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Free email. Free Internet access. These are some of the digital perks that college students have come to expect. But the incoming class of Information and Library Science students at the University of North Carolina is getting something a lot more valuable and a lot more permanent: free data storage for life.

The program is called LifeTime Library and, as the name suggests, is intended to be a student's personal and persistent data storage. It's the brainchild of Gary Marchionini, the school's dean, and Cary Boshamer, a professor in the ILS program. "The vision is for students to be provided with storage facilities that would persist after they graduate, Marchionini says. This would include public space as well as private space to keep files, photographs, personal health records and legal downloads of music -- all in one place.

Many schools do offer storage capacity while students are enrolled, this disappears once they graduate. Many students still save their files locally, a problem when machines break or files get corrupted or become outdated, even though cloud storage is becoming increasingly popular with services like Dropbox for example. Marchionini says that the LifeTime Library "is not intended to compete with those businesses, but instead create a model that is economically viable from a public university perspective that will provide students and alumni with skills and ongoing trusted storage to manage their digital lives and remain connected to lifelong learning opportunities at little or no cost to them."

The program, which ran as a pilot project last year, allows students to save files and folders on the Web where students can search for the material. The data can be public or private, password protected, and while the school says it has no plans to scan the students' information, it does retain the legal right to do so and students must comply with the acceptable use policy.

There's no word on how much storage the school will offer students, and The Chronicle reports that it has already had to double its storage capacity, even though only 60 students are participating in the LifeTime Library. The program is supported in part by funding from the National Science Foundation and is part of a larger effort on campus to research and develop massive large scale storage. Marchionini says the program may reach out to alumni donors for help underwrite the project, although it's very different to tell exactly how much storage students will need. That's the thing with free storage, of course. If you have access to something like that, it's fairly easy to start saving more and more files. But perhaps that's a nice lesson for Information and Library Science students: what's worth keeping?

News of this innovative program from UNC comes the same week as the school announced that it would be blocking Internet access of students who have filesharing software installed on their computers. So I guess as the LifeLibrary moves forward with project development, we won't expect BitTorrent as a solution in helping get large files up into the cloud, will we.

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Audrey Watters


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