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Preserving Software: Museums, Archives, Libraries

As I mentioned before, I attended an event on preserving software at the US Library of Congress last month. Jon Ippolito from the University of Maine wrote up a great summary of who was there and what we discussed, so I won't go into those details and leave you with his words on that.

Instead, I'll do multiple short posts on my impressions and thoughts of the event and the subject, probably over the next few weeks.

The attendance consistent mostly of people from the existing software preservation community in the US, the majority of those people knew (of) each other already, apparently. In addition, we had some people from the software creation community - Microsoft's (sole) archivist probably belongs to both the preservation and software communities, then we had a guy from GitHub, and finally, Otto and me from Mozilla.

One thing that I learned with regard to the preservation community is that there are basically three types of projects they operate: museums, archives, and libraries.

Museums only collect a small collection of large milestones in history, but try to get as much on those as possible so they can build up a great exhibit for the public to learn about our and their past.
Archives build up large collections of items with the main intent of preserving them as ideally as possible and usually without any intent to provide them to the public, the items are only available to sporadic researchers. There may be metadata collected on the items that may be available to a larger public, though.
Libraries are somewhat in between: They build up larger collections of items and try to preserve them, but with the intent of some public to have regular access to them, often in a very controlled manner, e.g. via reading rooms.

On this software preservation summit, we had a number of representatives of all three kinds of projects: Museums such as the Computer History Museum, the Museum of Modern Art or the MIT Museum, archives such as Microsoft's, NIST's NSRL (National Software Reference Library - yes, "Library" is a bit of a misnomer there) or the Internet Archive, and libraries such as the Astrophysics Source Code Library, university libraries or, of course, the Library of Congress.

In terms of software preservation, we found that those different organizations and those doing different kinds of collections, can not just learn from each other, they can also help each other: Not every one of them wants every piece of software coming in, depending on what exactly they collect, so it may make sense to forward some pieces to other projects.

It was interesting for us as outsiders to the preservation community to see what those people are doing and how they are organized. In future posts, I'll get more into how and where we as software producers can work with them.

Entry written by KaiRo and posted on June 20th, 2013 02:22 | Tags: history, Mozilla, preservation, software | 2 comments | TrackBack



Jwalant Natvarlal Soneji

from Kitchener, ON, Canada

How to preservev museum?
Hi, its n nice post.. thanks!

Would you be able to provide more details on how to preserve museums?

2013-06-20 06:20



Jwalant, I'm not sure what you mean. What we were discussing there was what those organizations do to preserve software and what should be done in this area.
2013-06-20 12:53

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