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.
____

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.

____

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.

Software Preservation Network: Prospects in Software Preservation Partnerships

By Karl-Rainer Blumenthal

This is the fourth post in our series on the Software Preservation Network 2016 Forum.
____

Software Preservation Network logoTo me, the emphases on the importances of partnership and collaboration were the brightest highlights of August’s Software Preservation Network (SPN) Forum at Georgia State University. The event’s theme, “Action Research: Empowering the Cultural Heritage Community and Mapping Out Next Steps for Software Preservation,” permeated early panels, presentations, and brainstorming exercises, empowering as they did the attending stewards of cultural heritage and technology to advocate the next steps most critical to their own goals in order to build the most broadly representative community. After considering surveys of collection and preservation practices, and case studies evocative of their legal and procedural challenges, attendees collaboratively summarized the specific obstacles to be overcome, strategies worth pursuing together, and goals that represent success. Four stewards guided us through this task with the day’s final panel of case studies, ideas, and a participatory exercise. Under the deceptively simple title of “Partnerships,” this group grounded its discourse in practical cases and progressively widened its circle to encompass the variously missioned parties needed to make software preservation a reality at scale.

Tim Walsh (@bitarchivist), Digital Archivist at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), introduced the origins of his museum’s software preservation mission in its research program Archaeology of the Digital. Advancing one of the day’s key motifs–of software as environment beyond mere artifact–Walsh explained that the CCA’s ongoing mission to preserve tools of the design trades compels it to preserve whole systems environments in order to provide researcher access to obsolete computer-assisted design (CAD) programs and their files. “There are no valid migration pathways,” he assured us; rather emulation is necessary to sustain access even when it is limited to the reading room. Attaining even that level of accessibility required CCA to reach license agreements with the creators/owners of legacy software, one of the first, most foundational partnerships that any stewarding organization must consider. To grow further still, these partnerships will need to include technical specialists and resource providers beyond CCA’s limited archives and IT staff.

Aliza Leventhal (@alizaleventhal), Corporate Librarian/Archivist at Sasaki Associates, confronts these challenges in her role within a multi-disciplinary design practice, where unencumbered access to the products of at least 14 different CAD programs is a regular need. To meet that need she has similarly reached out to software proprietors, but likewise cultivated an expanding community of stewards in the form of the SAA Architectural Records Roundtable’s CAD/BIM Taskforce. The Taskforce embraces a clearinghouse role for resources “that address the legal, technical and curatorial complexities” of preserving especially environmentally-dependent collections in repositories like her own and Walsh’s. In order to do so, however, Leventhal reminded us that more definitive standards for the actual artifacts, environments, and documentation that we seek to preserve must first be established by independent and (inter-)national authorities like International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the National Institute of Building Sciences, and yet unfounded organizations in the design arts realm. Among other things, after all, more technical alignment in this regard could enable multi-institutional repositories to distribute and share acquisition, storage, and access resources and expertise.

Nicholas Taylor (@nullhandle), Web Archiving Service Manager at Stanford University Libraries, asked attendees to imagine a future SPN serving such a role itself–as a multi-institutional service partnership that distributes legal, technical, and curatorial repository management responsibilities in the model of the LOCKSS Program. Citing the CLOCKSS Archive and other private networks as a complementary example from the realms of digital images, government documents, and scholarly publications, Taylor posited that such a partnership would empower participants to act independently as centralizing service nodes, and together in overarching governance. A community-governed partnership would need to meet functional technical requirements for preservation, speak to representative use cases, and, critically, articulate a sustainable business model in order to engender buy-in. If successful though, it could among other things consolidate the broader field’s needs to for licensing and IP agreements like CCA’s.

In addition to meeting its member organizations’ needs, this version of SPN, or a partnership like it, could benefit an even wider international community. Ryder Kouba (@rsko83), Digital Collections Archivist at the American University in Cairo, spoke to this potential from his perspective on the Technology and Research Working Group of UNESCO’s PERSIST Project. The project has already produced guidance on selecting digital materials for preservation among UNESCO’s 200+ member states. Its longer term ambitions, however, include the maintenance of the virtual environments in which members’ legacy software can be preserved and accessed. Defining the functional requirements and features of such a global resource will take the sustained and detailed input of a similarly globally-spanning community, beginning in the room in which the SPN Forum took place, but continuing on to the International Conference on Digital Preservation (iPres) and international convocations beyond.

blumenthal_spn_ersblog_1 blumenthal_spn_ersblog_2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attendees compose matrices of software preservation needs, challenges, strategies, and outcomes. Photos by Karl-Rainer Blumenthal (left) and @karirene69 (right), CC BY-NC 2.0.

