Library Will Preserve Digital Information

Posted February 21, 2003 at 1:05pm

Researchers surfing the Web for information on Congress aren’t likely to stumble onto the Web sites of former Members of Congress.

Although Member sites began popping up in the spring of 1994, there has been no official standard for saving the information.

But now, the Library of Congress — home to more than 126 million items books, manuscripts, maps and other items — is pushing ahead with a program to select and preserve digital information, including those Congressional Web sites.

The Library’s National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, created by Congress in December 2000, moved into its next stage this month, after receiving Congressional approval for its master plan.

Librarian of Congress James Billington described the program as “a first step in building a digital library for the nation.”

“The Library of Congress has a long-term, vested interest in making sure that these materials are stored in a reliable digital repository that is always accessible,” he said.

Working with other institutions, Library officials will create guidelines for selecting the digital content and creating models for how information will be stored.

“It will be a committed, decentralized network of partners dedicated to collecting and preserving a rich body of digital content that is reliable, trustworthy and able to respond to technological changes,” Billington said.

Agencies taking part in the project include the Commerce Department, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and National Archives and Records Administration, as well as the National Library of Medicine, National Agricultural Library, Research Libraries Group, and the Council on Library and Information Resources.

The selection criteria will reflect those already in place at the Library for books and other materials, explained Laura Campbell, associate librarian for strategic initiatives, who is guiding the project.

In addition to Web sites, the Library may also collect digital sound or music, digital books and videos.

“We will be following the collection development principles and policies we currently have in place,” Campbell said. “We’re still going to select the same subjects, but we’re now going to be working with other partners to share the responsibility.”

Congressional approval of the Library’s master plan will allow for the release of a $75 million Congressional appropriation to finance the program. The Library must match the appropriation with an equal amount of in-kind contributions and private funds.

Library officials cite the limited life span of many digital materials — such as Congressional Web sites — among the compelling reasons for creating the a digital repository.

Billington pointed to statistics showing that 44 percent of Web sites available in 1998 had disappeared by 1999. The average Web site currently stays in existence for only 44 days.

“The digital history of the nation is imperiled by the very technology that is used to create much of it,” he added.

Although Library officials acknowledge compiling digital materials may be a daunting task, they point to the Library’s current abilities to sort through the nearly 22,000 items it receives each day, of which it adds about 8,000 to its collection.

“What we’re really doing is a traditional Library function in a new media,” Billington said.

The Library already features nearly 8 million items from its collection on the Internet, through the National Digital Library Program, which began in 1994.