SCAN-IT Issue 1 Editorial
Elizabeth Griffin, Chair,  IAU PDPP Task Force*

            August 2000 was a milestone in the history of our science.  No-one who attended the closing Assembly of the IAU in Manchester, 2000, can have failed to appreciate that a matter of considerable moment was being debated -- one that split the membership into opposing camps, and persuaded the IAU Executive Committee as a body to risk its neck by voting against what was being debated, and in so doing to receive a public rebuke for its stand.

What was being debated was a simple, earnest proposal that the astronomical community, aware that its historic archives of stored photographic data were swiftly becoming an endangered species, should encourage reasonable efforts to preserve the information in those data by transferring them to modern digital media.  How it was that a debate over the proposed Resolution came about at all has been adequately aired (see IAU Bulletin 88, pp. 41-42, November 2000) and that is water under the bridge.  Resolution B3, "Safeguarding the Information in Photographic Observations", was democratically voted in by the GA, and its implications are therefore matters that now concern the whole astronomical community. 

The Resolution (reproduced here on the last page) calls for energy to bring about the transfer of the information in historic observations to a format which is readily accessible by everyone (i.e., digitally).  It also recognizes the growing risk to the very existence of some, if not all, of those archives as a result of changing ideas, trends in modern instrumentation, and biases in education.  To provide support for the main thrust of the Resolution, therefore, we created an international special-interest group to act both as advisory body and as watchdog.  The Task Force for the Preservation and Digitization of Photographic Plates (PDPP) which subsequently came into existence under IAU auspices, was formally created under Commission 5 ("Astronomical Data") where it belongs rather naturally.  It will seek Working Group* status in the future, but that is something that can only be granted at a General Assembly, if the host Commission so proposes.

Membership of the PDPP is open to everyone involved in any way with what its title says, though with a heavy bias towards things astronomical.  In particular we would like to represent every project, current or planned, concerning photographic-plate archives, be it designing their long-term protection, creating on-line catalogues of their contents, or scanning plates in order to preserve the information digitally, preferably in physically-meaningful units.  Those actively engaged in such projects, whether full-time or casually, constitute the "core" membership.  "Ordinary" membership includes those who are interested in, and sympathetic to, what the group is trying to achieve; this would be the appropriate category for corporate members.  It is particularly important that the membership represents every astronomical observatory that has a plate store.  Please raise this matter with your own observatory.  The contact e-mail address is

 Even during its brief probationary existence so far, the objectives of the PDPP have been put to the test:

While the responsibility for maintaining and preserving astronomy's historic records seems to have devolved upon a willing few, many of whom are -- or, we very much hope, will be -- associated with PDPP, we depend on the vigilance of the whole community in warning us of impending problems.  We also want to share successes, if there be any, to encourage fellow-travellers.  It is therefore important that the activities of PDPP have wide recognition, and to that end we will issue an occasional Newsletter.  This, our first, endeavours to set out information about some of the relevant activities that have come to our attention.  Given that we  certainly have not been able to include a complete list of those activities, there is a pleasingly large amount to report, and we hope that by sharing the information we may inspire other observatories or groups to prepare on-line catalogues or set about digitizing part, if not all, of their photographic collections.  The task has only to be done once!

(* The status of the Task Force was raised to Working Group at the 2004 GA.)


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