Since the end of core funding for the UK’S Arts and Humanities Data Service, its constituent services have had do a bit more thinking about the costs of disseminating and preserving digital data.
The Archaeology Data Service has recently published a revised charging policy, which puts figures against the various tasks in undertakes on behalf of its user community – liasing with those with digital data, undertaking ingest procedures, creating dissemination mechanisms and undertaking long-term storage and migration of digital objects.
Sensibly, the service is now charging future depositors a one-off cost at the point of ingest; asking researchers who work on fixed term projects to pay annual costs for storage is just not feasible
As one would expect the costs raise with the complexity and the size of the digital data created. More staff time and more storage is required for a complex GIS-based deposit. The cost of disseminating a database can be up to £10,000 ($20,000), while storage is charged at £0.30 per megabyte.
Drawing on their figures here is a small, very hypothetical case study – a project wishing to deposit 2000 tiff images (6000MB in total) and disseminate 2000 derived jpeg images (500MB in total) would have to pay 6 days of staff time for management (around £2000), perhaps around £3000 for image costs and £1950 in storage costs (6,500 MB * £0.30).
This would make a total of £6,950.
If the entire project funding had been around £200,000k, the dissemination and preservation costs would only be 3.5% of the total funds. Not bad going at all.
The International Dunhuang Project: The Silk Road Online and the Darwin Correspondence Project are two of the longest running digitisation projects in the UK.
The International Dunhuang Project is a “ground-breaking international collaboration to make information and images of all manuscripts, paintings, textiles and artefacts from Dunhuang and archaeological sites of the Eastern Silk Road freely available on the Internet and to encourage their use through educational and research programmes.”. It is international project running since 1994, hosted at the BL and has over 140,000 relevant images online.
The Darwin Correspondence project aims to document and add scholarly apparatus to over 14,000 of Darwin’s letters (both received and sent). Hosted at Cambridge University, the project is a mixed media one, with both digital and print outputs.
Both are huge projects and are need of continued assistance to digitise all the items within its orbit – the Darwin project aims to have 30 printed volumes, and complete around 2025. (!)
But of course the difficult thing is to find continued funding for such projects. For funding bodies or charities there are diminishing returns in funding something which already has had some academic impact. The gains are less tanglible if one funds something which is not trying to innovate and is already established in the academic blood stream. Equally, a funder will have less say in the project if it is jostling against many other donors who have already funded it.
I’m not quite sure how this is solved! Potential fund raising needs to get that much innovative in order for the projects to reach their natural conclusion.