Last week I received an email from JISCMail which invited me to state whether an unused mailing list should be retained or deleted:
Your JISCMail list(s) have not been used for over 3 years. Please email to firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm whether the list should now be deleted or retained. If you choose deletion, let us know if you would like a zipped copy of the archives for your records.
Back in January 2010 I wrote a post on Decommissioning / Mothballing Mailing Lists in which I discussed policies and processes for decommissioning and mothballing lists:
How should a list owner go about deleting unused lists? And aren’t there dangers that deleting the contents of lists which may have been used to influence the research process or provide possibly valuable historical insights on the content area covered by the list would be regarded as a mistake by future generations?
Following the subsequent discussions I decided on the policy for unused lists which I owned: I disabled postings to the lists and updated the list description accordingly. For example the DNER-TECH list now states:
List to discuss technical issues relating to the establishment of the Distributed National Electronic Resource. These issues should particularly relate to inter-operability matters. Other topics may be introduced later. THIS LIST IS NOW CLOSED.
I have decided not to delete the unused lists as the lists I own tend to have been used to discuss various aspects of early developments of digital library initiatives in the sector and I feel that the issues which were discussed could provide information which may have some value from an historical perspective. For example ten years ago on the DNER-TECH list there were discussions of “issues related to deploying the Bath Profile, the emerging proposals for ‘Z39.50 Next Generation’ (ZNG), and presentations by a number of UK-based projects with significant experience of deploying Z39.50 applications in a number of domains“. This message can therefore provide evidence of the interest in Z39.50 at that time.
You could, of course, manage the content by requesting a zipped copy of the archive (although note that the Web page on deleting a list, somewhat confusing called Deleting a Group, does not provide any further information, including details of the contents held in a zipped archive – will, for example, this include details of the members of the list?). But this would mean that the original location of the resource being deleted and will make it more difficult for other interested parties to find this information. To be honest I can’t see the point of requesting a zipped copy for most open lists, especially since the existing JISCMail archive provides a rich archive which may be of value and provides an interface (using JISCMail commands) which potentially could support data mining of these resources. However for closed lists, such as the LIS-ELIB-MANAGERS list which I own, since it would probably be inappropriate to retrospectively provide open access to such archives (will there be a 30 year limit, I wonder, before the general public can see what Chris Rusbridge, Lorcan Dempsey and eLib project managers were discussing on this list?!)
On further reflection it does seem to me that JISC-funded projects should probably have a policy on the management of legacy lists related to the project work. There is, for example, a requirement for Web sites to be maintained for at least three years after the funding has ceased. What should the policy be on mailing lists? And what should practices should be implemented once a list archive is felt to be no longer of interest? I would welcome comments from other list owners on how they are managing any unused lists they own.