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PASIG: From Special Interest Group to a Life of its Own

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Once upon a time, a big technology company wanted to get together a like-minded segment of its customers, those who worked at educational and memory institutions that were concerned about long-term preservation and best practices in digital archiving. Thus was born PASIG: the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group.  Since 2007 there have been dozens of PASIG events, from bi-annual conferences in the US and Europe to smaller events held in conjunction with other meetings.

Dr. Gordon Bell from Microsoft Research presents at PASIG
Dr. Gordon Bell presents at PASIG 2012 in Austin, Texas

While some aspects of the meetings do still focus on specific vendor technologies, in 2011 the group shifted gears and reached out to the larger community of vendors and cultural heritage organizations.  PASIG is now less vendor-centric and guided jointly by Art Pasquinelli and Tom Cramer, along with a group of meeting advisers.  I have the pleasure of sitting on the steering committee, and attended the most recent PASIG meeting on January 11-13, 2012, at the University of Texas at Austin.

The meeting was kicked off with a wildly successful Digital Preservation Bootcamp. The Bootcamp was jointly led by William Kilbride and Don Post.  Topical discussions were led by facilitators/tutors, and included:

  • Digital Preservation — Things I wish someone had told me before I started
  • Digital Preservation in theory and practice
  • The Same But Different: data storage, business continuity management and preservation
  • OAIS and Emerging Standards: what does success look like?
  • Wrangling Digital Chaos: characterization and ingest
  • Preservation Metadata: it’s not just for finding things
  • How to Avoid Reinventing the Wheel: procurement and outsourcing

The conversations were lively and the feedback from the participants, those both experienced and new to digital preservation, was very positive.  Look for more of these bootcamps in the future, at PASIG and elsewhere!

The program ranged from the hardcore (advances in storage technologies) to the applied (archiving architectures, audio and video media preservation, research data management, what supercomputing centers can offer, the role of the cloud) to the meta (models for program maturity).  Once highlight for me, even though I have seen him speak before, was a presentation by Dr. Gordon Bell on his efforts in personal digital archiving.  Listening to him describe the personal digital collection that he is amassing to document his own life–a collection which will require a home and stewarding in the future –should be required for everyone who thinks that all we preserve, or will preserve, are digitized copies of analog collections.  The variety and scale of what we will be coping with in the future is enormous.

On a similar note, Jay L. Verkler, the CEO of FamilySearch, provided an excellent overview in his keynote of the scale at which they operate: their collection grows by 10 TB/day just with the digitization of records from record centers internationally.  The contents of the records must be indexed to make them useable and useful.  And in his keynote, Jay Boisseau, Director of the Texas Advanced Computing Center, spoke about their initiative to provide preservation services for research data, and handling the requests for very processing-intensive services on top of that data, including equation solving, modeling, simulations, as well as visualizations. Their storage of genome data grew by 100 TB in three months.

Are you seeing a theme here?  It’s Big Data in our collections in terms of sheer numbers, and the need for constant processing and processor-intensive services.

Stephen Abrams leading the meeting on the Unified Digital Format Registry
Stephen Abrams leading the meeting on the Unified Digital Format Registry

The final highlight for me was a meeting on the near-terms directions for the Unified Digital Format Registry (UDFR) led by Stephen Abrams of the California Digital Library. The Library of Congress has sponsored that work through NDIIPP, and I was happy to see a good size turnout _after_ the conference was already over.  There is most definitely community interest in this initiative, and the questions were highly varied.  Look to see the launch of the first version of the service very soon.

All of the presentations are available online at  You can also browse through presentations from prior conferences, which I strongly recommend.


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