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ICT research: preserving Europe's digital data for future generations

Tools developed using EU funds to ensure that digitally stored data can be preserved, accessed and understood for the indefinite future are now available in the form of open source software.

The EU's CASPAR (Cultural, Artistic and Scientific knowledge for Preservation, Access and Retrieval) research programme involved researchers from the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Israel, Italy and the UK.

This work complements initiatives such as Europeana, the European digital library (see
MEMO/10/166). The EU has contributed € 8.8 million of the €15 million total cost of the project under the European Commission's research funding programme (Sixth Framework Programme 2001-2006).

Until now large volumes of electronic data such as official records, museum archives and scientific results have been unreadable or at risk of loss because newer technologies could not read it or allow current users to understood it.

Application of ICT research to benefit Europe's citizens and businesses is a key element of the Digital Agenda for Europe adopted by the Commission in May 2010 (see
IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200).

Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said: "Digital information is extremely vulnerable and also extremely valuable. Anyone who has lost access to family photos or old documents will know the frustration of dealing with incompatible technologies. I am very excited by the potential of CASPAR's tools and techniques to ensure sustained quality of and access to valuable data in the future."

Digital technology has revolutionised the way we deal with knowledge and information, especially in scientific domains such as astronomy or climatology that rely on the quantitative analysis of large data sets over a long period of time. For example, evidence of the influence of human activities on global warming has been recorded for several decades now. Despite the evolution of data recording technologies, from punch cards and magnetic tapes to cloud computing on huge servers, the ability to access and understand information in the future in a landscape of evolving technologies remains crucial to scientific progress.

Huge amounts of vastly different information are encoded digitally. Some kinds of data are like documents - for example libraries preserve a printed document on a shelf and in the future people taking it from the shelf would be able to read it. The digital equivalent means being able, in the future, to take the word processor file and be able to print it. The rest of the digital world however is not like this. For example, simply being able to print the numbers that come out of earth observation satellites is not enough - people would be able to read the numbers, but they would not be understandable.

CASPAR addresses a very wide range of issues surrounding the preservation of all types of digitally encoded information and how it could be used in the future. It can describe the data well enough so that the numbers could be extracted in the future - the equivalent of being able to print them. But CASPAR also ensures that the numbers, and the relationships between them, can be understood and be easy to use in whatever software, and for whatever research, scientists in the future might wish.

These methods have been tested successfully with different kinds of data from science, cultural heritage and contemporary performing arts.

The CASPAR open source software is available for free download and for further development into commercial applications.

For further details on the CASPAR project, see:

CASPAR can be downloaded from:

More EU-funded ICT research success stories will be presented at ICT 2010, Europe's largest ICT research event, in Brussels from 27 to 29 September 2010. Journalists can attend free of charge after registering at:

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