Is it useful to know who is using which preservation system?

My organization is, as are many others,  looking for a replacement of the current digital preservation system. So I’m curious what is on the market and what other national libraries are using. Websites of commercial vendors like Preservica, Ex Libris and Libnova offer sometimes information about their customers. The websites of the library organizations themselves inform us about their infrastructure. Last year a group of Portugese researchers (Rosa, Carlos André (2018): OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE FOR DIGITAL PRESERVATION REPOSITORIES: A SURVEY) investigated the currently available open source software for digital preservation repositories.  Some of these open source communities have a list of implementations. Combined with suppliers websites we could have a nice overview of what is available and who has implemented which preservation system. Create a list on google docs, use Gephi to make a graph and you have a nice overview. I started with this exercise but was a bit reluctant to continue.

Firstly,  I thought, there is a risk with such a list: terrorists and hackers might plan to use this information to destroy important cultural heritage resources so perhaps it is best not to centralize this information (likewise: nobody should mention anymore the place of their preservation copies in public, like we did in the past when we were proud of what we had achieved).

But, secondly, even if we had information about who is using which system, we still have an incomplete picture because we do not know whether we share the same concepts, despite our shared OAIS language. I realized this when I saw a Dutch survey report.

The Digital Heritage Network in the Netherland started a survey (sorry folks, only in Dutch) to get an overview of the digital preservation systems in use in the Netherlands. Not only out of curiosity, but also to investigate the need for developing generic services and to promote more collaboration between organizations. The researchers Joost van der Nat and Marcel Ras plan to create a map of digital preservation services in the Netherlands and this survey will give the first ingredients. 50 organizations were selected for this survey, 44 of them responded. 27 of them said to have a digital preservation solution in place , although the impression is that not every respondent meant the same with having a “digital archive” so it is more safe to say that 50% has a digital preservation solution (this was based on the answers they gave on other questions). A third of these 27 organizations did the development of the digital archive themselves (9), but amongst the respondents were early adopters that started years ago when there was hardly any system on the market. The other respondents implemented Preservica (2) and Archivematica (1) or a solution created by a 3rd party provider like Data Matters (1) or Picturae (3). In the Category “others”, systems that were mentioned were Islandora, arQive, DSpace, De Ree and Adlib Filemaker (which are not all long term preservation systems in the OAIS sense). A new iteration of this survey will show a different overview, as there are for example more implementations of Preservica and Archivematica in the Netherlands.

Most of the respondents were familiair with the OAIS functional entities. 10 Organisations had all 6 entities implemented (Preservation Planning is absent in most organizations), but 6 respondents out of 27 did not know which functionalities of OAIS were present in their system, although they said to have a preservation system implemented! And despite the explanation given in the survey.

And here I realized that although people were familiar with OAIS concepts, the answers in the survey showed that they did not have the same definition of a digital archive. Although every question was accompanied by an explanation of the survey creators, respondents still gave answers that were for me beside the point.  And that it might not help me either to have an overview of who is using what digital preservation system. It is the way it is implemented and the organization around the digital archive, that matters. But these things cannot be shared in lists.

So perhaps the old fashioned way of picking up the phone and meeting people is still the best way to get your knowledge. However… for that you need a “phonebook” to know who to contact. So a list might be handy after all.