By Stuart Dunn, SSI Fellow and Lecturer, Centre for e-Research, Kings's College London
The third day of the conference was taken up by an invitation-only meeting, hosted by the Foundazione Romualdo del Bianco, in the Palazzo Coppini. I attended this, and gave a short verbal presentation, in which I highlighted the SSI’s work, its role and significance in the UK’s scientific landscape, and its potential roles in EVA’s area of interest, as outlined in the Event Report. Participants agreed, in principle, to commit to the development of a formal international collaboration, and to seek funding for this, probably from Horizon 2020. I suggested the SSI be consulted on the development of this bid and, if it was deemed appropriate by all concerned, be invited to participate.
Electronic Visulaization and the Arts International is a 25 year old international network of conferences for practitioners, academics, innovators and policy-makers concerned with the theories and methods of digital visualization in the cultural sphere. I recently attended its conference in Florence, where the importance of software sustainability in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector was never far from the surface. I was especially struck by a comment by Franco Lucchesi, director of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore (the public body charged with maintaining
Florence’s historic cathedral) that ‘unless we look to the future of our digital infrastructure, 800 years of history is imperiled’.
The presentations were wide ranging, but it appears that there are three distinct themes relevant to software sustainability in the GLAM sector: firstly, the limitations imposed by the FEC funding model in universities, and the tensions this creates when attempting to collaborate with non-academic organizations such as libraries and archives. The second, related, issue is how we can leverage public support in the creation of cultural resources, and the role of libraries and archives in sustaining those resources once they have been created. Nicole Graf of the
ETH-Bibliotek in Zurich presented a neat case study of this, and how it migh be addressed, with her crowd-sourcing project on the Swissair photographic archive: Swissair retirees were invited to help catalogue a massive collection of images of daily life at Swissair, held in the company’s archives. The images are tagged with information about persons, events, objects etc, and the ETH will perpetuate the collection in the future. Thirdly, is the how digital image objects are preserved for the long term. Intellectually I believe this to be a fascinating challenge, and one that will become of consuming importance as the history of digital image capture grows longer. It is also in which the SSI may, in the future, have a key role to play. Graham Diprose and Mike Seabourn presented their solution to this, which is – essentially – to print digital images in high resolution inkjet on specially prepared paper. They pointed out that in their project, a photo-essay of life on the Thames, there is a set of photographs of like in the Docklands from 1937: it is likely that their digital imagery, taken in 2010, will not outlast the 1937 images. We agreed that we would work together to prepare a set of functional requirements for a notional software system to sustain their digital images such as theirs for as long as possible. We might offer this as a paper at a future EVA – perhaps EVA Jerusalem or EVA Berlin in November.