Sustaining Software Preservation Efforts Through Use and Communities of Practice
The brief history of software preservation efforts illustrates one phenomenon repeatedly: not unlike spinning a plate on a broomstick, it is easy to get things going, but difficult to keep them stable and moving. Within the context of video games and other forms of cultural heritage (where most software preservation efforts have lately been focused), this challenge has several characteristic expressions, some technical (e.g., the difficulty of capturing and emulating protected binary files and proprietary hardware), and some legal (e.g., providing archive users with access to preserved games in the face of variously threatening end user licence agreements). In other contexts, such as the preservation of research-oriented software, there can be additional challenges, including insufficient awareness and training on unusual (or even unique) software and hardware systems, as well as a general lack of incentive for preserving “old data.” We believe that in both contexts, there is a relatively accessible solution: the fostering of communities of practice. Such groups are designed to bring together like-minded individuals to discuss, share, teach, implement, and sustain special interest groups—in this case, groups engaged in software preservation.
In this paper, we present two approaches to sustaining software preservation efforts via community. The first is emphasizing within the community of practice the importance of “preservation through use,” that is, preserving software heritage by staying familiar with how it feels, looks, and works. The second approach for sustaining software preservation efforts is to convene direct and adjacent expertise to facilitate knowledge exchange across domain barriers to help address local needs; a sufficiently diverse community will be able (and eager) to provide these types of expertise on an as-needed basis. We outline here these sustainability mechanisms, then show how the networking of various domain-specific preservation efforts can be converted into a cohesive, transdisciplinary, and highly collaborative software preservation team.
[This paper is a conference pre-print presented at IDCC 2020 after lightweight peer review.]
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Grant numbers RE-95-17-0058-17