Close this search box.
Close this search box.

CPA Newsletter #101, Jul-Aug 1997

Commission on Preservation and Access

The Commission on Preservation and Access


July-August 1997

Number 101

New Commission Report

SGML as a Framework for Digital Preservation and Access

Anew report from the Commission on Preservation and Access explores the suitability of Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) for developing and providing access to digital libraries, with special emphasis on preservation issues.

SGML as a Framework for Digital Preservation and Access, by James Coleman and Don Willis, offers a staged technical tutorial on the features and uses of SGML. The 47-page report, published in July 1997, is the first to be issued by the Commission in its new capacity as a program of the Council on Library and Information Resources.

SGML is an international standard (ISO 8879) designed to promote text interchange. It is used to define markup languages, which can then encode the logical structure and content of any so-defined document.

The connection between SGML and the traditional concerns of preservation and access may not be immediately apparent, the authors note, but the use of descriptive markup tools such as SGML is crucial to the quality and long-term accessibility of digitized materials.

According to Mary Fletcher Laplante, former Executive Director of SGML Open, the international consortium of vendors and users in the SGML community:

In the eleven years since its adoption as an international standard, SGML has moved far beyond traditional publishing applications. In their report, Coleman and Willis propose another innovative use of formalized structured markup that illustrates the value of SGML as an information management tool. Their paper makes a solid and objective case for applying SGML to the tasks of building, managing, and providing access to digital libraries.

After discussing preconditions for digital preservation and access and describing digital formats (text, image, compound document, and presentation), the report covers:

  • SGML and related standards, including HTML and XML;
  • SGML Document Type Definitions (DTDs), including the Text Encoding Initiative, Encoded Archival Description, and Consortium for the Computer Interchange of Museum Information;
  • Extending the Use of SGML and its DTDs, including discussions of a USMARC DTD, the Dublin Core, the Warwick Framework.

The authors then describe a tiered metadata model that could incorporate SGML along with other standards to facilitate the discovery and retrieval of digital documents. The authors conclude that SGML meets current preservation and access requirements for digital libraries and suggest that the SGML framework be seriously considered when planning digital library projects.

Endnotes and a bibliography provide further resources. Appendices include a discussion of practical concerns related to the uses of SGML in conversion and authoring projects, descriptions of markup formats, descriptions and tables of SGML tools (data conversion, database and document management, browsers, publishing, and editing), and a vendor’s look at cost metrics.

This report is one in a series intended to contribute to a collective understanding of how preservation and access needs can be addressed within an evolving technological environment.

SGML as a Framework for Digital Preservation and Access is available for $20.00 from the Commission on Preservation and Access, 1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 740, Washington, DC 20036-2117. Orders must be prepaid, with checks in U.S. funds made payable to “The Commission on Preservation and Access.”


About the authors:

James Coleman is the Head of Academic Computing for the Humanities at Stanford University and runs an SGML-based electronic text center there. He has been involved in developing information retrieval and access systems for research and scholarly use at Stanford University and the Research Libraries Group, Inc. for more than 10 years.

Don Willis is a senior partner and one of the founders of Connectex. He has developed information systems for The Library of Congress, Bell & Howell, and Sony. Willis, formerly Vice President, Electronic Product Development, University Microfilm International, is the author of the CPA report A Hybrid Systems Approach toPreservation of Printed Materials  (November 1992), one of a series of technical reports from the Commission’s Technology Assessment Advisory Committee.

The University of Maryland is New Commission Sponsor

The University of Maryland at College Park has become a sponsor of the Commission on Preservation and Access. The University Libraries at Maryland join over 100 other college and university libraries and academic institutions that provide ongoing support for Commssion activities and projects. Information on becoming a sponsor is available from the Commission.

Into the Future Film/Video Now Available


nto the Future, On the Preservation of Knowledge in the Electronic Age, a film by Terry Sanders, is now available in one-hour and half-hour VHS versions from the American Film Foundation. Into the Future is about the hidden crisis of the digital information age. A sequel to the award-winning Slow Fires: On the Preservation of the Human Record, the film was produced in association with the Commission on Preservation and Access and the American Council of Learned Societies.

Narrated by Robert MacNeil, the new film asks whether digitally stored information and knowledge will survive into the future.

Will our descendants twenty, fifty, one hundred years from now have access to the electronically recorded history of our time?

  • Can we even now read magnetic tapes from early Voyager probes into outer space?
  • What about reel-to-reel, CD-ROMs, and Windows 2.2.?

Into the Future features such prominent figures of the information age as Peter Norton and Tim Berners-Lee. Funding was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Xerox Corporation. The film is copyrighted by the Commission on Preservation and Access, and a production of the American Film Foundation and Sanders & Mock Productions.

Ordering Information: The film may be ordered in one-hour and half-hour versions by sending a check or purchase order for the total amount to:

American Film Foundation
PO Box 2000
Santa Monica, CA 90406

For further information, contact the American Film Foundation:
Phone (213)459-2116; Fax (213)394-1260.


One-Hour VHS–$59.50 plus shipping and handling
Half-Hour VHS–$39.50 plus shipping and handling

What's News on the Web
Electronic Records Research and Development, Final Report of the 1996 Conference held at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, June 28-29, 1996, is available online at

Seventy-two people met to assess research on electronic-records issues and its implications for the development of archival and records-management programs, graduate and continuing education in the information professions, and future research. Participants included archivists, records managers, educators, information-management specialists, and representatives of funding agencies. Among the findings: electronic-records management and preservation issues are handled most effectively if they are considered while planning for and designing new systems and applications.

