XML for the Long Haul

[9 June 2010]

The preliminary program for the one-day symposium on XML for the Long Haul (2 August 2010 in Montréal) is up and on the Web. Actually, it’s been up for a while, but I’ve been very busy lately and have had no time for blogging. (I know it seems implausible, but it’s true.)

The preliminary program has a couple slots left open for invited talks, which aren’t ready to be announced yet, but even in its current form it looks good (full disclosure: I’m chairing the symposium and made the final decisions on accepting papers for the symposium): we have two reports from major archives (Portico [Sheila Morrissey and others] and PubMed Central [Jeff Beck]) which face many of the same problems but take somewhat different approaches to addressing them. We have a retrospective report from a group of authors involved in a multi-year German project on the sustainability of linguistic resources [Georg Rehm and others]; the project has wound down now and I am hoping that the authors will be able to give a useful summary of its results.

Josh Lubell of NIST will talk about the long-term preservation of product data; for certain kinds of products (think Los Alamos and Oak ridge) the longevity of that information is really, really important to get right. And Quinn Dombrowski and Andrew Dombrowski of the University of Chicago shed an unexpected light on the problem of choosing archiveal data formats, by applying Montague semantics (a very interesting method of assigning meaning to utterances, usually applied to natural-language semantics and thus a little unexpected in the markup-language context) to the problem.

And the day concludes with Liam Quin of W3C providing a very cogent high-level survey of long-term preservation as an intellectual problem, and drawing out some consequences of the issues raised.

As is usual at Balisage symposia, we have reserved ample time for discussion and for an open session (aka free-for-all) at the end of the day.

As you can see, the program examines the problem are from a variety of perspectives and provides ample opportunity for people who might not often hear from each other to exchange views and learn from experience in other fields.

If you have any interest at all in long-term preservation of information (for whatever value of “long-term” makes sense in your context), you should plan to be in Montréal on 2 August. See you there!

The view from Black Mesa

[2 June 2010]

Black Mesa is a volcanic outcropping just north of San Ildefonso Pueblo in northern New Mexico. (The name “Black Mesa” is used of a bewildering variety of geographic features in the southwest, including two that can be seen from my house. The Black Mesa for which this blog is named is the one on San Ildefonso land right beside the Rio Grande.)

Because Black Mesa lies just outside my office window, two or three miles distant to the south, and because I find its profile beautiful, I spend a lot of time looking at it when I’m thinking about things and trying to get my ideas clear.

It’s clear that information technology has turned many things upside down for libraries, archives, museums, and others interested in preserving and providing access to information. It seems to me, though, that it hasn’t turned everything upside down: many properties we associate with libraries and archives and museums reflect not the properties of pre-digital technology but the characteristics of the problems they are trying to solve. Which existing practices should be changed to exploit digital technology? Which should remain in place?

What is the right way to use digital technology in preserving, protecting, and providing access to non-commercial information, public information, literary texts, linguistic resources, and (for want of a less grandiloquent phrase) the cultural heritage of humanity?

Getting my ideas clear on those and related question is what this blog is for. I hope you enjoy it.

This blog is intended to provide a place to record some of those ideas.