Lifetime Library

A Perpetual Resource for Digital Life

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Project Profile

The LL Concept: Building and sustaining digital knowledgebases

Students come to university to develop personal knowlegebases that will help them achieve their goals in life. Over the course of their university experience, students acquire physical resources (e.g., books, notes, files) as well as mental resources (e.g., explicit and tacit knowledge, social relationships). In the past, the physical resources were discarded, sold or lost, or stashed in attics. Today, most of the course materials, personal notes, and assignments done at universities originate in digital form (e.g., web-pages, word processed files, spreadsheets, simulations, codebases, databases) some of which are in proprietary systems or formats (e.g., Blackboard). In addition to course-related digital objects, students acquire enormous streams of social interactions (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, SMS, LinkedIn streams) and data files (e.g., music, photos, videos). Over the course of several years on campus, students use a variety of devices (e.g., laptops, desktops, PDAs, mobile phones) for creating, managing, and using these data. When students graduate, they may preserve some traces of their digital lives, but typically, these traces disappear when their computers are retired or commercial services expire. At home and at work, people create, replicate, and extend their digital knowledgebases over time. Universities help young people develop development and management skills for these assets and prepare lifetime learners and problem solvers who maintain connections to their schools. We aim to provide trustworthy and easy to use services that help our students and alumni sustain, extend, and use the information resources that compose their knowledgebase over a lifetime.

The vision of the lifetime library is to provide trusted storage and associated services for students and alums for their entire lives. The school's assurance that such resources will persist will serve as a trusted covenant between the institution and its constituents. Such a service will not only help students lead successful digital lives beyond the university, but can also serve as a link to alums who stay in touch and participate in campus activities. For example, alums could take advantage of streams of lectures or campus events, webinars or blog discussions, or peer-based social media networks. Additionally, the private storage available through a university service could support trusted ranges of records from family finance to health.

The LL Infrastructure

The architecture for the LL will be layered and take advantage of emerging cyberinfrastructure and cloud computing services. Distributed mass storage arrays will be integrated using the iRODS middleware that will allow people to set policies for veracity and access. All participation will be governed by university terms of service usage policies. Although there are several software clients that leverage the iRODS middleware, a web-based, iDrop client is under ongoing development and testing that will allow people to drag and drop objects from any device to the LL. We envision layers of resources on a continuum from private to fully public. The LL will offer more than persistent storage. It will serve as a base for an array of applications that add value for individuals, groups, and the university. Customized search, indexing, profile management, file harvesting, analytics, and user interfaces will naturally emerge as broad communities begin to use an open platform of data repositories. These services are akin to PDA apps that may be contributed by students, faculty, or corporate entities and could be free or for fee. Smart storage solutions that cascade quality of services will be developed in partnership with corporate partners.


Companies recognize the challenges of preserving data across various platforms and have begun to offer services for specialized data (e.g., personal health records ala Microsoft Vault) or general purpose data (e.g., Dropbox; MobileMe; Amazon S3). We offer an ambitious offering of at least a quarter TB of storage for 20 years. We eventually aim to partner with one of more cloud services to provide the technical infrastructure and offer added value services. For example, participants could pay fees for storage beyond some threshold, for heavy access, and for specialized apps (e.g., specialized indices, UIs). To illustrate the scope of commitment and opportunity, we can use as upper bound the following: 6000 graduates at UNC per year over 20 years will require 120 PB of storage, plus replacement, maintenance, upgrades, backup storage, and administration. Today, highly-reliable storage retails for $1M/PB and assuming another $1M for backup, upgrades, and administration, a 20 year cost of $240M serves as an upper bound for one large pubic university such as UNC-CH. Clearly, hardware costs will continue to drop, full utilization will not obtain, and administrative costs will increase, but this back-of-the envelope example demonstrates the size and scope of the challenge. Given the number of universities around the globe and the growth in digital records that individuals amass over a lifetime, the trend is toward a multibillion dollar trusted storage enterprise.

Development Status

In the 2010-11 academic year we began pilot testing the LL with a small numbers of incoming undergraduate and graduate students in their final years at UNC. We began with a modest sized storage array (30TB) that was use to explore how students use the LL. Students provided feedback on the iDrop client through focus groups and interviews. In the spring 2012 semester, we made commitments to add additional storage that leverages UNC research cloud and experimented with iRODS policies to use the campus and local disk arrays as a unified private LL cloud. Harvesting tools for iTunes and Flickr have been added and a suite of SILS photographs and videos are available in the public regions of LL. New students who enter SILS are encouraged to request LL accounts.

iRODS Applications

The data grid technology that is used to support the LifeTime Library is also used internationally to support scientific data collections, digital libraries, and archives. Projects include Science and Engineering Domains that are using the iRODS Policy-based data management system:
(Read: Area Organization)

