For decades, researchers and practitioners in information science, digital preservation, and allied fields have discussed the necessity of software preservation: preserving software is a prerequisite for preserving and providing access to digital cultural heritage and research, and software is increasingly considered a research product or artifact in itself. The rapid pace of software development and change makes it urgent for those interested in the practice of preserving software to develop a correspondingly robust research agenda. In support of the Software Preservation Network’s (SPN) mission to preserve software through community engagement, infrastructure support, and knowledge generation, the Research Working Group spearheads collaborative efforts to collect, analyze, and distribute information about software preservation. The Working Group facilitates research projects that bring individuals and organizations with diverse perspectives and interests together to document and analyze the landscape of software preservation and access. In the course of its work, the Working Group aims to explore frameworks for sustainable, transparent, community-based research and to advocate for innovative models of research that accelerates practice. Research Working Group members also play a crucial advisory role in research activities initiated by other SPN Working Groups.
Ontology of Software Preservation Research Questions
Over the past few months, the Research Working Group has been collaborating on an ontology of research questions related to software preservation and curation, along with citations for existing research that explores each question. The ontology is not meant to be a comprehensive listing of all research in the software preservation domain; rather, it is intended to offer an entrance point into selected research and to empower the Working Group to identify gaps where additional research could be done. With these gaps in mind, the Working Group will use the ontology to create templates that individuals could use to gather data about software preservation and curation in their local organizations or communities. The individuals will be encouraged to contribute their data back to the SPN Research Working Group, who will analyze the data in aggregate and attempt to map the landscape of software preservation and curation over time.
Outline of questions in our ontology of research questions (click through to view citations for existing research in each category):
- How can “software,” “software curation,” “software preservation,” and “software access” be defined, and how do the definitions matter?“Software” definition
- Who and What
- What workflows are currently being used to collect, preserve, curate, and provide access to software and what might future state workflows look like?
- What skillsets are needed to collect, preserve, curate, and provide access to software?
- What policies currently exist around preserving, curating, and providing access to software and what might future state policies look like?
- What metadata schemas/vocabularies currently exist for describing software, and what are the gaps in the software metadata landscape?
- How can the quality of software preservation be assessed?
- What ethical questions exist regarding software preservation and curation?
Gaps identified in the ontology:
- Need for data about which institutions are preserving software
- Need for research into (international and national) policy surrounding software preservation
- How are researchers using software in archival institutions to ask new questions or find new answers to old questions?
- Need for additional exploration of ethical issues surrounding software preservation
- Need for additional exploration of metadata best practices
- Need for additional work to develop measures of preservation quality
Next Steps: Developing a Research Toolkit (we want you!)
The next goal of the Research Working Group is to address these gaps by developing a Research Toolkit, a set of templates that individuals can use to gather data about software preservation and curation in their local organization or community. The individuals will be encouraged to contribute their data back to the SPN Research Working Group, and the Working Group will analyze the data in aggregate and attempt to map the landscape of software preservation and curation over time. Collaboratively developing these templates via the Open Science Framework will allow all of us to refine the templates and document which versions have been used in which research study. Encouraging others to reuse these templates will allow us to compare results across institutions because there will be alignment among the questions posed.
Interested in helping to create the research toolkit? The Research Working Group is looking for additional members to join our team! If you’re interested, please fill out this quick form to let us know.