By ROBIN HATZIYANNIS and GAIL FINEBERG
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), in his keynote address to federal librarians during the 2001 FLICC Forum on March 27, underscored the urgency of preserving electronic federal records before they are lost to future generations.
"You have an enormous responsibility, and I urge you to work with Dr. Billington to find ways to assure that we are not going to lose part of our history and that we will, in fact, convince people of a way to ensure that the important information that is transmitted and stored in the digital world will be equally available in the future to the people who continue to read the printed word," Sen. Stevens said.
Sen. Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library for the 106th Congress, led a successful congressional effort last fall to appropriate $99.8 million to the Library for the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, which involves a cooperative effort of the Library with other federal agencies and the private sector to archive and preserve digital information.
Susan M. Tarr, executive director of the Federal Library and Information Center Committee (FLICC), welcomed committee members, speakers, and guests to the daylong forum that addressed the topic, "Preserving Our Federal Heritage in the Digital Era."
Six years ago, Ms. Tarr noted, a FLICC Forum addressed the life cycle of government information. "Although the distribution phase of the life cycle now permeates our society as well as our bureaucracies, there has not been nearly enough attention paid to the preservation phase," she said, setting the tone for the speakers who followed.
Dr. Billington, who is the FLICC chairman, also greeted forum participants and then reviewed the steps the Library has taken, in accordance with legislative directives and recommendations of the National Academy of Science's LC 21 report, to lead a national effort to archive and preserve digital information (see Information Bulletin, August-September 2000).
"We have created and are in the process of developing a collaborative strategy that will permit the long-term acquisition, storage and preservation of digital materials; assure access to the growing electronic historical cultural record of our nation; and include our federal partners," he said.
The Librarian introduced Sen. Stevens as "one of the greatest friends of libraries … someone who has a distinctive role in our national life and a special role in the whole question of information in the digital age."
Commending the Librarian for "his vision in confronting the challenges faced by our library during this evolving digital era," Sen. Stevens noted that the National Digital Library Program, established at the Library in 1994, has expanded its online offerings of digitized historical materials. It now offers more than 7 million items in more than 100 American Memory collections accessible via the Library's Web site at www.loc.gov.
Sen. Stevens said the challenge to the Library now is to acquire, preserve and make accessible a permanent record of American governance and creativity in both print and digital formats. Considering the immeasurable size of the information on the World Wide Web, he said, "It's evident that the Library must define the scope of its collecting responsibilities while developing partnerships that are necessary to continue fulfilling its historic mission."
He explained that the $99.8 million appropriation ($100 million before an across-the-board agency budget cut), provided to the Library by Congress in December 2000 for the national cooperative effort to archive and preserve digital information, will be made available in three phases: roughly $5 million now in phase 1 to "develop a national program plan to protect important cultural materials existing only in digital form and at the risk of being lost forever"; some $20 million in phase 2 to begin the program, once Congress has approved the plan; and some $75 million to be made available for joint projects to further the national plan and to be matched by nonfederal donations, including in-kind contributions, by March 31, 2003.
"This is a huge undertaking, to build a national repository of digital material, one which obviously cannot be done by the federal government alone," Sen. Stevens said. "The Library must consult with federal partners and seek participation from the nonfederal sector to assess joint planning considerations for our shared responsibilities."
During the remainder of the morning session, speakers from the Library, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Government Printing Office (GPO) discussed "The Roles of Central Federal Agencies in Creating the Government's Digital Archive."
Lewis Bellardo, deputy archivist of the United States, explained that NARA has statutory responsibility for preserving federal records in electronic as well as other formats. Taking legal custody of records transferred from originating government agencies, NARA must ensure the authenticity and reliability of these records over time. For example, he said, the Federal Aviation Administration has to access aircraft safety records for the life of every aircraft model; Environmental Protection Agency records of toxic waste sites must be preserved for agency and citizens' use; and the Federal Drug Administration needs to retain reports of adverse drug reactions.
To ensure such records in digital formats will be preserved, NARA is working with the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure, the San Diego Super Computer Center and other research partners to develop the Electronic Records Archives (ERA). "We plan to complete the research, development, prototype and pilot for the Electronic Records Archives by 2004," Mr. Bellardo said.
