In another life I would have been visiting Vienna again last Wednesday. I visited and lived there for a short period last year. My first time visiting was iPRES 2010.
9-10 June 2020 was to be OPFCON a celebration of 10 years of the OPF. OPF stands for the Open Preservation Foundation which used to be a European Funded project. 10 years represents the end of the European project, a re-branding, and the creation of an organisation of a very different shape contributing to the digital preservation landscape.
Today in a C19 world, the conference was held online. The effort by Becky, Charlotte, Martin Wrigley, Martin Speller, and Carl, and everyone else who contributed to organizing to make it happen looked tremendous, and the outcome was exceptional. When the video proceedings come out, and the collaborative notes, I think there’ll something for everyone in all of the sessions to go back to and rewatch.
My abstract for OPFCON was partially accepted. The abstract can be read in the footnotes to this piece .
The folks organizing the various sessions noted that my panel fitted into a group of talks that might also work as a shared panel. Alongside Adam Farquhar, a founding member of the OPF, and Jacqueline Slats of the National Archives of the Netherlands.
We were each given one question.
How do you think the digital preservation landscape has changed in the last ten years? – Jacqueline
What did you see as the Foundation’s vision when it was first established? How far do you think it has come towards achieving that? Has this vision changed? – Adam
How has OPF contributed to the international digital preservation community? Where would this community be without OPF?
The notes from the answer I delivered are below.
First, thank you for the opportunity to be on this panel along with such esteemed colleagues in the field of digital preservation.
I feel really fortunate to have this question as it frees me to speak about my lived experience of the OPF rather than the gestalt.
My background goes back to the last two years of PLANETS when I was at the National Archives of the UK, through to the OPF today.
I wanted to reflect on an evolution of the OPF since PLANETS. Evolution is an important word because often we set out with a plan about where we want to go, and indeed, we might arrive there, but it’s not always a straight path.
Evolution captures that complexity.
We saw that in Barbara’s review earlier. And Adam’s opening comments speak to the challenges of getting there as well.
Going back to PLANETS for a moment. There’s a way a 15 million Euro project needs to be run.
There’s a way large national institutions engage, and a way new and increasingly middle-career people have to engage through their institutions. And also engage with their work.
We know strategy -> informs policy -> informs procedures -> but evidence informs them all. Richard’s note about calibrating your tools to your collections rings true across all of our memory institutions.
In the original PLANETS movement, there were 16 institutions originally – you’re going to need more evidence.
Onto the OPF and what they give us today. I bring five-points which I think they contribute. Three of the points begin with an O and a P and an F which is a little cheesy, but I don’t think I set out to make that happen when I started writing!
The question at iPRES 2014 was “what would collaboration look like for the OPF in the absence of 15 million euros?” That’s an important question for everyone who doesn’t have 15 million euros today. Decreasing budgets, and at a time where we also need to be looking after and rewarding the workers in memory institutions even more.
They’ve figured out their survival organically and the OPF have arrived somewhere where today they support and are supported by so many.
Look at this conference as testament, with the number of people, and how they have made it happen regardless of today’s challenges as a testament to that asset.
Acknowledging that this is my experience. My hope and question for others participating is that the OPF have been inclusive for them too?
They promote the work of others that aren’t members.
In the end of year review we can see 327 attendees of webinars from 47 countries. OPF only have 27 members actual which says something about how inclusive they are.
I was heartened to hear over the last few days that maybe there could be personal memberships? Which is important and speaks to the way individuals need their organisations to take their time to get on board with digital preservation.
And the reason I wanted the opportunity to talk today, their blog, is a great example of an open platform, and a safe (I hope) platform for folks to socialize their knowledge and testing, and thoughts.
The hackathon is another important aspect. I know meant so much for myself, Andrea, Jan, and Fran, at Archives New Zealand a few years back to get our hands dirty with open source work.
I’m not sure what Carl thought of the extra work back then! 😉
But the last six weeks, I’ve participated, in what I think might be the third one of these (my second). OPF have figured out how to do this now. You can see in this space that the OPF are building the capacity of individuals of all skills and abilities. Giving them crucial experience, maintaining and contributing to the reference tool set and open source projects.
And again, I don’t believe in the hackathon that we’re all members? Yet it’s another way the OPF supports, and rewards us. And can usefully utilize, themselves, the work of those who aren’t in that group yet.
The OPF are pragmatic. They have slowly and surely taken on board a set of tools that are simple, core tools, important to all our processes and needs in the field.
They are all available, all open access, and all free and open source. Not all of the work effort came back out of the PLANETS program in the same way back-then.