The different scales of partnership thus articulated, the panelists ended their session by facilitating breakout groups in the mapping of discrete problems that partnerships can solve through their necessary steps and towards ideal outcomes. At my table, for instance, the issue of “orphaned” software–software without advocates for long-term preservation–was projected through consolidation in a kind of PRONOM-like registry to get the maintenance that they deserve from partners invested in a LOCKSS-like network. Conceptually simple as each suggestion could be, it could also prompt such different valuations and/or reservations from among just the people in the room as to illustrate how difficult the prioritization of software preservation work can be for a team of partners, rather than independent actors. To accomplish the Forum attendees’ goals equitably as well as efficiently, more consensus needed to be reached concerning the timeline of next steps and meaningful benchmarks, something that we tackled in a final brainstorming session that Susan Malsbury will describe next!

____

Karl-Rainer Blumenthal is a Web Archivist for the Internet Archive’s Archive-It service, where he works with 450+ partner institutions to preserve and share web heritage. Karl seeks to steward collaboration among diversely missioned and resourced cultural heritage organizations through his professional work and research, as we continuously seek new, broadly accessible solutions to the challenges of complex media preservation.

Software Preservation Network: Legal and Policy Aspects of Software Preservation

By Brandon Butler

This is the second post in our series on the Software Preservation Network 2016 Forum.
____

Software Preservation Network logoThe legal landscape surrounding software is a morass. (That’s a legal term of art; Black’s Law Dictionary tells us it is synonymous with “dumpster fire” and “Trump rally.”) Do you own the software on your computer? (Some of it, maybe, but some you merely lease.) Can you resell it? (In some cases you cannot.) Can you repair it? (Kinda! Or not….) Can you crack the DRM on software for research? (In a few, narrowly-defined contexts.) When are you bound by a 1000-page software license agreement—when you break a printed seal on a CD-Rom, check a box during an app store checkout process, or ignore the small print on a download website? (Don’t even try to sort that one; anarchy prevails.) Should some software even be copyrightable? (Don’t ask!) And on and on.

Those are just the questions we could ask about software in the abstract. Things get even more interesting when you talk about preserving and providing broad access to specific software titles, especially old ones. And so we did, at the very first session of the Software Preservation Network (SPN) Forum in Atlanta. (Notes and resources for the session are here.)

Our intrepid guides through this fog were Zach Vowell of California Polytechnic University, a Co-PI on the Software Preservation Network project, and Henry Lowood of Stanford University, whose Cabrinety Archive is a well-known trove of software history.

Zach kicked off the discussion with a brief description of the scope of the SPN’s IMLS-funded investigation. He then described what they had learned so far from the advice of Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, which SPN retained to help map the legal landscape. The Clinic identified several areas of law implicated by software preservation, and handicapped their relevance:

  • Copyright – the chief concern by far.
  • Contract law issues – another relatively big issue, given the prevalence of software license agreements.
  • The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) – significant where software is protected by DRM (like dongles, encryption, and so on).
  • Trademark dilution – because providing access to old software associated with valuable trademarks might harm the value of the brand. (This has been litigated and seems less worrisome, at least to me.)
  • Patent – a much shorter duration than copyright, and harder to obtain, but some software may be protected by patent.
  • The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) – an anti-hacking statute that mostly addresses unauthorized interaction with servers and networks, so only an issue for software that accesses a third-party server.

Zach suggested a two-tier/hybrid approach had emerged from the Clinic’s analysis:

  1. For older, orphaned, and relatively low-risk works (obscure or out-of-business publishers, etc.), fair use should in principle allow many research and preservation uses. The Clinic said there has not been a case specifically on point, but the general principles of fair use should favor archives.
  2. For newer works, with larger commercial owners still in business, libraries might pursue licenses to allow preservation and research use.

Henry Lowood brought the discussion down from abstract issues to more concrete questions he has faced in working with a substantial collection of software. Chief among them: what should a software deed of gift look like? Well, ideally it should convey copyrights or broad use rights (samples from Stanford treat IP ownership expressly and are in the Google Drive folder for this session, and the ARL Model Deed of Gift also does this well) as well as the physical property. This is often impossible, however, because software, like other media given to libraries, is often donated by mere owners of copies who have no copyrights to convey. For digital objects, copies without rights are especially problematic.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of Lowood’s discussion was his account of the relative futility of searching for copyright owners and asking permission. Like others before him, Lowood reported finding very few possible owners, and getting even fewer useful responses. Indeed, software seems to have a special version of the orphan works problem: even when you find a software publisher, they are often unable to say whether they still own the copyright, citing confusing, long-lost, and short-term agreements with independent developers. Lowood said that they could only find putative owners around 25-30% of the time, and, when found, 50% would disclaim ownership.

Discussion after the panel raised several interesting points. I suggested the use of “quitclaim deeds” that would allow putative owners to grant permission without requiring them to promise they were, indeed, the owners. Others suggested a clearinghouse of information about rights and of documents to use for licensing and transfer of software and IP. Participants also suggested leveraging current licensing negotiations with big firms to obtain perpetual rights (or “life of file” rights—models from video and ebook licensing were discussed), and perhaps rights to older titles. In general, it was agreed that advocacy was needed to put this issue on the radar for university counsel and others involved in negotiating software deals. There was agreement that reading room access should be an absolute floor of access, and that the community should push to adopt “virtual” reading rooms online as a reasonable extension of that practice into the online realm.

