July 26, 2000 "LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress" Issued by the National Research Council

Report Offers Recommendations for Library's Future Technology Strategies

Contact: Jill D. Brett (202) 707-2905

The Library of Congress -- and libraries everywhere -- have been "transformed by the explosion in the production and dissemination of information in digital form," says a report released today by the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences.

Commissioned by the Librarian of Congress in 1998, the on-site study of the Library's technology practices and initiatives was conducted by a committee of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the NRC.

According to the report, "The committee is emphatic in its belief that the Library continues to play a vital role in documenting and preserving the history of American creativity and in building a collection with truly worldwide scope. But it cannot go on as before." With that in mind, the report makes several recommendations, including:

  • The Library's technology infrastructure must be upgraded "to support such change."
  • The Library should take the lead in the preservation and archiving of digital materials, but it must continue to work with other institutions in determining collection policies for digital information and accelerate its efforts to meet the growing demand.
  • Because the Library is the home of the U.S. Copyright Office, it should develop a process whereby so-called "born digital" materials are registered for copyright and are added to the collections as easily as are physical materials. According to the report, the current copyright processes "remain focused on physical artifacts."
  • Because "no one institution, even the Library of Congress, can hope to collect all or even a majority of all digital content," the Library should enter into cooperative agreements with other repositories to determine which digital resources it will collect and preserve and which resources are best collected by others.
  • Management must "make paradigmatic change happen in the organization" in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
More information on the study can be found at the National Academy Web site at www.nationalacademies.org External. The full text of the report may be seen at http://www.nap.edu/books/0309071445/html External.

A statement by the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington follows.

Statement of Dr. James H. Billington
On LC21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress
A Report from the National Academy of Sciences

July 26, 2000

Since the Library of Congress commissioned the National Academy to undertake this study in 1998, our staff has worked hard to ensure that this distinguished panel had the fullest possible information about the Library's current capabilities and future technology needs. We commend Jim O'Donnell and other members of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academies and Alan Inouye, the Study Director, on their thoroughness in trying to fathom this complex institution and in making suggestions based on their professional assessment of where the new technologies are leading us.

My staff and I will review the final report, which we have just received, and during the next few months we will be discussing the recommendations made there with all of the many constituencies we serve.

Since all libraries, large and small, face many of the obstacles and opportunities identified in the report, we hope this study will help libraries in developing their electronic resources. The Library of Congress is the world's largest library and has a special mandate to serve the Congress. The Library also has specific responsibilities to serve the Federal government, the scholarly and library communities, the copyright community, the blind and physically handicapped and the general public. Thus, the scale of our challenges is particularly daunting.

For our digital future we intend to build on the solid foundation of our National Digital Library, which we launched in 1994 -- integrating fully the most current digital technology into our core functions and expanding electronic access to the collections and services of this extraordinary national library. The strategy driving this goal envisions a system-wide approach for collecting, archiving, preserving and disseminating online materials.

We asked the National Research Council to do an objective outside study that would honestly assess our strengths and weaknesses in the context of changes in technology in order to plan our digital future. They have done a thorough and thoughtful job, and have given us ambitious recommendations that will serve as a useful guide as we develop further our electronic services to the Congress and the nation.

Their report points up some areas that need immediate strengthening, such as more flexible hiring and compensation procedures, a more robust technological backbone and more partnerships with private enterprise and our information counterparts both here and abroad.

We are energized by their observations about how we can best mobilize our resources for the future. As the report points out, the Library has built a solid foundation in the free availability of online primary source historical materials and reference resources. The committee's sense of urgency to accelerate and expand electronic initiatives, such as these, is justified, in view of the pace of today's technological advances.

In view of the Library's dependence on its annual appropriation cycle, quick action on some of these initiatives may not be possible. Funding these recommendations will require bold new partnerships with the private sector and other research institutions as well as continued Congressional support.

The Library of Congress staff and I are committed to serving the Congress and the nation more effectively in the new electronic age. The Library has come a long way in the last decade by reaching out more broadly; as a result, we have touched more lives than ever before.

We are determined to make our cataloging, access and preservation services the finest in the digital age, so that the needs of the Congress and its constituents in this century can be fully met. As I said in my inaugural address as Librarian of Congress in 1987, "This library serves both the working government of a free people and the scholarly frontiers of all people. It will not serve either well if it simply spreads information to other places without generating knowledge and distilling wisdom...."

We look forward to continuing to work with Congress, the private sector, the information community, and all our many constituencies to expand our current efforts to build the National Online Library for 21st century America and the world.


PR 00-100
ISSN 0731-3527