Laura Campbell, the Library's associate librarian for strategic initiatives, pointed out that the Library, unlike GPO and NARA, "focuses on a universal collection from the broader creator community."
Emphasizing that the Library will continue to build a balanced collection that includes old and new print, as well as digital, materials, Ms. Campbell reviewed the Library's digital initiatives since 1994. She noted that the institution has created public-access Web sites for legislative and copyright information and the massive card catalog, as well as special sites that draw on the Library's unique historical holdings and target broad audiences, including the classroom and school libraries.
Planning for digital preservation since 1998, the Library is "now in the process of establishing an office of strategic initiatives, which is entirely focused on integrating our policy and practices for a digital library across our many missions," she said.
Explaining internal and external strategies for building the national repository of digital materials, Ms. Campbell said the Library is developing internal standards, policies, procedures and operations. The external approach will involve a set of national partnerships, including formation of a national advisory body that will "solidify the scope and goals of this multiyear national strategy for long-term digital preservation."
GPO's Francis Buckley, superintendent of documents, explained that his agency operates under a legislative mandate to catalog and index government publications and make them freely available in various formats to federal depository libraries and the public. He said Congress last year directed that GPO's Federal Depository Library Program disseminate government information products primarily in electronic format to depository libraries. He said this major shift to electronic formats entails, on GPO's end, problems of document identification, authentication, bibliographic description, indexing, accessibility and permanent public access. On the consumer end, depository libraries are having to deal with issues of infrastructure in order to receive and disseminate electronic documents, staff training, and users' acceptance and their ability to use computers.
Panel speakers during the afternoon sessions of the forum examined digital archiving projects and practices in a variety of settings.
Representing the private sector, Steven Emmert, director for government and industry affairs at Lexis-Nexis, discussed preservation of federal information that businesses acquire, annotate or manipulate and sell.
He began by stressing the important dynamics of resource allocation and profit incentive inherent in a commercial service. "At the moment, if a paying customer wants data, he will get it. But if demand for the data drops off, we cannot maintain it, because we will be under pressure to invest that money in other data," he said.
Mr. Emmert also said that a vendor's organizational culture is often dictated by personality, with "some more philanthropic than others." He reminded the audience that the nation's economy plays a major role in decision making: "With an economic downturn, we prefer to cut a lot of things before we let people go without a paycheck."
He indicated there are ways to open discussions about archiving certain types of data and discussing whether Lexis-Nexis would serve as an archive or whether the company might make its data available to other organizations. "If we have made a substantial investment in our value-added documents or original articles, we will have a strong desire to archive these," said Mr. Emmert. Once information is beyond its useful life, he said, Lexis-Nexis may be happy to give it away.
Mr. Emmert urged federal librarians to consider what might motivate a vendor to freely grant requests for data. "Archival projects are the result of philanthropy and a concern for society. … If we choose to participate, it will translate into profit for us because we will look good and you will feel good about us," said Mr. Emmert.
Gail Hodge, senior information specialist for Information International Associates Inc., reviewed a broad range of efforts in other nations. She called on federal librarians to rethink old models that are based on national archiving because "the Internet is truly international."
Ms. Hodge looked at long-term preservation and access efforts in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
According to Ms. Hodge, "There are two main approaches to archiving in terms of moving content forward over the years. One is migration so that content moves from one computer to another over time. Emulation, however, develops systems that are smart enough to re-create the current environment."
The final afternoon session featured a panel discussion of digital archiving policies of three federal agencies. Pamela Q.J. André, director of the National Agricultural Library (NAL), reviewed the history of NAL's digital preservation efforts that began with a 1997 conference on the Agriculture Department's initiative to create a preservation plan.
This plenary conference resulted in the creation of a framework for preservation and access for digital publications and the convening of a national steering committee, representing a broad array of stakeholders involved in digital issues, to oversee implementation of the goals of the initial framework.
The committee began by defining a digital publication: "data or [an] information product … intended to be disseminated to the public." The committee further defined several key issues for digital preservation: managing technology over time, creating metadata, ensuring user access, gaining organizational buy-in to the project, keeping operational considerations in mind and limiting costs. So far, planning groups have completed an inventory and life-cycle management survey instrument to identify digital publications, held a metadata conference and developed draft guidelines for USDA agencies producing digital publications.
