Records agencies face a digital tsunami

Records agencies face a digital tsunami


Federal records agencies are banding together to deal with the exponential growth of digital documents.

Representatives of the National Archives and Records Administration, the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office detailed their common efforts at a recent forum of the Federal Library and Information Center Committee.

Lewis Bellardo
Lewis Bellardo, deputy archivist of the United States, said the government's electronic records in 1989 numbered only in the tens of thousands. That number has grown to tens of millions, and by 2009 it may reach 1 billion.

'For us it's the equivalent of a tsunami,' Bellardo said.

NARA's recently launched Electronic Records Archives (ERA) initiative enlisted government and academic partners to preserve digital documents.

The president's fiscal 2002 budget proposal includes $20 million for ERA to develop a platform-independent, scalable architecture of off-the-shelf components that can be replaced easily.

NARA's official responsibility is the management, disposition and long-term preservation of and access to federal records, Bellardo said.

In contrast, the Library of Congress 'collects from the broader creative community,' said Laura Campbell, associate librarian for strategic initiatives.

Born-digital works

The government must prepare better for long-term retention of documents that exist only in digital form, Campbell said. Recently, for example, the library preserved Web sites pertaining to the November 2000 election.

'As you can imagine, many of those are gone now,' Campbell said. The library also is stepping up efforts to preserve what she called born-digital works and digitize historical materials, she said.

Last December, Congress appropriated $100 million for the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, in which the library will work with public and private partners to preserve historically significant electronic documents. Campbell heads the effort.

GPO's mandate is to make information available to federal depository libraries and the public indefinitely, said Francis J. Buckley Jr., GPO's superintendent of documents.

Congress in 1995 directed GPO to modernize its document programs. Last year, more than half of the publications disseminated through the depository libraries were electronic, Buckley said. In January, 32 million items'totaling 1.6T'were downloaded from the GPO Access site, at

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