And we’ve seen the formalization of the processes around those tools. We’ve seen the tools developed out, and around that effort, more testing and greater corpus development. We’ve seen better governance structure, direction, and working groups to feed into this as well.
One of the stories that have been on my mind the last few weeks since hearing it is the story of Donald Knuth vs. Doug McIlroy. The story goes, the famed computer scientist once published a 10+ page program in Pascal to produce a sorted list of the most used words in a passage of text. McIlroy demonstrated how this could be done in 6 lines of a Linux utility called Sed.
Another analogy might be your Knuth books vs. Stack overflow.
I feel this is important to where PLANETS was, and where OPF is now. PLANETS looked like the Knuth example at times. Not quite as extreme maybe, but somewhere in-between these two positions. The OPF feels more boots-on-the-ground but with concrete outcomes that can be formalized in our community’s journals in-time.
I feel like John Sheridan’s notes at the end of yesterday might reflect why that’s important. There’s this thing that PLANETS was, and needed to become to be in a place now where large institutions are signing up again.
So what has the OPF contributed?
Watching the OPF’s evolution. At least as I have observed it. If I add about their team, friendly, engaged, and keen to be open-minded, to contribute to and develop solutions. Then the OPF provides a real model for ‘being’ in the digital preservation community, and one for resilience, which is more important than ever in these times.
Where would this community be without OPF?
Poorer. We’d be poorer.
Andrea captured my last thoughts more beautifully than I could.
— how is babby formed (@andreakbyrne) June 10, 2020
Q:"where would the international digital preservation community be without OPF?"
— Sarah Mason (@DigitallySarah) June 10, 2020
The panel was running a little late, plus we may all have spoken over our allotted limits. So there wasn’t a lot of time to offer questions at the end of my segment.
Jacqueline had a moment to reflect for herself:
“What could OPF do to get more National Archives involved in (and a member of) OPF?”
@beet_keeper's response to Jacqueline's rhetorical question: "It is difficult to sell the idea to larger organisations. I like the idea of personal membership."
— OPF (@openpreserve) June 10, 2020
Yes, that was me, leaving no rhetorical question unanswered.
Though it is important. And it is something that I wanted to impress, not to Jacqueline per se with her experience. Just for the room, as it was something I touched upon at the top of my panel response which was an important point I had wanted to make. The following are my feelings today, beyond what I could note at the time.
I see there as being two aspects to this. One if you’re in a national institution then your government’s strategy might be facing an entirely different direction from one year to the next. While digital preservation can support strategic goals, I would find it hard to believe there’s a one-to-one relationship between being a national institution and then having a department specifically for digital preservation, or specific enough to have to singular focus on that. You’re already trying to influence upwards a handful of degrees to someone who will sign the organisation up to a network like OPF and commit to utilizing that membership.
The second aspect, the leaders in the field in digital preservation aren’t always going to be in a position to influence. Are the leaders we see here today the department heads? Are they all working at national archives and national institutions? I think we’ve moved well beyond that. That’s also where I touched upon boots-on-the-ground. The leaders are those doing the work to stabilize and protect our collections (and those writing the collection strategies and doing the collecting). And those writing the new next JHOVE’s and Jpylyzers. That’s a good thing. We need to be supporting these people.
I can see how our national institutions can help raise awareness and future membership which is why I singled out John Sheridan’s day-one closing keynote, but I really am drawn to what the OPF are already doing to support us, and the way they do that, and the potential for bringing everyone into this.
Lets go back 24H to day-one of the conference:
— ???????? #Digital ⚓️ #Vagabond ???????? (@beet_keeper) June 9, 2020
We’re all evolving. I think in a good direction. There are a lot of people to recognize in contributing to that, including the OPF.
You can find out more about the OPF on their website.
Their 2019 end-of-year highlights will also be of interest.
The conference’s hash-tag #OPFCON was also very active.
Thank you OPF for bringing everyone together and this great conference.
Blogging via the OPF
A blog on the OPF website? It sounds good doesn’t it? I think so, and I think that’s because it is. The OPF platform has been open to users – members and non-members alike for as long as I remember. The platform has been important to many I am sure. For me the OPF platform has been about democratizing the sharing of knowledge. Opening discourse. Being able to share with the widest community where you might otherwise feel that you cannot or haven’t a way to be able to. The OPF has a spirit that runs through it and one can see this in the way they have opened this resource out to folk. They are a great asset to the digital preservation community. In this talk I would like to take the time to reflect critically on what the OPF blog has offered me and the community, looking at its reach, its friendliness, and how it is a safe unimposing space. I would like to conclude by looking at what it offers anyone out there right now coming into this field and invite as many people as possible to contribute to this wonderful resource.