MetaArchive Fall Update: New Opportunities, New Challenges

October 6, 2023

The MetaArchive Cooperative is excited to announce that we are partnering with the LOCKSS Program at Stanford University to improve our central administrative infrastructure through increased engagement with the LOCKSS community. This decision was reached through the work of the MetaArchive Community Research Task Force,open communication with the LOCKSS Program team, and an informed MetaArchive community vote. The Cooperative will continue to operate as an Educopia Institute community while contracting out technical support to the LOCKSS Program. 

We are grateful to the LOCKSS Program team for their generosity, openness, and active collaboration during this transition and look forward to working closely with them to improve the MetaArchive Collaborative.

Community Research Task Force

As a member-owned, distributed digital preservation network, MetaArchive is continuously investigating strategies to improve technical capabilities, membership support, and community-based decision-making all while remaining grounded in our Mission, Vision, and Values Statement. To fulfill this mission, the MetaArchive Community Research Task Force spent the first and second quarter of 2023 addressing the cooperative’s  existing technical debt, improving contingency planning capabilities, and lowering the barrier of entry for participation. For more detailed information on the work of the task force, see the June 7, 2023 blog post, “MetaArchive’s Community Research Task Force is Planning for the Future of the Community.”

Reviewing the current status and further sustainability of the cooperative required a critical eye and a commitment to transparency. Specifically, the task force reviewed all aspects of the cooperative which needed improvement. The approach was one of hard realism rather than aspiration, encouraging the community to assess its known pain points, both in the immediate and in the long-term. Initially, the task force focused on improving contingency planning, developing two new procedural governance documents, the MetaArchive Contingency Plan for Sunsetting and the MetaArchive Operating Reserve policy, as well as the creation of a prospective operations budget. With contingency infrastructure in place, strategies to achieve the prospective operations budget resulted in several paths for the collaborative to move forward. 

The task force for the second quarter of 2023 brought three proposals to the community for consideration:

  1. Partnership with the LOCKSS Program, to continue our current technical infrastructure with increased technical support and less overhead.
  2. Staying independent and focusing on fundraising to hire additional staff for increased support.
  3. Initiate sunset in January 2024 which would provide the membership, and the digital preservation community, a generous transition period.

These proposals considered the financial sustainability of the Cooperative, the obstacles and benefits each option provided the membership and the digital preservation community, and areas of possible development for the Cooperative. The proposals were reviewed by the Leadership Team, presented to the Cooperative prior to the annual member meeting for discussion, and provided  a communication plan, with feedback opportunities, via email. The Leadership Team released a ballot to the community in July 2023 and the final decision was option 1, partnership with the LOCKSS Program.  

Transition & Impact

MetaArchive has been using the LOCKSS digital preservation software since its founding in 2004, which makes transitioning technical support to the LOCKSS Program mutually beneficial. During the planning process, the LOCKSS Program team generously proposed a number of modular support scenarios for partnering with MetaArchive. These scenarios are designed with the opportunity to be decoupled in the future if more independence is desirable and achievable. The LOCKSS Program’s Support team is well-positioned to advise MetaArchive on mitigating risk from node turnover and provide assistance as MetaArchive addresses existing technical debt and migrates to LOCKSS 2.0. LOCKSS Program staff will be able to provide user support during business hours, increasing service responsiveness and reliability. As one of the longest-running LOCKSS networks, MetaArchive’s experiences will help the LOCKSS user community better understand the support needs of mature digital preservation collaboratives  that rely on member contributions and decentralized infrastructure. 

The Cooperative is invested in our values and chose a path forward that is consistent with our collaborative, community-focused mission. MetaArchive and its members will continue to be active contributors to the global community of open-source preservation tools and their users, not passive consumers of  proprietary preservation products. As structured, the partnership with the LOCKSS Program effectively brings MetaArchive closer to needed support and services, and increases communication between the LOCKSS Program and the network about technical needs that might be shared with the rest of the LOCKSS user community. The LOCKSS Program has always had a stake in MetaArchive’s success and sustainability. This partnership is an affirmation of the values both entities hold in common, as well as the ways in which effective digital preservation demands adaptation to changing technology and institutional capacities over the long term. A transition team composed of members from the LOCKSS Program team, MetaArchive Leadership Team and Technical Committee, and Educopia was formed in August 2023. Their charge is to document and facilitate the transition of MetaArchive systems and technical support services to the LOCKSS Program team at Stanford by November 2023. 

In the short term, the partnership with the LOCKSS Program provides immediate cost savings that allows the Cooperative more breathing room to develop sustainability plans and pursue external funding. There is also an immediate increase in technical and software implementation support during regular business hours. Looking further out, the technical support transition frees up staff and volunteers to focus on community management and governance support, including strategies for external funding. The long-term impact is a more sustainable, robust, and continuously member-driven distributed digital preservation community with a greater capacity to serve its members and adapt to the changes inherent in the digital humanities.