Notre Dame started with the EaaSI project a little more than a year ago.We hoped that engaging in the pilot phase implementation cohort would help focus our institutional efforts at software preservation.
Some of us on the team began the project as emulation enthusiasts, and some as emulation skeptics. Our E-Research librarian & EaaSI configuration user really, really wanted to “read” Douglas Adams’ Last Chance to See CD-ROMs again because unlike in the print editions, in the CD-ROM version there are hundreds more photo-illustrations and best of all, you can listen to Adams’ narrate the stories. Last Chance to See was a BBC radio documentary series with an accompanying book written by Douglas Adams, and later, a CD-ROM with his voice recordings. (Learn more here.)
Our Project Lead was hesitant to do one-off emulations unless they had a champion and we could predict they’d have users.
The effort needed to build and support emulation infrastructure over time seemed like it could be pretty large. The emulators themselves would need to be maintained over time, and a new emulator would be needed for each computing platform. We didn’t want to put forward that level of effort for software titles that didn’t have a waiting list of people waiting to re-use/re-experience them.
However, working through emulation with EaaSI has quelled some of our early skeptical reticence.
Turns out, there are not too many variants of computing architectures at the moment, at least for the kinds of software making up the bulk of our holdings right now. And, yes, standing up and maintaining emulators requires effort, but it is the kind of task that is easily described and can be crowd-sourced and maintained by a much larger community (much larger than just the archival and preservation community), fortunately. At the DLF2019 Forum in Tampa listening to the presentation of the APTrust + EaaSI: Consortial Use Case we were further encouraged when we realized that we had “two ways” to put forward emulations in EaaSI, first as a node host pilot but also as a member of the Academic Preservation Trust (APTrust).
The biggest challenges have been, unsurprisingly, institutional. It can be difficult to carve out time for people to change what they have been focusing on when it comes to digital preservation, especially if it is perceived as “just more work” and if the need is identified internally as opposed to being stood up to solve an immediate problem for a campus scholar’s project deadline.
Until we get a waiting list of users or requests we are identifying and prioritizing software holdings where emulation has a ready audience. Fortunately the EaaSI team has been making presentations and we have been approached by campus colleagues who see these presentations online or at conferences and then return home to ask our team more about emulation.
After hearing a suggestion from the Stanford Node related to archeological data that accompanies monographs on CD-ROMs and floppy disks our archaeology librarian suggested the Virtual Dig title for emulation and so we’ve brought that title onto our node recently. Combination of workbook and CD-ROM (Win PC only), Virtual Dig functions as a “virtual field school” that gives students the opportunity to carry out an excavation using real data. Based on excavations at the Middle Paleolithic site of Combe-Capelle in France.
The major benefit of EaaSI has been being part of the initial cohort to use environments created by the community and learn from how others have engaged their institutions. The cohort community has really helped us push our effort along.