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The University of Texas at Austin


Briscoe Center Helping Spearhead Software Preservation Network

Software Preservation Network

The Briscoe Center, along with the California Polytechnic State University, is spearheading a national project to ensure that obsolete software programs and files can continue to be accessed by archivists and researchers.

"Born-digital archival material is nothing new, but the pace of technological change means that the digital heritage of our society is increasingly prone to inaccessibility," said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. "By working together to provide a legal and organizational framework for software preservation, we can ensure continued access."

The Software Preservation Network project brings together archivists, curators, librarians, software industry representatives, research scientists and legal scholars from across the country to answer the question: "How will we access digital content in the future when the software it was created with isn't around anymore?" For example, .dwg files (used in archaeology, architecture and engineering applications) are already presenting access challenges.

"Much of the digital content that archives collect — emails, word processing files, image files such as jpegs — are currently accessible, but that may not always be the case in the future, especially when it comes to proprietary software" said Jessica Meyerson, digital archivist at the Briscoe Center and a co-project investigator. "Software preservation efforts are helping to combat file format obsolescence, enabling archivists to continue making digital media accessible for research."

Funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the Software Preservation Network project seeks to create a legal framework for libraries, museums and archives to preserve software for reuse by archivists and researchers. The project is also focused on creating guidelines for a public metadata registry — where researchers and archivists can identify who has what. Finally, the project hopes to build on existing digital preservation networks, such as Stanford University's LOCKSS project, to provide the technical infrastructure necessary to support long-term software preservation.

Zach Vowell, a digital archivist at California Polytechnic State University, is a co-primary investigator for the project with Meyerson. Carlos Ovalle, a professional technologist and doctoral candidate at The University of Texas School of Information, is a formal project collaborator who brings his expertise regarding fair use and copyright to the team. The project team also partners with students from the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School to survey the legal landscape regarding software preservation.

"I'm proud of the Briscoe Center's role in conceiving and contributing to this important initiative," said Brenda Gunn, director of research and collections at the Briscoe Center. "Many conversations between Jessica and Zach in the digital archives office at the center led to this project, and it is exciting to see how they will develop their ideas to the benefit of the larger cultural heritage community."