Wyatt Kash | Pioneers for the ages

Editor's Desk |Commentary: The Library of Congress' moving-picture and audio archiving project sets a standard for digital records keeping

Wyatt Kash

It's fashionable to believe that the government should take its cue from the private sector when it comes to information technology. But there are times when parallels don't always exist ' and when the government must chart its own course on IT projects that are unique in nature or scale.

That's the case at the Library of Congress, where its Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division is in the process of transferring 6 million recordings ' some in formats dating back more than 100 years ' into the digital future.

As GCN's Bill Jackson reported in our July 16 issue, the project is one of the largest IT efforts of its kind in government today.

Its significance lies not just in the attempt to move such a massive cultural legacy from dying media formats into the digital realm.

It's also in the technology paths LOC is taking because the work must be done with a preservationist's eye toward future generations ' and amid uncertainty over how technologies will evolve.

Part of LOC's challenge ' one a growing number of information managers must face ' has been the continuing upheavals in technologies used to record, store and distribute audio and video recordings.

LOC committed three years ago to using a WAV file format to preserve sound recordings, but volatility in video formats kept the library's efforts to preserve videotape programs in limbo until recently. Division Chief Gregory Lukow and his team ultimately opted to move forward with the Motion JPEG2000 format.

Nevertheless, as government and private-sector information workers grow more accustomed to capturing and processing multimedia information, IT managers charged with supporting them will soon need to wrestle with how best to preserve all the audio and video files comingling with traditional text data.

Given the battles over open vs. proprietary standards for basic text documents, one can only imagine the struggle ahead in forging format standards as the world moves from documents to documedia.

So although the Library of Congress may not be on the cutting edge of technology, its technology choices ' and its massive conversion effort ' deserve more of the private sector's attention.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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