Integrated Buddhist Archives

- IBA: An "Indra's Net" for Buddhist Studies

Draft proposal version October 1, 2007

Authors: Huimin Bhiksu, Aming Tu, Christian Wittern, William Magee, Marcus Bingenheimer

A. Rationale

When CBETA was founded ten years ago, few of us could have foreseen the many recent developments in information technology, especially the emerging web-technologies. Wikis (Wikipedia), blogs, Internet telephony (Skype), platforms for exchange of amateur video (YouTube), geographical information (GoogleEarth), virtual worlds (Second Life) have become virtually mainstream. At this point it is impossible to calibrate the social impact of these technologies, and in spite of GoogleEarth we are on a journey without maps or compass, led by no one in particular.

Although the trajectory is obscure, as practitioners of Digital Buddhist Studies we have to ask what these changes mean for our practice. Looking back at the last ten years it is obvious that those projects in our field which proved successful were those that could rely on long-term commitment by individuals and/or institutions. We can all remember projects that started hopefully and with promise but which, without the necessary commitment, failed to establish themselves as a permanent presence on the Web. Only a strategic, far-sighted approach makes it possible to connect scholarship and digital media effectively enough to provide continuity.

This conference is dedicated to a discussion of strategies regarding how to strengthen our practice of Buddhist Informatics. This might be an auspicious time to establish a decentralized network of institutions committed to the use of information technology for the academic study of Buddhism. We have tentatively called this projected network the Integrated Buddhist Archives (IBA). As a first step in its establishment, we envision a working group with the task of suggesting and drafting effective measures for connecting existing archives.

B. Aims

A network like IBA could provide a number of important services to academic and Buddhist communities around the world:

1. Common Portal Site & Integrated Search Interface

A growing number of databases exist which harbor large amounts of Buddhist textual materials. Often little effort is made to advertise one's collections, and so it is often difficult to know where to look for specific texts, especially for non-specialists and newcomers to the field. It seems desirable to create a common portal from which these archives and repositories could be accessed and (ideally) searched. Such a portal would also help us to heighten the profile of Buddhist Informatics within the wider community of Buddhist Studies, where projects from the Digital Humanities are often met with reservations.

2. Maintenance of Legacy Projects & Archiving

In the digital realm where objects are fragile and quickly obsolete, impermanence is certain and longevity is rare. Individual contributions to Buddhist Studies in particular often vanish with the website on which they were originally presented. Scholars move on to new projects and cease maintaining the old. This is only natural but, nevertheless, it is in our interest to offer maintenance and archival support to content providers.

An institutional network like the IBA might preserve some of those projects and keep them available once the original creators stop maintaining them.

3. Establishing Guidelines for Best Practice and Review

For many of us, the realization of a digital project is a learn-by-doing experience. For certain types of projects, however, especially those involving the digitization and archiving of texts, we, the community of practitioners, can now start to draw conclusions from our experience and share them with others. A best practice for repositories along the lines of  "Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions" devised by the MLA, or the "AHDS Guides to Good Practice", would help us to establish benchmarks, which also could be used by reviewers. One aim of the IBA should be to make it possible for digital projects to be included in the peer-review process.

4. Assistance with Realizing Projects

Each year IT-technologies become more complex. The minimal requirements an institution needs to set up a digital archive are competence in digitization, databasing, web-technology and project management. Though databasing and web-technology are common skills among technicians, not all solutions are equally suited to scholarship. Exchange of personnel and workshops might assist in transferring knowledge and skills between IBA members.

C. Organizational Form

We propose the establishment of a working group composed of representatives from interested institutions that meets regularly (once or twice a year). Individuals might join IBA as subscribers or advisers. The working group would serve as a forum where various forms of cooperation can be explored, especially ways to connect our archives and depositories to serve their content to an ever-wider audience. The working group could also arrange workshops and disseminate information on emerging technologies that are relevant to our practice. Representatives should have enough decision making power to draft agreements and initiate projects.

We envision IBA to be a decentralized network of institutions and individuals at work on modeling Buddhist culture with the help of computers. Through regular contact, we can compare different approaches so that all projects might expand their reach. Projects involving two or more members of IBA could be initiated and maintained. Ideally, as with Indra's net, each repository can be present in - or at least be accessed from - all others.