Astrophysics Auger supernova search
Atmospheric science NASA Langley Atmospheric Sciences Center
Biology Phylogenetics at CC IN2P3
Climate NOAA National Climatic Data Center
Cognitive Science Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center
Computer Science GENI experimental network
Cosmic Ray AMS experiment on the International Space Station
Dark Matter Physics Edelweiss II
Earth Science NASA Center for Climate Simulations, Vhub - vulcanism
Ecology CEED Caveat Emptor Ecological Data
Engineering CIBER-U
High Energy Physics BaBar
Hydrology Institute for the Environment, UNC-CH; Hydroshare
Genomics Broad Institute, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, NGS
Medicine Sick Kids Hospital
International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility
Neutrino Physics T2K and dChooz neutrino experiments
Oceanography Ocean Observatories Initiative
Optical Astronomy National Optical Astronomy Observatory
Particle Physics Indra
Plant genetics the iPlant Collaborative
Quantum Chromodynamics IN2P3
Radio Astronomy Cyber Square Kilometer Array, TREND, BAOradio
Seismology Southern California Earthquake Center
Social Science Odum, TerraPop

Projects also exist in the arts and humanities:

Digital Library French National Library, Texas Digital Libraries
Indexing Cheshire
Institutional repository Carolina Digital Repository
Processing pipeline SHAMAN
Preservation Adonis
Reference collections SILS LifeTime Library

Note from our Dean

Welcome to our school-wide effort to define and understand our digital lives through a project that we call the Lifetime Library. We are at an inflection point in history. Just as the transportation revolution of the past 150 years (driven by technical advances in power generation and control) has transformed our physical reach, we are in the midst of an information revolution that is transforming our intellectual and interpersonal reach. We have digital lives that are global and persistent — that transcend space and time. We touch other people now and in the future with ease and fidelity that was unimaginable in the past. BUT, we do not yet know the implications of these new capabilities, we do not know how to manage our digital lives. One of the grand challenges of the information field is to study these effects, to assist others in managing their digital lives, and to build tools and services that are human-centered rather than system centered. SILS aims to lead these efforts and I believe it our responsibility to do so.

As a base, the LL provides you with a large amount of digital storage that will persist well beyond your years at SILS. This cloud-based storage will be private and over time you will be able to create semi-private and public components. The DICE group and several SILS students have been leading development since 2011. There are many issues that we will work out over time: how to organize one's digital assets, policies for the blurs between private and public activities, technical issues and new apps, economic models for sustainability, legal issues of ownership and legacy to name a few. Each year, a SILS student serves as support lead for those new to LL. For 2013-14, Emma Boettcher serves as the LL Carolina Technology Associate. She will help you in getting started with LL. In addition, there are several self-paced introductions available on this website. There are two important points to make: First, you do not have to use the LL (some classes might incorporate it as part of the instructional program, but your level of involvement outside of these classes is up to you). Second, this is a process rather than a product. You are participating in a collective effort to understand an important issue. Not everything will be smooth or fun. We are learning together. I am reminded of my grandchildren who use all sorts of information without much thought about effects ... they go into electronic trances. We are all children in the LL and over the coming years I expect that SILS and you all will mature and learn and in turn share that learning with others.

Gary Marchionini, PhD
Dean and Cary C. Boshamer Professor
100 Manning Hall
School of Information and Library Science
Chapel Hill

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Student Opportunities

  • [Message intended for SILS Students]

  • As you make plans for summer projects or independent studies for the fall, consider using the LifeTime Library as a sandbox for gaining practical experience that will also contribute to ongoing development of the LifeTime Library.

    LifeTime Librray Projects. The following projects could make good independent studies or Masters projects/papers. Contact me(scroll below for contact details) if you have an interest for summer or 2013-14 year.

    1. HIVE vocabulary integration projects. A) Identify (and classify) existing controlled vocabularies for different domains or applications and incorporate into LL. B) Create a new vocabulary (SKOS) for specific domain or application (e.g., software, images, music, or generic PIM vocabulary for SILS students).

    2. Search and Indexing Support for LL and related data repositories.

    3. Integrate Lucene/Solr into LL and the iDrop user interface.

    4. LL as a privacy sandbox. Investigate privacy settings and holes in iRods datagrids using LL as the testbed.

    5. Profile Design. A) design user interfaces for profile definitions and management. B) Implement profile management and social exchange in LL/iDrop (e.g., using FOAF).

    6. Extend iDrop to mobile platforms.

    Gary Marchionini
    Dean and Cary C. Boshamer Professor
    School of Information and Library Science
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    The Lifetime Library is a project of the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.