Abstract in black and brown of oil spill

Data is The New Oil Spill for Academia

Digitization/Digital Transformation is the number one priority for academic institutions across the globe. And yet, while decision makers focus on high level, for most institutions there is still a gaping hole at the base of their strategy. 

Research from EDUCAUSE shows that 13% of colleges and universities are engaging in digital transformation today, 32% are developing a Digital Transformation strategy, and another 38% of higher education institutions are exploring Dx. With only 17% of institutions investing no time in Dx.

We have all heard (ad nauseam) that ‘data is the new oil’. But, much like oil, without the correct long-term storage and preservation, data leaks away into the ground or pollutants leech in through the cracks and render it worthless. 

For a long time, digital data in academia has fallen through the cracks: it sat somewhere between the remits of the librarian and the IT services department, and usually funded by neither. Costs for data storage and archival have typically been forced into short-term project budgets. Institutions across the globe face the same challenges around the long-term preservation of academic data. 

Storing research data correctly is an essential for repeatability and the review of academic results and conclusions. And in this sense, it can form a vital part of long term academic rigour and society’s accepted truth. Does a contentious academic paper still stand up, if its underlying data is lost to some obsolete, undocumented and inaccessible data format?

The openness with which we store data also has significant implications for academic collaboration, sharing, and accessibility – specifically the ability of researchers in developing nations to engage in high-cost fields of study.

Within the field of humanities (our focus for Phaidracon2021), digital data is often a valuable public good whose value stretches far beyond an individual research project. Digitized and stored correctly, research artefacts take on a new telepresence life for researchers, museums, enthusiasts, and members of the public around the globe.

And yet, we are still seeing digital data treated as a second class citizen in much of academia: a short-term cost burden, rather than a valuable asset. 

At this year’s Vienna Sessions we will exploring key questions and some possible solutions: 

  • Is open source software the panacea it was once thought to be?
  • Should we, and can we, separate data from the risks of software obsolescence?
  • Do better standards and Application Programme Interfaces (APIs) have more to offer?
  • Are there ways to make data a financial asset rather than a burden?



The open source Phaidra Project has one simple focus: The effective long term preservation of academic data.

This simple mission touches on topics at the core of modern academia and broader society: from accessibility, collaboration, and open science; through academic rigour accountability and repeatability; to more pragmatic subjects such as budget restraints, reuse, and even revenue generation.

Building on last year’s lively ‘Vienna Sessions’ (see the links above), Phaidracon 2021 starts with two more exciting roundtables. We invite anyone with an interest in digitization, ḧumanities, data preservation, data management, open access, scientific publications and digital library to tune in and join us in the interactive online debate.


Featured photo by Dan-Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash