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Office of News and Information
Johns Hopkins University
901 South Bond Street, Suite 540
Baltimore, Maryland 21231
Phone: 443-287-9960 | Fax: 443-287-9920

November 16, 2006
CONTACT: Pamela Higgins
(410) 516-8337

Huge Astronomy Databases to Be Preserved Online

The Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries have been awarded a $185,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the primary source of federal support for the nation's libraries and museums, 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 (VO).

The VO is a Hopkins-led effort to develop a common set of standards in a Web framework for digital astronomy. Johns Hopkins will establish a collaboration of publishers, libraries and the National Virtual Observatory (NVO) 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 datasets," 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 partners at 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."

"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," noted Robert Hanisch, NVO project manager and a senior scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, located on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus in Baltimore. "Such a partnership will help assure permanent access to the scholarly research record."

The project team will develop a set of Web services which 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.

"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," said Winston Tabb, Sheridan dean of university libraries at Johns Hopkins.

"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," Tabb said.

The Sheridan Libraries encompass the Milton S. Eisenhower Library and its collections at the Hutzler Reading Room, Garrett Library and the George Peabody Library.

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