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PERIMETER INSTITUTE RECORDED SEMINAR ARCHIVE

About PIRSA

Since 2002 Perimeter Institute has been recording seminars, conference talks, and public outreach events using video cameras installed in our lecture theatres. Each recording consists of a video of the speaker and a sequence of captures of the speaker's slides or, in the case of a blackboard talk, a sequence of captures of the blackboard. As of January 2008 there are more than 1700 recordings and we are accumulating new recordings at a rate of about 10 per week.

Seminars have always played an important role in propagating knowledge. However, from the earliest days it has been the written rather than the spoken word by which scientific knowledge has been recorded, archived, and passed down. These words were written on paper and archived in libraries.

In 1991 Paul Ginsparg, then at Los Alamos, set up an electronic archive (arXiv.org) for physics articles. This revolutionized the way physics was done in many fields. By moving beyond paper, scientific ideas could be communicated almost instantly to the rest of the world. This revolution happened just about as soon as technology allowed it.

Now technology has progressed further to the point that we can record and usefully archive seminars. The Perimeter Institute Recorded Seminar Archive (PIRSA) at pirsa.org makes these talks available to the scientific community over the internet. PIRSA is modeled on arXiv.org. It is a permanent, free, searchable, and citable archive. PIRSA is not so much a YouTube for science as it is a video arXiv for seminars. It is designed to be a useful resource for researchers rather than an entertainment channel. An archive of seminar recordings is, in many respects, functionally similar to an archive of written material in that it can be relied upon as a citable source of knowledge.

To aid citation, each PIRSA talk has a number (for example PIRSA:07060042) and a simple URL (for example pirsa.org/07060042) which will be maintained indefinitely. Further, each series of talks (such as the colloquium) will have a PIRSA series number (PIRSA:S001 for the colloquium series) and collections of talks (such as a conference, workshop, school, or course) will have a collection number (for example PIRSA:C06009). The numbering system is explained here.

Seminars are a different and complimentary form of communication to articles. Often a researcher will present new ideas long before they write an article presenting the ideas and, in many instances, they never write the article. Permanent archival of seminars allows researchers to listen to talks they were unable to attend and revisit talks they attended many years after the talk was originally given. They will be able to cite these seminars in their own seminars and written articles just as journal and arXiv articles can be cited.

There are ongoing technical challenges for a seminar archive that are more serious than an archive for articles. First, formats for video files are subject to change and we will need to keep old files accessible. Second, there will be scope to improve the quality of the recordings themselves both through improved procedures in recording them and because improvements in technology will allow higher quality recordings to be transmitted over the internet. We are committed to meet these challenges.

Currently PIRSA is only for talks given at Perimeter Institute. However, we are investigating models by which an international archive can be established. The value of such an international archive to the scientific community could be truly tremendous.

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