In DSpace, ideas are forever….
—New York Times, August 3, 2003
For centuries the primary format for communicating and preserving knowledge was paper-based print. Within the past century and a half, new technologies conveyed information through photographic images, sound recordings, and moving images, and libraries readily adapted their practices to accommodate each new format. In the 21st century, computer-based digital information is becoming pervasive and is increasingly the format of record. While other formats have not disappeared, the amount of digital content has increased exponentially.
Several challenges are presented by this change. The use of this information, which exists only as bits and bytes, relies on ever-changing hardware or software-based intermediaries for interpretation. Research materials, cultural artifacts, creative works, and scholarly publications are created in increasingly complex digital formats, and are in danger of being lost to posterity as successive computing platforms are adopted. Despite technological improvements, capturing and maintaining digital special collections in a coordinated, systematic way remains problematic.
MIT’s answer to these challenges was the creation of DSpace, an open source digital repository platform, jointly developed by the MIT Libraries and Hewlett-Packard, that enables libraries to capture, store, index, preserve, and redistribute digital assets. Many research libraries have collected in printed form the working papers, creative works, reports, theses, research notes, and manuscripts produced by their institutions. Much of this output is now created only in electronic form. DSpace bridges the special collections digital divide, providing a platform for digitized traditional assets as well as the 21st-century output that has never been presented in print, such as moving images and sound, 3-D simulations, hyper-linked objects, and datasets. DSpace facilitates the acquisition and long-term curation of such previously “unsaveable” special collections.
DSpace@MIT is MIT’s own installation of the DSpace platform. It is MIT’s institutional repository for capturing and curating the research and teaching output of MIT, in digital form. Coming online in November 2002, DSpace@MIT now consists of over 50 research communities and contains over 24,000 items, ranging from singular files such as a scientific technical report or thesis to complex objects such as multi-file Web sites in the archived Web pages of MIT’s OpenCourseWare. DSpace@MIT is accessible over the World Wide Web to researchers around the globe.
The DSpace platform is freely available to institutions as an open source system that can be customized and extended. Research institutions worldwide use DSpace for a variety of digital archiving. Critically, it has prompted wide debate and deliberation on fundamental ideas about how an institution thinks of its intellectual output. The DSpace Federation Inc. coordinates the planning, research, development, and distribution of the software.
Increasingly, DSpace is used beyond its academic institution roots, providing opportunities for libraries and historical and cultural institutions to collaborate in addressing the challenges of promoting and curating digital collections. As digital collections grow, commercial providers are offering DSpace set-up, consultation, customization, and hosting for smaller institutions.
Collection Profile and Overview: Marilyn G. McSweeney and Thomas J. Rosko
Illustrations: Sean Thomas