Monday, July 4, 2016

Why a Canadiana.org and CRKN.ca merger could be great

A press release from CRKN launches a dialog about the potential of a closer relationship between CRKN and Canadiana.org.

I've been at Canadiana for 5 years, starting in January 2011 as a consultant and then September as staff (See photo of me receiving 5 year recognition from our previous board president Leslie Weir) .

My beliefs come more from my personal political advocacy work on Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS), Open Access, and Open Government than it does from being a staff person.  As staff I can can clarify what Canadiana.org is doing from a FLOSS/OA perspective if there are misinterpretations (See: Good News Canadiana & LAC project spun into bad news? ,Why is a license required for a Canadiana project built from public domain material?)

What I believe to be the source of some of the potential benefits.

For funding reasons, Canadiana has had a bit of a dual identity (Alter Ego?) between being a charity created by the Library, Archive and Museum (LAM) community and having to supplement our funding with commercial work.

What we do would work best if we had base funding for operations and all of what we offered was open access. For reasons out of our control we have needed to create subscription services like Early Canadiana Online and our ongoing work to add premium subscription services on top of Heritage.  We also do digitization work that isn't deposited into our Trustworthy Digital Repository or made accessible via our access platform.

The Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN) is already one of our largest single funding sources, but thus far primarily in their roll as a "buyers club" of some of our services for Canadian universities.  Reading their Mission,Vision, Values page you can see that they have far more in common with Canadian than should ever be thought of in the context of a "buyers club" or commercial services.

At this time the boards are exploring a closer relationship.  While merger is one possibility, I believe any type of closer relationship would be quite positive.

Thinking about this a few ideas come to mind.

CRKN is libraries - what about Archives and Museums?

This is a good question which I hope the boards will think about.

Since our funding has come from libraries, it is this community that we have been most focused on.  While this is the case, we have always tried to keep the interests of the archivist and museum community in mind.

As a technical person involved in the team that designed and implemented the technology behind our trustworthy digital preservation network, we have always tried to keep the design agnostic to any particular view someone might have of the repository. We've tried to keep the technical policies behind the software we use for digitization, preservation and access modular. New types of data can be preserved in the repository even if it is unlike anything we have processed previously, or that our current access platform thus far can't offer access to.   This means that the repository could be used by archivists to preserve any digital data, even data that isn't in a format able to be easily accessed via a web access platform.

A stronger relationship between Canadiana.org and CRKN might greatly improve our relationship with archivists and museums.  If it allowed us to finally move access to the repository to open access, and get rid of the subscription services, our trustworthiness within those communities might increase.

Would Canadiana still do commercial work?

There is commercial work that fits well within what we would already be doing, and commercial work that has created confusion about our identity.

An organization that isn't already a CRKN member institution that wanted to make use of our digitization, preservation and/or access services wouldn't expect CRKN members to pay for any custom work.  These types of services make sense to continue, with funding coming from the depositing institution.

It is the subscription services that create the identity confusion and thus would be great to see go away.  It really requires buy-in from the libraries to fund this as open access, and stop believing there is a free-rider problem with open access to this type of preservation and access work.  This change has always been possible, but a closer relationship with CRKN might allow this to finally happen.

We need the institutions which are members of CRKN (many of which which overlap with Canadiana.org, CARL, etc) to stop thinking of us as a vendor.  There isn't a conflict of interest when a board or other member wants us to collaborate with their institutions on a project, and there isn't a need to "compete" a contract to collaborate with a partner.

Could this expand the preservation network?

Our preservation network currently has three partners: University of Alberta and University of Toronto that offer co-location for servers (rack space, power, network, "hands", etc), and Library and Archives Canada that offers office space.   A closer relationship to CRKN may make our relationship with the universities more clear, and encourage more partnerships.  The less we are thought of as a vendor, and the more we are thought of as a partner, the better.

More partners would allow us to get rid of our commercial hosting in Montreal, and hopefully move additional services out of our Ottawa office which uses a commercial ISP for connectivity.

The design of the preservation network is quite flexible.  While we retain a minimum of 5 copies (including one dark offline copy) of every AIP, this does not limit us to having only 5 hosts.  The architecture allows us to spread resources among many more partners, with each host potentially having a subset of all the AIPs.  There is no minimum or maximum size for hosts.

Images to Data?

An area we have been discussing for quite some time is growing from providing access to images to collaborating on data.  The work that researchers in the digital humanities will need goes far beyond needing access to images of documents to requiring linked data derived from those documents.  Research is also less restricted (or sometimes only made possible) when that data is open (Linked Open Data) and allows for linking between multiple data sources.

A barrier to being able to create data from these images has been the subscription services.  Researchers are less likely to deposit data they built from or otherwise linked to the images if the images or their data will have restricted access.  This is also true of volunteer contributions, who would be willing to volunteer for something open but wouldn't have interest in contributing for free to a subscription service.   These images and resulting data being behind a subscription service has considerable costs -- far beyond the small costs of managing the service as open access.

Your thoughts?

While the boards of Canadiana.org and CRKN discuss this, there should also be discussion within the community.  I want to do what I can to avoid any of the type of misconceptions that happened with the launch of the Heritage project derailing a closer relationship. I believe that closer relationship will benefit far more than the institutions that make up the CRKN membership.

I'll do my best to ensure that any comments that are made to this article make it to board members as well.

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