The pervasive dependence of companies and public sector institutions on information and communication technology (ICT) has transformed the way we create, access, use, and need to manage many aspects of our cultural and scientific heritage. The increasing tendency to represent information and knowledge in digital form poses risks to its longevity while at the same time offering us new opportunities to exploit our heritage for purposes of creative activity, wealth generation, research, and public enjoyment. Long-term access to these digital assets forms both the cornerstone of future economic growth and development, and the foundation for the future of memory. Access over time and space to our heritage represented in digital form depends upon how we care for it. The umbrella term ‘digital curation’ encapsulates the many activities involved in caring for digital objects such as selection, documentation, management, storage, conservation, security, preservation, and provision of access.
After more than twenty years of research in digital curation and preservation the actual theories, methods, and technologies that can either foster or ensure digital longevity remain startlingly limited. There are many possible explanations for this situation; for instance, there has been a lack of appreciation of the research challenges posed by digital preservation, a lack of a sense of urgency, the lack of proven business cases which might have encouraged the development of this as a research or technology sector, the fact that in the past the research agenda has been driven by information professionals working in memory institutions or corporate records management teams, the limited funding for this kind of research, and, of course, the speed of technological development. Changes in the research and technology landscape are increasing research interest in the challenges surrounding digital curation and have made it evident that there are substantial commercial opportunities.
The paper, after briefly sketching the digital curation problem, surveys the current research and development activities aimed at addressing the obstacles to digital longevity and then moves to its main focus on the key research challenges — theoretical, methodological, and technological – need attention during the coming five to ten years if we are to ensure that our digital heritage is sustainable, authentic, and accessible over time.
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