More than 275 volunteers from the University of Michigan and around the community converged on Shapiro Library last weekend in an emergency effort to preserve scientific data that is at risk of disappearing from government websites.

The effort, called Ann Arbor Data Rescue, was organized by librarians and students at U-M and is part of the national Data Refuge project and the Internet Archive’s End of Term Presidential Harvest.

“The goal of this project is to raise greater awareness about the fragility of government data and to assist in its preservation on a larger scale than is currently done,” said Justin Schell, director of the Shapiro Design Lab at the U-M Library.  “We’re also responding to concerns from faculty about specific kinds of important federal data that may disappear in the coming months.”

Much of the effort over the two-day event in Ann Arbor focused on preserving climate science and environmental data in response to plans by the Trump administration to “scrub” climate change references from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, and to the ongoing vulnerability of such data under an administration that denies the fact of climate change.

Justin Schell takes volunteers through the process of capturing and archiving internet data during the data rescue project. (Photo by Alan Piñon, U-M Library)

Noa Kasman, a graduate student in the School of Information and a member of the Society of American Archivists, echoed Schell’s desire to raise awareness about the issues, and added that there needs to be “immediate action to preserve that data.”

She also said she hoped this effort will serve as a model for future data preservation projects that empower communities.

At the U-M Library, the community data rescue event is part of a larger, long-term strategy to save federal data that has been ongoing since December, when an ad hoc group of librarians began to develop a strategy to explore the long-term preservation of vulnerable research products.

“Preserving and archiving data is core to the mission of a library,” said Dean of Libraries James Hilton. To that end, the library has been actively building its Research Data Services and preservation infrastructure, and last year launched the university’s institutional data repository, Deep Blue Data.