Introduction to the 2016-2017 revision
Throughout its history, the Library of Congress has been committed to the goal best described in its mission statement to provide “the American people with a rich, diverse, and enduring source of knowledge that can be relied upon to inform, inspire, and engage them, and support their intellectual and creative endeavors”. At its core, this source of knowledge is best expressed in the Library’s unparalleled collection of creative works. The quality of the collection reflects the Library's care in selecting materials and the effort it invests in preserving them and making them accessible to the American people for the long term.
To build such a substantial and wide-ranging collection and to ensure that it will be available for successive generations, the Library relies upon many things. In order to maximize the scope and scale of the content in the collection, the Library calls upon the wealth of expertise in languages, subject matter and trends in publishing and content creation provided by the specialists who identify and acquire material for the Library’s collection. But knowledge of the technical characteristics of the production of creative works is required as well. In the past, the lasting power of the collections depended exclusively upon the endurance of such materials as the paper, ink, and binding of a book; the acetate or paper coated with gelatin in a photograph; or the shellac, vinyl, and coated polyester that comprise a sound recording. Although these materials remain in use today, creators and publishers have also begun to employ a wide array of intangible digital formats, as well as continuing to change and adapt the physical formats in which they work. The Library needs to be able to identify the formats which are suitable for large-scale acquisition and preservation for long-term access if it is to continue to build its collection and ensure that it lasts into the future.
The Library is also well aware that it shares with many other institutions, organizations and corporations the common goal of the creation, dissemination and preservation of knowledge, which benefits the nation socially, economically and politically. And the Library knows that this common goal is partially expressed in the work of identifying the formats of creation best suited to preservation and long-term access which other institutions are also both supporting and carrying out. In creating a statement which lays out the formats, both analog and digital, which will best meet the needs of all concerned, maximizing the chances for survival and continued accessibility of this creative content well into the future, the Library seeks to offer the benefit of its knowledge and expertise as well as its rather unique perspective in pursuit of this common goal. And by sharing this with others striving to this common goal, it seeks to receive feedback from them, bringing their own knowledge, expertise and perspective to the benefit of this effort.
In 2014 the Library developed the Recommended Format Specifications (in 2015 renamed the Recommended Formats Statement), which encompass the formats which it has decided to recommend, both internally to its own professionals and externally to creators, vendors and archivists, as the preferred ones to use to ensure the preservation and long-term access of the creative output of the nation and the world. This was the result of a three-year-long process which called upon expert knowledge of the creative and publishing landscape and marketplace. The Library was able to identify six broad categories of creative output: Textual Works and Musical Compositions; Still Image Works; Audio Works; Moving Image Works; Software and Electronic Gaming and Learning; and Datasets/Databases. And with this revision, the Library has expanded the scope of the Statement to include a seventh, Websites, the inclusion of which does much to expand the comprehensiveness of the Statement. Within each of these broad categories, there are further subdivisions, down to specific recommendations on various aspects of print books, digital photographs, motion picture films or electronic datasets, for example. With this framework, the Library intends to define a sufficient space within which creative works should have the flexibility to grow and develop, and also help ensure that these creative works be accessible and authentic into the future.
Given the dynamic nature of the creative world, the Library does not intend this framework to stand rigid. Every year there is an annual review of the Statement, in which the Library solicits feedback, both internally and externally and then sets aside a three-month period within which its teams of experts make whatever revisions they deem necessary to ensure that the Statement remains engaged with the world around it and as accurate as we can make it. This does not tend to result in root-and-branch changes as by engaging with the Statement on an annual basis, the revisions are smaller and more manageable as less time has elapsed for the Statement to slip out of sync with developments in the creative world.
The Recommended Formats Statement is not intended to serve as an answer to all the questions raised in preserving and providing long-term access to creative content. It does not provide instructions for receiving material into repositories, managing that content or undertaking the many ongoing tasks which will be necessary to maintain this content so that it may be used well into the future. Tackling each of those aspects is a project in and of itself as each form of content has a unique set of facets and nuances. The Statement provides guidance on identifying sets of formats which are not drawn so narrowly as to discourage creators from working within them, but will instead encourage creators to use them to produce works in formats which will make preserving them and making them accessible simpler. The Library hopes that the Statement will help make it realistic to build, grow and save creative output for our individual and collective benefit for generations to come.
At a time of such great growth in the production of creative output, not only are the frontiers expanding, but new ones seem to crop up faster than we can grasp them, there is a definite need for some expert guidance, so that this amazing creative content is not lost to us. The Library of Congress appreciates that it is uniquely positioned to help provide that guidance and, in fact, that its position has given it a responsibility to take a lead in this effort. The Library is the nation’s premier institution entrusted with creating and managing a rich, diverse, and enduring source of knowledge which will support the intellectual and creative endeavors of the American people. In producing and publishing the Recommended Formats Statement, it seeks to meet that charge, and to provide the benefit of its expertise for creators, vendors, and archivists, so that they might succeed in their goals to share and disseminate their creative output and benefit the nation generally.