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Building a Community of Shared Practice

In addition to reengineering the curatorial process or developing a robust, trustworthy, inexpensive storage network, PeDALS will develop a professional network to promote collaboration and to develop shared practices. The Best Practices Exchange conferences held in North Carolina, Arizona and Montana, the New Skills colloquium, the DigCCurr conference, and other meetings have underscored the fragmented knowledge and efforts of preserving digital government information. This project will address the need for an integrated set of tested practices that can be adapted by many repositories.

This community was born at a kickoff meeting, where partners were able to build personal, face-to-face relationships that extend into the virtual realm. The community also has regular interaction through a web forum and conference calls. The project intends to expand this community by opening the web site to other state libraries and archives. One desired outcome will be that states not implementing the system will be able to take immediate advantage of the shared practices by adapting them to their local needs. At the same time, these observers' participation in discussions will allow the project partners to take advantage of their insights and experiences, helping ensure that the system can be used as widely as possible. The observers are invited to attend face-to-face meetings, although at their own expense.

In order for this community to be meaningful, they will have the shared objective of developing a common set of tools. The middleware will be a critical piece. Each partner will need the same middleware, and they will need the training necessary to use that software. At the same time, writing complex middleware rules will require a professional programmer. Because no one partner will likely need a full time middleware specialist, the project will hire a programmer as a shared resource. Because the project is based on share practices, rules developed for one partner should be adaptable to another.

The project will investigate the administrative and economic factors necessary for a collaborative distributed network and develop a business model to sustain the network as a consortium after the grant. Implementation partners will reflect a variety of contexts — such as size, centralization, and technology infrastructures — to determine how those factors might affect the network architecture and a consortial management structure.