David Arctur Makes Major Gift to the iSchool

David Arctur has worked as an electrical engineer, a software architect and an urban planner among other things. His career has taken him from Austin to Africa to Silicon Valley and back to Austin. His academic titles include research fellow in the Jackson School of Geosciences and the Cockrell School of Engineering and instructor at the iSchool.

He jokes that he should be retired by now.

But now is not the time to bow out. The scientific community is facing a crisis: how to preserve records, fossils, and data. Too much has already been lost. And Arctur knows the iSchool will play a critical role in tackling the problem.

It struck me that digital preservation is one of the subjects studied in the iSchool, and it's not a subject of primary study in geosciences or engineering. But (those schools) have the subject material that needs preservation.
 

That's why he established endowments to the iSchool and the Jackson School. The David K. Arctur Endowment for Innovations in Interoperability and Digital Preservation will help both programs to pursue grants such as National Science Foundation funds to improve curation and inventory of geologic samples.

Arctur, who has taught GIS (geographic information system) software at the iSchool, also made a bequest to the iSchool and the Jackson School that he hopes will fund post-docs and research fellows in the years to come.

The key, Arctur says, is cross-campus collaboration. And he's eager to help get the ball rolling.

"Here I am in Geosciences and Engineering ...and teaching GIS at the iSchool," he says. "And it struck me that digital preservation is one of the subjects studied in the iSchool, and it's not a subject of primary study in geosciences or engineering. But (those schools) have the subject material that needs preservation."

He cited a recent study that found some 80 percent of scientific data is lost within two decades.

"Why is this? It's because software changes, hardware changes, media goes bad," he says. "We understand the reasons very well, but that doesn't make it easy to fix."

The Jackson School, for example, recently acquired half a million geo samples, which presents a challenge but also an opportunity to "nurture some collaboration," Arctur says.

The iSchool's faculty and students have the expertise to help choose what information is needed, how to preserve it and how to make data accessible to other scientists - an endeavor Arctur is particularly devoted to.

It's difficult, he says, to develop standards for long-term archives, and many museums aren't satisfied with the PDF/A (Portable Document Format Archive) system.

"They would really like original source material and metadata and information about the data - where it came from and what process it went through," Arctur says.

iSchool faculty and students face a daunting task in this regard. But Artctur says he's "eternally hopeful."

"We've got really engaged people with a lot of knowledge and connections networking in the communities around the world, and we've got a lot of resources here," he says. "What I've noticed is it really just takes a champion to want something to happen."