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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 23, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 8
Virtual Observatory to Preserve Massive Cosmic Images Online

By Pamela Higgins
Sheridan Libraries

The Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries have been awarded a $185,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for a groundbreaking effort to create a prototype system that will capture and preserve the massive digital datasets generated by large-scale astronomy projects for the Virtual Observatory.

The Virtual Observatory is a Johns Hopkins-led effort to develop a common set of standards in a Web framework for digital astronomy. Hopkins will establish a collaboration of publishers, libraries and the National Virtual Observatory to give astronomers universal access to the specially processed digital images, spectra and time series that are graphically represented in scientific literature.

"This initiative moves libraries from the periphery of projects such as NVO to the center of digital archiving and data curation efforts, thereby enabling the creation of the cyberinfrastructure required for the long-term preservation of data sets," said Sayeed Choudhury, associate director of library digital programs at the Sheridan Libraries and principal investigator for the grant.

Digital archiving to ensure long-term access was one of the key priorities cited in the 2003 report of the National Science Foundation's Blue Ribbon Panel on Cyberinfrastructure. The system created by Johns Hopkins and its partners, the University of Washington and the University of Edinburgh, and based on the open-source Fedora digital repository system software, will help ensure that important scholarly resources from the scientific domain are not lost in a "digital dark age."

Robert Hanisch, NVO project manager, said, "The National Virtual Observatory is a natural partner in this project, given its capabilities for distributed data discovery and access. We can build on the NVO infrastructure and include research libraries in the arena of data providers," said Hanisch, who is a senior scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, located on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus. "Such a partnership will help assure permanent access to the scholarly research record."

The project team will develop a set of Web services that link literature and reference materials to astronomical datasets and provide methods for long-term digital archiving of content that can be used in publishing research in astronomy. Deposited data will ultimately be archived within the library, which will serve as a digital annex for publications.

Winston Tabb, Sheridan Dean of University Libraries at Johns Hopkins, said, "Our vision is to create a cooperative system among astronomical researchers, libraries, publishers, editors and the National Virtual Observatory in which the literature, the associated digital data and the underlying data archives connect seamlessly.

"While the proposed work focuses on astronomy, a discipline that is at the forefront of data-intensive scholarship, the results of this effort will provide a blueprint for other disciplines and a model for what research libraries must do if we are going to fulfill our long-standing mission of supporting the research, teaching and learning needs of our customers," he said.


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