"We are still working on organizational buy-in and creating technical requirements," said Ms. André.
Margaret Byrnes, head of the Preservation and Collection Management Section at the National Library of Medicine (NLM), reported on an ambitious effort to develop a system for rating the permanence of electronic publications and communicating those ratings to users. "We have a formal mandate to collect and preserve the record of biomedicine, and we believe that mandate includes born-digital biomedical materials as well as other formats," said Ms. Byrnes.
The NLM Board of Regents recently included the goal of permanent access in its long-range plan and formed a working group to develop recommendations for identifying levels of permanence for all types of resources, for deciding upon methods of recording and communicating these levels and for implementing any new procedures.
After meeting for more than a year, the working group developed a rating system to address a user's need to know whether a resource he or she created, used or cited will be available and remain the same the next time the resource is needed.
Now that the NLM working group has completed its rating system, it is working with staff throughout the organization to ensure that the system is implemented consistently library-wide and that it continues to operate over time.
The next steps at NLM include setting recommendations for systems work to put the ratings in place. Ms. Byrnes said NLM "needs to develop a prototype system, and we need library-wide guidelines for managing all of the NLM servers."
Milton Halem, Goddard assistant director for information sciences for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, rounded out the panel with an overview of the challenges facing NASA and the enormous amount of data the agency collects.
Beyond traditional agency sources, NASA's data are collected from cameras, video cameras, sensors, telescopes and adaptive optics. With new trends in digital detectors, instrument technology is changing from linear to multidimensional digital systems. This, combined with a spacecraft population explosion caused by the launch of a major system every five weeks and the number of permanent observatories in the sky, means that the amount of data is growing exponentially. Even so, Mr. Halem asserted, "We believe that all this information must be saved for the next century."
He called on each agency to create data growth models and document how long the information has been residing on certain media. Besides a long-term strategic plan to maintain U.S. leadership in mass storage technologies, he also called for agency testbeds so that the industry can have end-to-end testing capabilities. Locally, at NASA, he sees the need for comprehensive data preservation policies and a plan for data migration and permanent retention.
"There are new technologies for data storage, but there has to be a buyer or a customer for these technologies," said Mr. Halem. He briefly discussed both holograms and biomolecular material, such as DNA, as media for storage. "Perhaps biosystems will maintain our data," he said.
As a wrap-up for the forum, Mark Roosa, the Library's director for preservation, provided a summary of the presentations. He called on federal agencies to face the key challenges of preserving digital resources. Mr. Roosa reminded the audience that it is their shared mandate to preserve and provide sustained access to the information that is the common link that ties all federal repositories together. "While this commonality draws our organizations together, it is imperative as the digital era unfolds that we continue to build bridges among our organizations, which enable us to share expertise, knowledge and best practices. And that we cross these bridges together and frequently," said Mr. Roosa.
He discussed four steps that federal agencies can take to ensure the preservation of the nation's heritage in the digital era. First, agencies must stay abreast of what is being done so they do not duplicate efforts. "We must convene ourselves on a fairly regular basis to understand the technical issues and conceptual models better that drive the preservation of digital information," said Mr. Roosa.
Second, he encouraged agencies to approach the preservation of digital information from both an integrative and a holistic perspective.
As a third goal, Mr. Roosa said federal agencies must begin to shape a plan of action for who will be responsible for preserving what: "As is true with federal resources in traditional formats, no one institution can do it all, and the earlier we embrace preserving our federal legacy with a clear strategic vision that incorporates models for collaboration, the sooner we will be confident that the universe of federal records will be safe for future generations."
Fourth, he said, the federal information community is also being called upon to think beyond its traditional horizons and seek new partnerships and collaborations that bring the best thinking to bear. "This may mean venturing well beyond the comfort of our own agencies or affiliates and initiating new partnerships with universities and businesses both at the national and international levels."
Ms. Hatziyannis is editor-in-chief for the Federal Library and Information Center Committee; Ms. Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newspaper.