I have come to the conclusion that the answer to several questions is: the Open Planets Foundation (OPF).
That's a good strong statement, but what are the questions? Before you read on, let's just establish that you are interested in long term access to, and use of, digital information, otherwise known as Digital Preservation, because let's face it, this isn’t a topic that gets a lot of people fired up. However, if you are still reading, then this is your chance to learn why the OPF seems to have some of the answers.
The OPF is an international membership organisation that was setup early last year following on from an influential 4 year long EU funded digital preservation project called PLANETS (Preservation and Long-Term Access through Networked services. This project delivered a suite of open-source free tools for planning and carrying out preservation tasks and by the end of it, it was clear that some way was needed to continue to support and develop this important work outside of the context of continued funding from the European Commission. So … led by the British Library, they decided to join forces to keep this work going.
It seems to be working well so the first question they appeared to have answered is - 'how do we transition from project funding to a more sustainable model?'. The OPF is an unusual and effective example of a funded project finding a sustainable route for continuing its work and the calibre and nature of the organisations that are involved as charter and affiliate members testify to the importance of the work it is undertaking.
Another question it seems to be answering is 'how can we collaborate effectively?'. One of the goals of the OPF is to identify and foster an international community of developers that is capable of creating, enhancing and refining the tools we have at our collective disposal for preserving all kinds of digital objects. It makes sense that the OPF will become an indispensable ally for organisations with a preservation problem or projects that need expert input with technical solutions. Developers with the right technical skills in this domain are a critical resource and any initiative that focuses on supporting and promoting this particular group of people is an initiative that is worth supporting.
The third question that I think the OPF is well positioned to answer is 'how do I know that I can trust the digital preservation solution that is on offer?'. This issue of trust is a pivotal and ongoing issue for many different aspects of information strategy. Can I trust this agency to look after my information properly?; how do I know that this service will remain viable for the foreseeable future?; do I believe that this persistent identifier scheme really will be persistent?; and so on and so forth. I'm not suggesting that the OPF instantly solves all of these difficult and enduring challenges, but given the structure, remit and nature of the organisation, it is well positioned, certainly in a European context but possibly globally as well, to become a trusted broker of advice, guidance, capability and assurance of effective tools and methods for preservation.
Jisc joined the OPF as a charter member in November 2010 so you might expect that we would approve of it and wish to sing its praises, but I do think it is significant that a group of UK university members has also had various conversations with the OPF and have decided that they would also like to collaborate with this initiative. The affiliate members that have recently joined are:
University of Southampton
University of Oxford
University of Portsmouth
University of Cambridge
King's College London (Centre for e-Research)
University of Glasgow (Humanities Advanced Technology & Information Institute)
Digital Curation Centre
If any other UK universities (or associated bodies) are interested in joining this affiliate group then they should get in touch with either me (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Bram van der Werf (email@example.com)