By MARIE-LOUISE BERNAL
In a continuing effort to explore solutions to the issue of long-term preservation of digital legal sources, Law Librarian Rubens Medina called a second meeting of managers from federal agencies and other institutions on March 25.
"I am pleased that so many of you have responded to this invitation to meet Professor Margaret Hedstrom of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, an expert in the field, in order to learn more about the current state of archiving of digital information," the Law Librarian said in his welcoming remarks. "My hope is, with your help, to broaden the interest and support within the federal sector for the development of preservation standards for electronic records."
The managers met with Law Library staff and officials from other parts of the Library of Congress, such as the Preservation and Reformatting Office, the Congressional Research Service and the Copyright Office. Stakeholders from other agencies and organizations in this group include Francis Buckley, superintendent of documents, Government Printing Office; Shelley Dowling, librarian of the court, U.S. Supreme Court; Rebecca Graham, Council on Library and Information Resources; Steve Levenson from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts; Robert Willard, National Council of Library and Information Science; and Marc Wolfe of the National Archives and Records Administration.
The meeting focused on a recently released report by the Research Libraries Group, "Digital Preservation Needs and Requirements in RLG Institutions," written by Margaret Hedstrom, in cooperation with Sheon Montgomery. Ms. Hedstrom was the featured speaker and shared her experiences in national and international attempts to solve digital preservation needs.
"Digital preservation policies and practices are not well developed in RLG member institutions," Ms. Hedstrom admitted. "Based on our study, two-thirds of the institutions lack written policies for digital preservation. One common reason that institutions appear not to develop digital preservation policies is that they have not yet assumed responsibility for preserving materials in digital form."
Ms. Hedstrom has been conducting and supervising research projects on the management and preservation of electronic records for nearly 20 years. During the last decade she has called two major conferences that established national priorities for research and development in this field. The Research Libraries Group report describes the current status of digital preservation in 30 research libraries and 24 archives, museums and special collections.
The report indicated that, by the year 2001, 98 percent expected to be preserving both acquired, or "born-digital," items as well as materials they have converted to digital form. Fewer than half of the institutions with digital holdings refresh them by copying to new media or migrating these materials to current formats. The need for digital preservation expertise is high: asked to rate staff as expert, intermediate or novice, only eight of the 54 institutions considered their staff at the expert level. The report revealed further that the participating member libraries looked to RLG to make available concrete standards, guidelines and training.
Ms. Hedstrom described the organization of the report and explained its scope and definitions: "It will be necessary to totally change our thinking. We must no longer see digital information as a continuation of the paper. We must think anew. "
In relating current strategies and best practices, complex issues were touched upon, such as appropriate standards for long-term preservation and the incentives for creators and producers to adopt such standards and who is responsible for preserving which materials.
Mr. Medina concluded the meeting by expressing his commitment to heightening the awareness of the software industry to the need to develop archival standards. He also promised to continue coordinating efforts to bring federal stakeholders and interested law librarians together in order to keep them current on the archiving of digital information in general and the long-term preservation of legal records in particular.
Ms. Bernal is special assistant to the Law Librarian.