DVD's the format for digital libraries

Agencies still have thousands of old magnetic tapes containing data that taxpayers paid millions to collect, USGS' Jerry McFaul says.

DVD is the next step in preserving the government's digital data, and an interagency DVD working group is studying the technology.

In 1996, less than 5 percent of the Federal Depository Library Program's acquisitions were in electronic format, said Judy Russell, superintendent of documents at the Government Printing Office. She spoke at a recent DVD 2003 conference.

This year, 60 percent of the acquisitions will be available through the GPO Access Web site or links to agency databases. The rest of the government documents shipped to federal depository libraries will be on paper, microfiche, CD-ROM or DVD.

That shifts the responsibility for document preservation in perpetuity from the depository libraries to GPO, 'and that's a huge change,' Russell said.

GPO must refresh thousands of CD-ROMs that it has shipped to depository libraries over the last decade because they aren't forward-compatible with today's operating systems or the data is locked up in aging, proprietary formats.

One DVD to five CD-ROMs

'We are very much at risk of losing a generation of federal information,' she said.

The Navy and Air Force began publishing their training documents on DVD in 1998. But the flow of DVDs into depository libraries rose sharply in 2000 when the Patent and Trademark Office found DVDs' higher storage capacity'from 2.5G to about 17G'could store a week's worth of patents on one disk instead of five CD-ROMs.

Russell and Geological Survey computer scientist Jerry McFaul are sponsoring the interagency working group, with a first meeting tentatively set for this month at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Russell asked agencies to contribute copies of their DVDs to the Federal Depository Library Program. 'It's an inexpensive way to distribute your materials,' she said.

Many agencies still have thousands of old magnetic tapes containing data that taxpayers paid millions of dollars to collect, McFaul said. The tapes are difficult to duplicate, and they deteriorate over time. He advocated DVD as a replacement.

The Census Bureau makes several summary files from the Census 2000 data set available on DVD, said Bill Savino, chief of the Electronic Products Development Branch. The data set for congressional redistricting under Public Law 94-171 was the bureau's first DVD product, he said.

Since that release in late 2000, Census has published a six-disk set of Adobe Portable Document Format maps showing every census block in the country. 'We could not do that before DVD,' Savino said.

McFaul showed off LandView 5.0, a two-disk DVD set that combines a Census 2000 statistics database with a mapping engine called MARPLOT, developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It's a Web-connected application, meaning that anyone using LandView 5.0 could, via a browser, drill down to, say, the Environmental Protection Agency's site for the latest information about waste sites.

Census sells LandView 5.0 online for $99 at landview.census.gov. A sixth version of LandView with additional data from the Census 2000 long form will be ready in late summer, McFaul said.

Blue-laser technology, which uses a shorter wavelength than current DVD read-write lasers, will store up to 23.5G of data on a single disk, said Michael A. Hall, business development manager for Sony Electronics Inc.'s data storage division.

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