Vol. XIV, No. 2
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Fall, 2001

Archaeological Data Archive Pilot Project

Getting archaeologists to deposit digital materials into the Archaeological Data Archive has been a very tough sell. The reasons are simple. When a project is complete, there is rarely enough time, money, or energy to deal with the complications of archiving the digital files. In addition, ADAP personnel cannot easily determine how much of each, especially money, will be required; there is not enough experience to make such judgments possible.

One excellent way to combat this situation is with a pilot project, one that will provide the funds, expertise, and assistance to make archiving possible and, at the same time, provide useful experience. The National Center for Preservation Technology and Training has encouraged such a pilot project and is expecting to provide financial support for it, pending available funding.

The pilot project was conceived in a meeting at NCPTT headquarters in Natchitoches, LA, when Mary Carroll (NCPTT), Mark Aldenderfer (University of California at Santa Barbara), and Harrison Eiteljorg, II (ADAP) gathered to consider ways to encourage preservation of digital materials. A pilot project will enable ADAP to provide technical assistance and to monitor the processes. It will also add to the archived corpus, making the Archaeological Data Archive more useful. Probably most important, it will provide the experience needed to guide others who need to archive digital materials in the future. To that end, careful records of costs, procedures, problems, successes, and disappointments will be kept. Articles about the work will appear here and elsewhere.

The project will involve work done under the auspices of State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) in three states: California, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. Four projects from each state will be chosen to participate (through a public bidding process). The three states were chosen because of their differences in terms of archaeological projects and their similarities as to the effective use of computer technologies by the SHPOs. Letters of invitation will soon go out to contractors in the three states, asking for their participation. Those interested will be encouraged to develop bids for archival preservation of their digital records.

Projects will be chosen for a number of reasons. First, a variety of data types should be involved -- databases, CAD models, GIS data sets, images, etc. While it is unlikely that any single project will present all these data types, the twelve projects involved should, as a group, present the vast majority of the data types to be expected. In addition, the project should vary as to size and complexity. Large and small projects need to be involved to determine whether there are unexpected complications that arise from either. Finally, projects that have just been concluded or are ongoing will be chosen along with some that were concluded some time ago. The age of the data files may be an issue in some instances, since documentation -- the most significant hurdle for archiving digital records -- should be easier for projects that were recently concluded or are still on-going. Experience will either prove or disprove that assumption.

This is not a project to create digital files, but to preserve files that are already digital - whether "born digital" or already digitized in secondary processes. It is certainly possible that a given problem that a given project will obtain funds from another source to digitize materials and then archive them in the pilot project, but the chances for that seem remote.

The first step of this pilot project was a meeting with the representatives of the California, Colorado, and Pennsylvania SHPOs at the Colorado SHPO headquarters; the kind offer of their meeting room for this gathering was greatly appreciated. Ms. Carroll and Mr. Eiteljorg met with representatives of the Colorado SHPO, Meg Van Ness and Mary Sullivan, representatives of the Pennsylvania SHPO, Janet Johnson and D. Noel Strattan, and a representative of the California SHPO, Eric Allison. The project was more fully explained, and a discussion of the potential for each state ensued.

One of the first points to be raised was the importance of the "gray literature" to the long-term utility of any digital records. Those publications often provide the crucial keys to using data from projects, and archiving of the one without the other seemed unwise. As a result, the pilot will include digitizing and preserving the publications of the various projects when appropriate. In that sense only, digitizing will be a part of the pilot.

Another area of concern was quickly raised: public access to the archival materials. For many scholars the value of an archive is entirely dependent on ease of access. For others -- those concerned Abu those concerned about site protection or native Americans with concerns about the particular materials, for instance -- public access can be very worrisome. This was not a surprise, but it does require careful consideration. The ADAP had already expressed its position, which is rather simple. Determinations of access are properly made by those responsible for the data -- either the project directors or the SHPOs -- not personnel at the archive. Therefore, access will be determined by the responsible state agency or project personnel, not by the ADAP. The ADAP will simply carry out instructions from the responsible parties. This seems an obvious solution, and it met with the approval of those attending this initial meeting.

At or near the conclusion of the pilot, there will be a forum for discussing its results, if possible at the SAA meetings in 2003.

It should be noted that the NCPTT was more instrumental in this process than the foregoing implies. In the spring of 2000 the NCPTT funded a meeting about archival issues in Washington, D.C. Mr. Aldenderfer and Ms. Carroll hosted the meeting, which included several people with interest and experience in archiving digital records. From that meeting emerged the smaller gathering in Natchitoches. It is greatly to the credit of NCPTT and Ms. Carroll that these helpful initiatives for long-term preservation of digital data are moving forward.

For other Newsletter articles concerning the ADAP, this or other CSA projects, or the use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.

Next Article: Learning AutoCAD from Scratch -- Making Halieis Maps

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