Chip German is program director of the Academic Preservation Trust, and he is senior director for content stewardship and scholarly communication at the University of Virginia Library.

Hello to the DPC community from the Academic Preservation Trust.  As some of you know, we’re a consortium of US-based university libraries at research-intensive institutions working together to do digital preservation of the academic and cultural record at scale.

I won’t bore you with background that you can see at our website (, including our recent assessment of where we need to focus after three years of operating a non-profit, collaborative, cloud-based repository (you can find this year’s directions at Instead, I think this may be a useful starting point:  we’re experiencing healthy, rapid growth in deposits of content (from 22.6 terabytes last April to 54.3 terabytes on January 9), and that is still nowhere near enough.  We are also both an ingest and a replicating node of the Digital Preservation Network (DPN), which is showing its own impressive growth in deposits, but nowhere near enough.

The notion of “doing digital preservation at scale” isn’t something we should evaluate using APTrust’s own measuring stick.  Nor can we evaluate success based solely in terms of our own individual institutions. Believing that we have “solved the problem” for our own university’s digital content is looking at the question on too short a time-frame, using a definition of our responsibilities for the human digital record that is unrealistically constrained.  We need to evaluate our progress against the growth of digital materials worldwide, the wide-ranging nature of risks to that mass of materials, and the likelihood that any single strategy will eventually prove inadequate.

It is this kind of thinking in our consortium that drove us to intentionally broaden our perspective by applying to join the Digital Preservation Coalition a couple of years ago.  And, such thinking also had us very worried about what appeared to be a developing trend in the American ecosystem of university-based digital-preservation efforts: there was some indication that competition between projects was threatening to overwhelm collaboration among them.  To us, the key to effective progress in this work is widespread collaboration and mutual support in developing a diverse and constantly evolving set of strategies to do digital preservation at scale.

A recent development promises to reverse that worrisome trend, real or perceived.  For about a year, leaders of many of the higher education-associated efforts have come together to try to articulate the core values that all of us hold in common.  Cliff Lynch announced the public debut of the first draft ( of that statement at the Coalition for Networked Information December 2017 meeting in Washington DC.  We at APTrust believe that only by harnessing this kind of spirit (and strengthening it against a likely future of even bigger and more complicated challenges) can any of us be confident we’re contributing significantly to digital preservation at scale.  It isn’t about arguing that there is one right answer, because there will never be one (including our own).

The draft statement is not focused solely on US efforts, although it was drafted primarily by US entities. It aims to be more international in nature, and the draft includes non-English versions as well. I was one of the folks (including also Bradley Daigle from APTrust) who helped develop the draft prior to public release, but I don’t pretend to speak for the entire group.  What I can do is highlight some of the components that I believe resonate especially well with the APTrust community.

First, I should note that the draft needs improvement (that’s why we call it a draft).  That point is driven home by the wide array of comments you’ll see on the site.  It also has embedded limitations.  For example, the statement is about the shared mission and values of non-profit entities.  It doesn’t directly address commercial entities that work in digital preservation (and that are obviously and inevitably our partners in the overall effort).  There are some significant differences in values associated with those two types of organization, and many of us believe that the strong presence of both in digital preservation represents an ultimately healthy balance of motivations.  That said, the statement only focuses on one type, the non-profits.

I mentioned earlier our concerns that competitiveness among the non-profit digital preservation projects seemed to be threatening the collaboration that we see as essential to grappling with digital preservation at scale.  Developing the statement was in itself a demonstration of the resurgence of collaboration in our context, and to confirm the point the draft statement includes a value that is the enemy of competition: transparency.  

Because of our work’s speed of change, including but not limited to technical change, one risk is its quality of “currency.”  We can’t afford for our approaches to go stale.  We need to tinker constantly and figure out how to do things better, cheaper and faster.  It is uncomfortably easy to add the phrase “than the other guy” to that last sentence, and to do so makes our behavior negatively competitive, by APTrust’s standards.  A range of pressures pushes us in that direction, into behavior more like our commercial colleagues for whom the notion of “competitive edge” is a critical success factor. In their world, protecting some aspect of what they are doing from the view of competitors may be the means by which a competitive edge is sustained.

For APTrust, radical transparency is our insurance against becoming something we don’t intend to be, and the inclusion of transparency in the draft statement tells us that we’re traveling in the right company.  Our communities should expect no less from us.

I hope our DPC colleagues will join the conversation about the draft statement to help make it better and to help it be more broadly relevant.  Preservation of the digital academic and cultural record at scale will happen most effectively, we believe, by intentional collaboration among diverse efforts that have to change constantly in trying to meet the ever-moving challenge.  Please lend your voices to defining and sustaining that collaboration.

Scroll to top