Sustainable economics for a digital planet: Ensuring long term access to digital information


Digital information is a vital resource in our knowledge economy, valuable for research and education, science and the humanities, creative and cultural activities, and public policy. But digital information is inherently fragile and often at risk of loss. Access to valuable digital materials tomorrow depends upon preservation actions taken today; and, over time, access depends on ongoing and efficient allocation of resources to preservation.

Ensuring that valuable digital assets will be available for future use is not simply a matter of finding sufficient funds. It is about mobilizing resources—human, technical, and financial—across a spectrum of stakeholders diffuse over both space and time. But questions remain about what digital information we should preserve, who is responsible for preserving, and who will pay.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access investigated these questions from an economic perspective. In this report, we identify problems intrinsic to all preserved digital materials, and propose actions that stakeholders can take to meet these challenges to sustainability. We developed action agendas that are targeted to major stakeholder groups and to domain-specific preservation strategies. The Task Force focused its inquiry on materials that are of long-term public interest, looking at four content domains with diverse preservation profiles:

  • Scholarly discourse The published output of scholarly inquiry
  • Research data: the primary inputs into research, as well as the first-order results of that research
  • Commercially owned cultural content Culturally significant digital content that is owned by a private entity and is under copyright protection
  • Collectively produced web content Web content that is created interactively, the result of collaboration and contributions by consumers

This report represents the work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access, with funding and support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF Award No. OCI 0737721), The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the U.S. Library of Congress, the U.K. Joint Information Systems Committee, the Electronic Records Archives Program of the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Council on Library and Information Resources.

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