Highlights of the Fall 2017 Meeting of the Academic Preservation Trust

From Wednesday, October 4, through Friday, October 6, forty-two collaborators renewed their conversation about common solutions to the challenges of preserving digital scholarly and cultural heritage material at the Fall 2017 meeting of the Academic Preservation Trust.  The meeting began with an informal gathering of deans of APTrust member libraries in Washington, DC on Wednesday, and continued the next two days with sessions at the University of Maryland’s McKeldin Library.

In the informal deans’ gathering, APTrust governing board chair Winston Tabb (Johns Hopkins University) suggested that the time is right for a thorough review of the consortium’s current state to serve as background for reviewing, then updating, its plans for the future.  His suggestion became a key theme in the discussions that followed over the next two days.

The more formal meeting of APTrust began Thursday morning with a provocative talk by University of Virginia Data Science Institute director Phil Bourne on the potential for research libraries to play leading roles in transforming their institutions to become open-data digital enterprises. See his slides here:

Participants then heard reports on the current state of APTrust, including the following highlights:

  • This year is the fifth since the first partner meeting in Baltimore, and we’re approaching the third anniversary of the APTrust repository achieving production status.
  • Content deposits have nearly doubled in the past year to more than 36 TB currently and accelerating.
  • The APTrust rate for “extra” deposits (beyond amount included in benefits covered by member dues) for high-assurance bit-level preservation has dropped from $850 per TB per year (2013) to $420 per TB per year (today).
  • All underlying software has been rewritten, with 100-fold gains in ingest-processing speed in some parts of the process.
  • APTrust finished the last fiscal year with a budget surplus of more than $80,000, which entered the APTrust Reserve, now standing at more than $865,000. See report here:
  • The reserve is designed to support a year of movement of content to other destinations if needed in execution of a “succession” plan.
  • Current challenges include:
    • Generation changes are under way in member-library leadership, with new leaders sometimes uncertain of the value of their engagement in APTrust.
    • Although some members are using APTrust heavily, many are not (even though their membership includes an allocation for 10 TB of content at no additional cost for each of them); staff at those institutions cite difficult selection decisions and added workload of focusing on APTrust processes among impediments.
    • The cost of high-assurance preservation remains too high for petabyte-scale needs of some institutions.
    • Confusion persists about choices in academic digital preservation services.

APTrust Preservation Repository Milestones

APTrust staff also described future services and a process for conducting the Fall 2017 review:\r\n\r\n

  • New services and directions
    • Lower assurance Amazon Glacier-based service that can be a component in institutional digital preservation strategy (price proposed at $60 per terabyte per year)
    • Simplified drag-and-drop ingest process for APTrust
    • Reinforcement of the capacity of each member to be a content hub for partner entities as a form of public service or as a means of offsetting some costs
    • Development of menu choices through which members can deposit content and APTrust and designate metadata to deposit with entities such as DPLA
    • Plans to move toward integration with digital preservation management and workflow tools
  • Fall 2017 review of APTrust
    • Participants heard about Winston Tabb’s suggestion that the time is right for a five-year concept review, which APTrust program director Chip German is proposing to conduct as a process to be completed before December 15:
      • starting at this meeting with the nomination of candidates for the “ten most important questions to ask about APTrust”
      • polling of the entire membership for their perspectives on those questions with compiled results going to all member deans, in preparation for the next step
      • Chip to coordinate the process of gathering and consolidating recommendations about the future direction of APTrust from the deans for consideration by the APTrust governing board
      • The governing board sets new directions by December 15

After the overview, Tom Blake of the Boston Public Library (BPL), who participated in the discussions throughout the meeting as a guest, described areas of common interest for the Digital Commonwealth consortium (BPL plays a leading role in that consortium) and for APTrust.

APTrust lead developer Andrew Diamond reported that deposits to the preservation repository have accelerated in recent months, with two institutions moving past the 10 terabyte threshold and a third planning to do so soon.

Growth in APTrust Deposits: Spring 2016 - Fall 2017
The totals below do not include the 24 terabytes of DPN data stored at APTrust.

APTrust’s Bradley Daigle led sessions that summarized the work of the consortium’s working groups and interest groups, including the two most active workgroups, on improving communications and on preparing for trusted digital repository status.  Those workgroups have achieved several important milestones, including:

  • Replacement of APTrust’s confusing and out-of-date wiki with a new version that is much easier to navigate at https://wiki.aptrust.org
  • Completion of approximately 80 percent of the preparatory work that documents APTrust qualification as a trusted digital repository in accord with ISO 16363

Bradley also led a session focused on enhancement requests for the preservation repository, including such proposals for improvement as:

  • Implementation of an encryption strategy to protect personally identifiable information and other restricted content that members may wish to include in their deposits
  • Single-file restore (currently APTrust restores at the “bag” level)
  • A command-line tool to verify ingest
  • Choices beyond Amazon Web Services for preservation storage
  • A dashboard for member institutions about their deposits
  • A routine quarterly technical call led by Andrew Diamond and open to all
  • A more transparent system for keeping members informed about the status of their requests or technical issues

Regarding the last proposal, Georgetown University’s Salwa Ismail outlined her institution’s interests in a better ticketing system to improve transparency and communication.  The draft roadmap of improvements is explicitly part of the Fall 2017 review, and in final form will be a core component of the future directions the governing board will set as a result of the review.

As the review theme continued through the meeting, participants devoted one session to developing an initial list of the most important questions that it should explore.  The evolving draft of what we intend to be both timely and foundational questions is here:

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