Library of Congress takes distributed approach to archiving

Who's on the team and what's their job?

  • Educational Broadcasting Corp. of New York: $2.8 million for preserving public television programs, in cooperation with Public Broadcasting Service of Alexandria, Va.

  • University of California at Oakland: $2.7 million for collecting governmental Web materials

  • University of California at Santa Barbara: $2.7 million for preserving online geographic materials

  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: $2.6 million to develop criteria for deciding which digital materials are worth preserving

  • University of Michigan at Ann Arbor: $2.1 million for collecting opinion polls, voting records, large-scale surveys of family growth and income, and sociological studies

  • Emory University of Atlanta: $690,000 for collecting electronic materials dealing with southern U.S. culture and history

  • North Carolina State University at Raleigh: $530,000 for preserving geospatial data created by state and local governments

  • University of Maryland at College Park: $220,000 for collecting business-related online materials from the so-called era between 1994 and 2001
  • The Library of Congress has awarded about $15 million to eight teams to create an archive for materials that start life digitally.

    'Materials are increasingly being created in digital form only,' librarian of Congress James Billington said. 'It becomes ever more critical to save the important information they contain.'

    The awards for the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program are part of a $100 million appropriation Congress gave the library in 2000 to preserve digital materials.

    Wide range of materials

    The teams will archive a wide range of materials such as Web pages, satellite maps, aerial photos, television shows, opinion polls and voting records. The teams will also develop strategies for determining which material is worth saving and how it should be saved.

    'What we're doing right now is deciding how we select and collect the material,' said Laura Campbell, the associate librarian of Congress for strategic initiatives and head of the program.

    Visitors to the library's Web site,, will begin to see new material shortly, but much of it will be longer in coming.

    'We will try to make access available where we are able to do that, but there are many issues in just collecting, selecting and preserving,' Campbell said.

    The library and its partners still have to work out how to ensure that the collected works adhere to copyrights and other intellectual property rights. They must also choose the formats and media for preservation.

    In June, the library gave four universities grants to develop a set of strategies and best practices for electronic archiving.

    Those universities 'are focusing on a technical architecture' to support access and storage of the collected materials, Campbell said.

    For the Library of Congress, the program is novel because it turns over so much responsibility to other institutions. Most of the library's collections are in Washington, but the collected digital materials will be stored at various locations around the country.

    In effect, the library is taking a distributed approach in which different archiving bodies tackle different bodies of work. The approach strives to exploit the institutions' expertise in their respective fields. One big advantage of the distributed approach is that the library can share some of the preservation costs. The 35 participating institutions will each match the amount they receive from the library.

    About the Author

    Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.


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