CR Leaves Library’s Digital Program in Peril

Posted March 20, 2007 at 6:44pm

Library of Congress officials testifying at a Tuesday hearing on the agency’s future digital projects detailed how the fiscal 2007 continuing resolution has endangered a major Library preservation initiative to archive the constantly changing world of Web-based information.

To avoid a major setback in the Library’s efforts to build a National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, the agency is expected to add $21.5 million to its fiscal 2008 budget request, which already stands at just over $680 million.

In 2000, Congress appropriated $100 million to fund the program, which was envisioned to be a decade-long effort to make the Library a world leader in the collection and long-term preservation of digital content. But the fiscal 2007 continuing resolution stripped the Library of $47 million in funding for that effort just as the LOC was on the verge of making new investments to expand the program in communities across the country, Librarian of Congress James Billington explained Tuesday to the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch.

“At risk is not only the work of partners across the nation but essential infrastructure and content for the Library’s mission to serve Congress,” Billington said in testimony submitted to the subcommittee.

Billington explained that the Library not only lost the $47 million that was in the process of being allocated but also another $37 million in matching funding that already had been committed for efforts to expand the NDIIPP network.

A spokesman for the Library noted that the $21.5 million request represents a revamped and consolidated NDIIPP plan that the Library came up with in response to the continuing resolution.

Pending work that would have to be canceled if funding for the project isn’t restored includes efforts to preserve state-based digital legislative and public policy records and a project called Preserving Creative America, an initiative to join with commercial producers of creative content to develop strategies for preserving American creativity, Billington said.

“As we begin the second half of the Library’s unprecedented effort to preserve at-risk digital content, the Library of Congress and our committed network of partners risk losing the resources that have already been invested — and the benefits of important digital preservation work,” Billington said in his testimony. “It is in our national interest to preserve the born-digital information of today to ensure that Americans will be more enlightened and competitive tomorrow.”

Subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said Tuesday that the likelihood of expanding the LOC’s budget this year to include the additional NDIIPP money would depend on the allocation that is made available for the legislative branch.

“We don’t know what our allocation is going to be and within our allocation we’re going to have to prioritize,” Wasserman Schultz said after the hearing. “We’re focusing on security, on absolute essential needs, on ‘gotta haves,’ ‘can’t live withouts.’ These long-term planning hearings I’m having with these agencies is so we know and can plan beyond the current fiscal year. But year to year we have to deal with the reality of the fiscal year that we are in.”

When asked if she thought the Library of Congress — which also lost about $6 million in funding for new office furnishings in the continuing resolution — had been unfairly hit by the fiscal 2007 funding measure, Wasserman Schultz said, “I don’t think they were. You had $47 million that was still sitting there unspent, and we had to make a lot of really difficult decisions and we didn’t have the luxury of having money just sitting there.”

She added that the fiscal 2008 budgeting process will be a partnership in which the subcommittee will work with the legislative branch agencies to prioritize their many needs.

“I’m not a dictator and there’s flexibility,” she said. “But there’s isn’t flexibility outside the allocation. … We’re not spending more than we’re taking in.”

In general, Wasserman Schultz and the rest of the legislative branch subcommittee members present at Tuesday’s hearing were extremely supportive of the long-term digital projects and other major initiatives — including an LOC “visitor experience” project that will complement the Capitol Visitor Center — taking place at the Library.

In fact, Rep. Ray LaHood’s (R-Ill.) biggest complaint seemed to be that Members don’t walk across the street enough to make use of the resources the Library has to offer. He pointed to the fact that the Library had briefly considered closing its Members’ reading room due to a lack of interest as evidence that the the LOC and its supporters on Capitol Hill need to do more to engage Members of Congress.

“The Library was originally established for Members of Congress, and we are not utilizing it as much as we should,” LaHood said.

Wasserman Schultz suggested forming a Library of Congress Caucus, perhaps led by LaHood and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), to act as cheerleaders for the Library among their fellow Members. She pointed out that having Congressional colleagues lobby one another on the House floor to attend LOC events would be a more effective way of getting Members to walk across the street than receiving a generic invite at their office.

In other LOC news, the list of possible new names for the Capitol Visitor Center Great Hall was expanded at Tuesday’s hearing when Billington tossed the Library’s official recommendations into the ring.

Subcommittee ranking member Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) has pushed for the CVC space to be renamed to avoid confusion with the LOC space with the same moniker. Wamp has suggested for the CVC space to be named the Abraham Lincoln Hall.

Billington, who said he and the LOC architectural curator have studied possible name changes for the CVC space, suggested “Hall of the People,” “Hall of the States,” “Hall of the Republic” and “Great Court.”

Billington said “Great Court” might be the best and most appropriate alternative name, as the CVC space shares a number of similarities with the large, glass-covered British Museum Great Court in London, which opened in 2000. That Great Court also features a restaurant and shops in and around a large distribution space for visitors to a major public building with a museum component, Billington said.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who has long been a proponent of the CVC project, offered “Patriots Hall” as his top choice for the space earlier this week.

Before Billington and Wamp could get too carried away with discussing the name change Tuesday, Wasserman Schultz pointed out that signage already has been ordered for the CVC Great Hall, and in fact other “Great Halls” already exist on Capitol Hill and don’t cause confusion. She pointed to the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Great Hall as one example.

Wasserman Schultz reminded the subcommittee that “we are looking at [the name change] through the prism of fiscal responsibility.”