____

Brandon Butler is the first Director of Information Policy at the University of Virginia Library. He provides guidance and education to the Library and its user community on intellectual property and related issues, and advocates on the Library’s behalf for provisions in law and policy at the federal, state, local, and campus level that enable broad access to information in support of education and research. Butler is the author or co-author of a range of articles, book chapters, guides, presentations, and infographics about copyright, with a focus on libraries and the fair use doctrine.

Software Preservation Network Series

By Jessica Meyerson and Zach Vowell

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

____

Software Preservation Network logoThe Software Preservation Network (SPN) 2016 Forum was held Monday, August 1st, 2016 on the Georgia State University campus in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The SPN 2016 Forum theme, “Action Research: Empowering the Cultural Heritage Community and Mapping Out Next Steps for Software Preservation” reflected the mission of the Software Preservation Network (SPN) — to solicit community input and build consensus around next steps for preserving software at scale as part of the larger effort to ensure long-term access to digital objects. Over the next few weeks, bloggERS will be publishing a series of posts about the Forum, written by attendees. This blog post series speaks to the core beliefs of the Software Preservation Network team:

  • Reflection is essential to our practice. Our Volunteer Blog Post Authors represent a team of Reflective Practitioners — helping us to derive and articulate insights from their embodied experience as Forum attendees and participants.  
  • The practice of critical reflection around software preservation must incorporate members from complementary domains to actively participate in a coordinated effort to develop a sustainable, national strategy for proprietary software licensing and collection — pulling heavily from the collective, embodied experience and expertise of researcher-practitioners in law, archives, libraries, museums, software development and other domains.

Community participation was key to the Forum’s success and proposals were invited on topics including:

  • Current collaborations/consortial efforts
  • Collective software licensing approaches
  • Preservation efforts
  • Emulated or virtualized access options
  • Organizational structures that have worked for other multi-institutional initiatives that may work for software preservation

Our call for proposals received an enthusiastic response — so much so, that we embarked on a happy experiment to push the conversation forward, and closer to actionable next steps. We asked our participants to scrap their original proposal and work together in teams to identify overlaps/intersections across projects AND design an activity to facilitate meaningful engagement among attendees. They all said yes — to ambiguity, to experimentation, and to dedicating more of their time and energy towards making the Forum a valuable experience. The final Forum schedule can be found here, but for a preview of what you’ll be hearing about over the course of this blog post series, below is a list of sessions and their participants:

ICE BREAKER ACTIVITY

SESSION 1 – Legal and Policy Aspects of Software Preservation

  • Henry Lowood – Stanford University
  • Zach Vowell – Software Preservation Network

SESSION 2 – Current Collecting, Processing of and Access to Legacy Software

  • Glynn Edwards – Stanford University
  • Jason Scott – Internet Archive
  • Doug White – National Software Reference Library
  • Paula Jabloner – Computer History Museum

SESSION 3 – Research and Data on Software Preservation

  • Micah Altman – Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Jessica Meyerson & Zach Vowell – Software Preservation Network

BRAINSTORMING BREAK

SESSION 4 – Partnerships Forming Around Software Preservation

  • Aliza Leventhal – Sasaki Associates
  • Tim Walsh – Canadian Centre for Architecture
  • Nicholas Taylor – Stanford University
  • Ryder Kouba – The American University in Cairo

SESSION 5 – Community Roadmapping

As you read the posts in this series, if you are inspired to get involved with this growing community of dedicated colleagues, there are several ways to dive in:

  • Submit a use case. We ask, for the sake of easier analysis/comparison (finding common themes across use cases) that you follow this general structure.
  • We are scheduled to send out a version of our software preservation community roadmap on these listservs — please let us know if there are other groups of folks that might be interested.
  • Sign up to participate in the working groups that have been formed around the community roadmap.

____

Zach Vowell has worked with born-digital collection material since 2007, and has served as Digital Archivist at at the Robert E. Kennedy Library, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo since 2013. At Cal Poly, he is co-primary investigator of the IMLS-funded Software Preservation Network project, and leads digital preservation efforts within Kennedy Library’s Special Collections. Zach has long recognized the need to strategically preserve software in order to provide long-term access to archival collections.

Jessica Meyerson is Digital Archivist at the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin, where she is responsible for building infrastructure to support digital preservation and access. Jessica earned her M.S.I.S. from the University of Texas at Austin with specializations in digital archives and preservation. She is Co-PI on the IMLS-funded Software Preservation Network – a role that allows her to promote the essential role of software preservation in responsible and effective digital stewardship.