Software Preservation Network: Community Roadmapping for Moving Forward

By Susan Malsbury

This is the fifth post in our series on the Software Preservation Network 2016 Forum.
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Software Preservation Network logo

The final session of the Software Preservation Forum was a community roadmapping activity with two objectives: to synthesize topics, patterns, and projects that came up during the forum, and to articulate steps and the time frame for future work. This session built off of two earlier activities in the day: an icebreaker in the morning and a brainstorming activity in the afternoon.

For the morning icebreaker, participants –armed with blank index cards and a pen–found someone in the room they hadn’t met before. After brief introductions they each shared one challenge that their organization faced with software and/or software preservation, and they wrote their partner’s challenge on their own index card. After five rounds of this, participants returned to their tables for the opening remarks from the Jessica Meyerson and Zach Vowell, and Cal Lee.

At the afternoon brainstorming activity, participants took the cards form the morning icebreaker as well as fresh cards and again paired with someone they hadn’t met. Each pair looked over their notes from the morning and wrote out goals, tasks, and projects that could respond to the challenges. By that point, we had three excellent sessions as well as casual conversations over lunch and coffee breaks to further inform potential projects.

I paired with Amy Stevenson from the Microsoft Corporation. Even though her organization is very different from mine (the New York Public Library), we easily identified projects that would address our own challenges as well as the challenges we gathered in the morning. The projects we identified  included the need for a software registry, educational resources, and a clearinghouse to provide discovery for software. We then placed our cards on a butcher paper timeline at the front of the room that spanned from right now to 2022–a six-year time frame with the first full year being 2017.

During the fourth session on partnerships, Jessica Meyerson entered the goals, projects, and ideas from the timeline into a spreadsheet so that for the fifth session we were ready to get road mapping! For this session we broke into three groups to discuss the roadmap and to work on our own group’s copy of the spreadsheet. Our group subdivided into smaller groups who each took a year of the timeline to edit and comment on. While we all focused on our year, conversation between subgroups flowed freely and people felt comfortable moving projects into other years or streamlining ideas across the entire time frame. Links to the master spreadsheet and our three versions can be found here.

Despite having  three separate groups, it was remarkable how much our edited roadmaps aligned with the others. Not surprisingly, most people felt like it was important to front-load steps regarding research, developing platforms for sharing information, and identifying similar projects to form partnerships. Projects in the later years would grow from this earlier research: creating the registry, establishing a coalition, and developing software metadata models.

I found the forum and this session in particular to be energizing. I had attended the talk that Jessica Meyerson and Zach Vowell gave at SAA in 2014 when they first formed the Software Preservation Network. While I was intrigued by the idea of software preservation it seemed a far off concept to me. At that time, there were still many other issues regarding digital archives that seemed far more pressing. When I heard other people’s challenges at the forum, and had space to think about my own,  I realized how important and timely software preservation is. As digital archives best practices are being codified, more and more we are realizing how dependent we are on (often obsolete) software to do our work.

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Susan Malsbury is the Digital Archivist for The New York Public Library, working with born digital archival material across the three research centers of the Library. In this role, she assists curators with acquisitions; oversees technical services staff handling ingest and processing; and coordinates with public service staff to design and implement access systems for born digital content. Susan has worked with archives at NYPL in various capacities since 2007.

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