December 11, 2018
Message from the Steering Committee on DPN Sunset Announcement
Digital preservation is all about the long game. For the institutions and individuals working to ensure long-term access to our collective digital scholarly and cultural record, there is a shared understanding that our efforts today are part of a continuum that will continue well beyond our current contributions and participation. But understanding and recognition of this reality are only starting points. The way we go about this work, the structures we build, the strategies and approaches we implement, the relationships we foster and strengthen are all integral elements that impact our collective ability to be successful in this digital preservation endeavor. Technology is going to continue to change rapidly and the tools, infrastructure, and mechanisms we develop and implement in response will inevitably change, or disappear. Some technologies will fail quickly, others may work for a time but then wither because they are no longer relevant, or resources are no longer available to maintain and improve them.
The announcement of sunsetting of the Digital Preservation Network (DPN) represents a significant moment in the digital preservation community. It is one that we are saddened by, and recognize that many institutions will be affected by this event, including DPN members, partners, and collaborators. When such an organization ceases operations, those that have connections to it may feel an undercurrent of instability moving through the digital preservation community. In this case, though, our hope is that the closure instead amplifies the stability that we, as a library, archives, and museum community, are fostering through our deliberate collaborations across digital preservation communities.
Specifically, in anticipation (as we must anticipate!) that not all services or communities will last “forever,” a number of digital preservation communities and organizations began to gather together in 2009 with the Library of Congress to discuss how best to bridge our efforts to attain our overarching goal of protecting the digital heritage entrusted to each of us. This work ebbed and flowed over the last decade, most recently culminating in the development of the Digital Preservation Declaration of Shared Values. Issued by representatives of Academic Preservation Trust (APTrust), Chronopolis, CLOCKSS, Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), Digital Preservation Network (DPN), DuraSpace, Educopia/MetaArchive Cooperative, HathiTrust, Stanford University – LOCKSS, Texas Digital Library (TDL), Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries (COPPUL), the Digital Preservation Declaration of Shared Values represents the efforts of these organizations to formulate a set of shared foundational values that can serve as a basis for continued collaboration and support. While the sunsetting of DPN as an organization may illustrate the aspirational nature of these values, it also emphasizes the importance of the collective approach to their creation, where multiple digital preservation services providers came together to establish a foundation upon which to base future collaborations as well as peer-to-peer assessment and accountability. There is a spirit of cooperation that permeates throughout the digital preservation community, and we will continue to be stronger and more successful if we build upon this through increased collaboration.
All that said this is a useful moment for reflecting and taking stock of the reality that all of us are doing our work in risk-filled environments. Organizational structures are very important. The organizational environment in which digital preservation technical infrastructure, tools, and systems are developed, tested, implemented, and retired have a direct impact on their longevity and sustainability. Recognizing the risk of a single point of failure phenomenon, the distributed digital preservation approach seeks to harness the collective efforts of multiple institutions to work together and take responsibility for preserving each other’s digital content. But distributing copies of the bits is the easy (relatively) part. Establishing and evolving the apparatus of community governance, wherein multiple institutions commit to active participation in shared ownership and strategic decision-making is challenging, but absolutely necessary to weathering the technological storms of the future.
For the MetaArchive Cooperative, while setting up a distributed digital preservation storage network using the LOCKSS software took a good amount of time, effort, and funding, creating the policies and procedures for community governance required significantly more resources and years of time investment. The result of this effort is a healthy, stable community whose principles are embedded within it’s regular technical and administrative operations. At the top of the list of these principles is transparency. All MetaArchive documentation, from committee meeting minutes to financial reports and budgets are openly available to members and can be requested by non-members. All members have an opportunity to provide input in strategic decisions, including structural changes such as membership fees. Transparency is always a work-in-progress, requiring continual effort and attention, but is essential for ensuring accountability and fostering an environment of community ownership and participation. This embrace of transparency led to the creation of the “Getting to the Bottom Line: 20 Cost Questions for Digital Preservation” by the MetaArchive Outreach Committee in 2015. This resource received very positive feedback from the larger digital preservation community, and remains a useful starting place for institutions evaluating digital preservation service / solution providers.
MetaArchive is itself in the midst of a transition to evolve its infrastructure in response to the changes in institutional needs and practices. We are committed to sharing what we learn during this process with the larger community, and collaborating with our peer community-based digital preservation service providers, in alignment with the recent messages from DPN and Duraspace on discussing lessons learned and strategies for increasing sustainability within and across our organizations.
We welcome any questions or feedback.