The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the UK has recently decided to withdraw funding from the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS). The AHDS has been fundamental in developing best practices for the storage and preservation of digital data for use by researchers in the humanities over the last eleven years. Not only that, but the AHRC appears to have taken no steps at all to ensure the long term preservation of the AHDS data.

The AHRC’s own statement on this subject seems to miss the point of digital preservation somewhat. I quote:

“The context within which the AHDS was initially supported by the AHRC has changed. Much technical knowledge is now readily available within HEIs, either from IT support services or from academics. Much that generally can be safely assumed now, for example that web sites can be put together and run effectively for the duration of a project, could not be assumed ten years ago. Council believes that long term storage of digital materials and sustainability is best dealt with by an active engagement with HEIs rather than through a centralised service.”

Yes, lots of people can design websites, but a) that’s not the same as digital data storage, and b) the statement says the website should be up for the duration of the project, with no provision for longterm storage.

The Archaeological Data Service (ADS), originally part of the AHDS, has been asked to apply for funding in it’s own right, which is marginally more positive but the decision to stop funding the AHDS after eleven years shows how tenuous their position is, even if they get the funding.

If you’re a UK resident, then an e-petition has been set up to urge the government to intervene and get the AHDS to reconsider their decision. Please sign it!