Our objective is to reduce the risk of information loss due to poor methods of keeping and archiving records by providing one common, robust approach. It must be replicable and scalable to meet the needs of many kinds of organisations, public and private, large and small, and able to support complex data types such as web pages and big data.
“The term ‘archives’ usually conjures a vision of vast rooms filled with dusty papers, guarded by a wizened archivist. Not anymore.”
E-ARK (European Archival Records and Knowledge Preservation) will benefit public administrations, public agencies, public services, citizens and business by providing easy and efficient access to the archived records.
Professor Anderson said that a major issue to overcome is navigating different legal systems and records management traditions. He described the task of creating and building an infrastructure usable by all countries across different types of organisation as an enormous jigsaw with hundreds of parts that need to be examined and assessed. “We will take the best bits from the systems we see and our aim is to create something that we know large organisations and archivists alike are crying out for.”
The E-ARK project will examine current best practices to create a pilot archiving service to keep records authentic and usable. It will address the three main endeavours of an archive – acquiring, preserving and enabling re-use of information.
The project will spend three years creating a standard archival process at a pan-European level supported by guidelines and recommended practices that will cater for a range of data from different types of source including record management systems and databases.
The project will be public-facing, providing a fully operational service and access to information for its users, taking account of all legal constraints.
The project launches today at the Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon, Portugal. Other than the five national archives, organisations involved include four leading research institutions, three providers of archiving software solutions and services, two government agencies, and two international membership organisations representing communities who will benefit from the project, such as data owners and providers, archives, software vendors and solution providers.