MetaArchive’s Community Research Task Force is Planning for the Future of the Community
June 7, 2023
The MetaArchive Cooperative broke ground in community-based digital preservation when it was founded in 2004. Over its first decade, it grew to be one of the first international, member-owned, distributed digital preservation networks. Other digital preservation organizations, particularly in the community of LOCKSS networks, were able to learn from MetaArchive and refine on its early implementations of LOCKSS and community governance model.
Now at the end of its second decade, MetaArchive is still dedicated to community-driven digital preservation. MetaArchive offers unique value to its members, as one of the only examples of an independent member-owned cooperative that supports decentralized, risk-mitigating digital preservation storage. As a cooperative, MetaArchive thrives on the investments that its members make to the organization. These investments, however, have become increasingly difficult for MetaArchive members to sustain over time. As IT infrastructure in academia and cultural heritage organizations is overwhelmingly outsourced to the cloud, maintaining an on-premise node for a network like MetaArchive starts to be seen as a “boutique” service that is untenable for some of our members. This shifting IT landscape has also made it difficult for current and prospective members to advocate internally for membership in an organization like MetaArchive, because the value of distributed, decentralized digital preservation storage may not be well-understood. These shifts obscure the fact that MetaArchive, as a long-standing consortial effort between academic and cultural heritage organizations, is uniquely positioned to provide responsible stewardship for digital materials and advance digital preservation work across the field.
The digital stewardship commitments made by MetaArchive operate on an inherently longer timescale and look to a fundamentally different set of impact measures than other kinds of digital work. Knowing this helps us define our success by our ability to build capacity for our collective action initiatives, anticipate change, adapt our ways of working, and think strategically about resourcing. This definition of success for community-driven digital preservation guides the current work of the Community Research Task Force. The task force’s primary objective is to research, document, and present information about the current state of the community, and to make an evidence-based recommendation to broader membership regarding MetaArchive’s strategic directions.
In this current change process, MetaArchive is grounded in its core mission of engaging in sustainable digital preservation through community collaboration, while operating with the knowledge that we cannot expect a different result by trying the same things. We have to do things differently to get the long term success we are all working towards. In this case, doing things differently means:
Addressing the costs of existing technical debt
In the first quarter of 2023, we have created an ideal operations budget, intended to move MetaArchive out of an austerity mindset and into a more sustainable resourcing model. In the second quarter of 2023, we are researching and proposing different fundraising strategies to the membership that may help us reach these goals.
Improving the ability of the cooperative to plan for contingencies
In the first quarter of 2023, we created and updated several procedural governance documents, including an operating reserve policy and a contingency plan for sunsetting the network. During this process, we spoke to a number of other digital preservation networks about their own practices for succession and contingency planning. We are also exploring partnerships with other networks and services, as well as a strategic reassessment of our infrastructure, that will make MetaArchive more resilient to change.
Identifying the service capabilities that need to be developed in order to meaningfully lower the barrier to entry for participation in the network
In the second quarter of 2023, we are engaging in one-on-one conversations with all members, gathering information about current barriers to participation in the network. We have identified both ingest and reporting functionalities as major areas for improvement, and we are working in partnership with the LOCKSS team at Stanford to identify areas for improvement and support between MetaArchive and LOCKSS. Another area of focus for this work is revisiting our pricing model, in order to make sure that MetaArchive is lowering financial barriers where possible in order to foster an equitable approach to digital preservation.
We recognize that MetaArchive’s future not only impacts our own members, but also our strategic partners, stakeholders, and the broader digital preservation community. The success of community-driven digital preservation rests on a framework of transparency and deep collaboration, and we are moving through this process in that spirit. If you have any questions about this work and MetaArchive’s future directions, please contact the Leadership Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MetaArchive Community Research Task Force (May – July 2023)
Thank you to the previous members of the MetaArchive Community Research Task Force (January – April 2023) for all of their work and leadership: