Following the recent public announcement that the UK’s AHRC intends to withdraw funding from the Arts and Humanities Data Service, the following petition has been set up at the British Government’s website.
On 11 May 2007, Professor Phillip Esler, Chief Executive of the AHRC, wrote to University Vice-Chancellors informing them of the Council’s decision to withdraw funding from the AHDS after eleven years. The AHDS has pioneered and encouraged awareness and use among Britain’s university researchers in the arts and humanities of best practice in preserving digital data created by research projects funded by public money. It has also ensured that this data remains publically available for future researchers. It is by no means evident that a suitable replacement infrastructure will be established and the AHRC appears to have taken no adequate steps to ensure the continued preservation of this data. The AHDS has also played a prominent role in raising awareness of new technologies and innovative practices among UK researchers. We believe that the withdrawal of funding for this body is a retrograde step which will undermine attempts to create in Britain a knowledge economy based on latest technologies. We ask the Prime Minister to urge the AHRC to reconsider this decision.
You must be a British citizen or resident to sign the petition.
The withdrawal of funding for the AHDS is indeed a source of serious concern over the valuable services offered by it over the last decade. In terms of long-term preservation of digital project outputs, it should be said that this withdrawal discloses the achiles heel of an esteemed institution like the AHDS and one which is in tension with the qualification ‘long-term’: the data created by AHRC/B-funded (and other) projects should be preserved for the future, but such preservation can only be guaranteed by an institution that is _not_ funded over fixed periods of time. The kind of preservation and derivative services has to be carried by structures that are not dependent on changes in funding policies. While I certainly hope that the AHDS will find alternative sources of funding to make up for the AHRC withdrawal, I do hope that the more long-term structural needs are taken into consideration in order to assure a sustainable and robust approach to digital preservation.
The Government has issued the following response to the AHDS petition:
Thank you for your e-petition.
Government policy is that decisions on such services are a matter for the Research Council concerned.
The Government expects that such decisions would only be taken after a careful review of the service in question. We are aware that the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) only took the decision to cease funding the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS) after detailed consideration. The Council concluded at its March 2007 meeting that having regard both to the performance and cost of AHDS, this was not something they should continue to fund. There are no grounds for the Government seeking to ask the Council to reconsider that decision.