The Digital Preservation Network (DPN) Explained

Wed, 2015-12-09 17:27 -- carol

The DPN digital preservation service guarantees academic institutions that their scholarly resources will survive into the “far-future”.

Ann Arbor, MI  The Digital Preservation Network (DPN) is the only large-scale digital preservation service that is built to last beyond the life spans of individuals, technological systems, and organizations. Like insurance, the DPN service provides members of the academy and their successors with a guarantee that future access to their scholarly resources will be available in the event of any type of change in administrative or physical institutional environments. By establishing a redundant and varied technical and legal infrastructure at multiple administrative levels the survival, ownership and management of preserved digital content in the future is assured for Digital Preservation Network members.

The Digital Preservation Network (DPN) service is a planned scholarly “dark archive”. That means that the content stored in DPN is not actively used or accessed, but can be made available for use at any time from multiple digital storage facilities. It is analogous to group long term insurance for academic scholarship that institutions invest in collectively to do what they could not do individually.

Insurance for scholarship

Why should anyone care about what a scholar one hundred years from now will be able to learn about what people knew, how they came about that knowledge or why they acted on it back in 2015, 1815 or 1215–especially because the Internet now provides instant answers to almost everything.  We should all continue to focus on the present while losing sleep about the future, right?

Not necessarily.

There is a well-known saying attributed to George Santayana about history repeating itself ('Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'). While it sometimes seems that our political leaders do not learn from history, it would be an even greater tragedy if history were to be completely unavailable as a guidepost to the future. What if the born digital scientific discoveries and associated data of 2015 are lost? Will future generations be doomed to step backwards to replicate past experiments thereby jeopardizing future progress towards solving pressing environmental and societal problems? What if our grandchildren and great grandchildren never find out who we were and what our lives were like by being able to listen to our music, view our films, or see our photographs? What if a future student’s research for the traditional fifth grade report on local history is confined to what was indexed for the last five years in Google?

What could happen

The future is uncertain. Academic institutions require that key aspects of their scholarly histories, heritage and research remain part of the record of human endeavor in spite of, or perhaps because of whatever will happen next. As an emblematic part of institutional identity, the potential loss of core online academic collections that are part of what an institution means could be catastrophic. Oral history collections, born digital artworks, historic journals, theses, dissertations, media and fragile digitizations of ancient documents and antiquities are examples of these kinds of irreplaceable resources.  What happens if a strategic institutional collection is lost? Will an institution be forced to struggle for survival? Do people lose jobs? Will a critical building block of knowledge be lost forever?

The following are examples of ongoing types of events or situations that threaten the security of digital collections:

  • A major weather event wipes out all digital files kept locally at a university library data center.

  • Political instability forces the closure of an academic institution and associated online systems.

  • Proprietary digital asset management software owned and operated by a for-profit company for an academic library malfunctions causing the loss of large tracts of strategic data.

  • A collection curator retrieves selected files only to notice that their digital content has degraded over time.

  • The unintended loss of taxpayer-funded research data cripples current scientific advancement and discredits a major government agency because the historic data cannot be replicated.

  • Hackers break into a university data center and damage online digital collections.

  • A budget crisis forces an administrative shift leaving large amounts of digital scholarly content without a home.

  • A reorganization of academic departments puts related historic scholarly resources in jeopardy.

  • Personnel in charge of curation and management of key institutional research change positions or pass away.

If we lose what we know today we will have nothing to build on for tomorrow. Digital preservation of scholarly resources in DPN is like having a climate controlled seed bank where the carefully saved seeds of scholarship are stored to be brought to life far into the future. We don’t know what the far future of learning will be like, but we can plan now to make the raw materials of knowledge permanently accessible.

By participating with DPN and depositing content into the system DPN member institutions are securing their most important and most at risk content for the future.  The collections initially being deposited into DPN include cultural heritage materials, archival collections, and research data.

Current DPN members will begin adding digital assets to the Digital Preservation Network through DuraCloud Vault, a cooperative development between DPN, DuraSpace and Chronopolis which will serve as the primary ingest point beginning in January. APTrust is currently processing content from its members and will deposit into the DPN federation in early 2016. View an introductory video about how DPN deposit in DuraCloud Vault operates here: https://youtu.be/_E8g774b6us

For questions and more information please contact DPN Chief Operating Officer and Service Manager Mary Molinaro at <mary@dpn.org>.

 
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