Regional Alliance for Preservation Announces New Participant, Web Site


he Regional Alliance for Preservation, a one-year demonstration project to heighten awareness of preservation field services, has gained a new participant–The Upper Midwest Conservation Association (UMCA), Minneapolis, MN. UMCA joins four other field services funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities: the AMIGOS Preservation Service, Dallas, TX; the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, Philadelphia, PA; the Northeast Document Conservation Center, Andover MA; and the Southeastern Library Network Preservation Services, Atlanta, GA.

With Commission support, the Alliance is testing two methods for sharing training materials during the project–a jointly-written and distributed printed newsbrief and a shared Web site. The Commission sees this as a particularly opportune time to assist such outreach activities, as a way to expand efforts to preserve the nation’s cultural heritage.

RAPThe Alliance also announces its Web site URL:

Visitors to the new site will find descriptions of the field services, as well as lists of training events and materials. The site, which is updated frequently, provides Web and e-mail links to each of the Alliance participants and includes links to other information sources as well.

New York State Films One-Millionth Page


he New York State Newspaper Project in the New York State Library, State Education Department, has celebrated the microfilming of its one millionth page. It began preservation filming of newspapers in 1991.

To date, the New York State Newspaper Project has inventoried 14,087 newspaper titles in 1,556 collections, and microfilmed over one million pages from 358 titles. It is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Project is a member of the U.S. Newspaper Program, a national effort sponsored jointly by NEH and the Library of Congress since 1983.

— Adapted from an announcement from the New York State Library

NEH Funds Chinese Microfilm Cataloging


cholars worldwide will have new access to a collection of Chinese-language books published during the 1930s and 1940s and now available on microfilm, thanks to a recent grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The collection, consisting of about 4,200 monograph titles printed in China just prior to and during the Sino-Japanese War, covers selected titles in economics, literature, history, military history, philosophy, and law.

The grant supports the cataloging of the microfilm, which was produced in Shanghai at Fudan University under a joint project with the American Council of Learned Societies, administered by the Commission on Preservation and Access. Cataloged records will be available on the major online utilities beginning this fall.

Fudan has provided the U.S. a duplicating master and service copy of each film produced. The service copy will be available for loan by the Center for Research Libraries in Chicago, which is also keeping the duplicating master in archival storage.

Previous grants from NEH and the Henry Luce Foundation supported the actual filming, which began at Fudan in 1995 under the direction of Diane Perushek, assistant university librarian for collection management at Northwestern University.

For more information on the project, contact Kathlin Smith at the Commission, 202-939-3372, e-mail:

NHA Reports on Endowment Funding


he National Humanities Alliance (NHA) is tracking progress of Congressional funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities, whose Division of Preservation and Access provides funds for preservation microfilming and for research and development projects in the use of digital technologies. On July 16, 1997, NHA gave the following update on fiscal year 1998 appropriations:

CHABOT AMENDMENT VOTE – Last night, the amendment to eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities offered by Steve Chabot (R-OH), was vigorously rejected by the House of Representatives in a 96 yea, 328 nay vote.

FY-98 INTERIOR APPROPRIATION (H.R. 2107) PASSES – Although earlier in the day, there were indications that vote counts on the Interior bill were so close that the leadership might delay the vote, not long after the Chabot vote the entire interior bill was approved 238 yea to 192 nay. This means that the House will go into conference with the Senate on the FY-98 appropriation with no funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and level funding ($110 million) for NEH.

Earlier a letter to committee members from the administration was particularly interesting in the emphasis placed on the Endowments, which are the first agencies discussed. The letter states:

The Administration urges the Committee to approve funding for the NEA at the level proposed in the President’s budget and to remain committed to the continuation of the agency.

In addition, we are concerned about the funding level proposed for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) which is $26 million below the President’s request.

The Council on Library and Information Resources is a member of NHA.

The Commission on Preservation and Access
A program of the Council on Library and Information Resources
1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 740
Washington,DC 20036-2217
(202) 939-3400
FAX: (202) 939-3407Commission WWW Site: Commission on Preservation and Access was established in 1986 to foster and support collaboration among libraries and allied organizations in order to ensure the preservation of the published and documentary record in all formats and to provide enhanced access to scholarly information. The newsletter reports on cooperative national and international activities and is directed to university administrators, scholars, and faculty; preservation specialists and managers; and members of consortia, governmental bodies, and other groups sharing in the Commission’s goals. The newsletter is not copyrighted. Its duplication is encouraged.

Deanna B. Marcum – President

James M. Morris – Vice President

Publications Order Fulfillment: Alex Mathews,

Return to CLIR Home Page >>

Did you enjoy this post? Please Share!


Related Posts

CPA Newsletter #104, Nov/Dec 1997

The Commission on Preservation and Access Newsletter November/December 1997 Number 104 CLIR to Survey Models of Digital Archiving ow can we ensure that digital documents

CPA Newsletter #103, Oct 1997

The Commission on Preservation and Access Newsletter October 1997 Number 103 Donald Waters to Head Digital Library Federation onald Waters has joined the staff of the

CPA Newsletter #102, Sep 1997

The Commission on Preservation and Access Newsletter September 1997 Number 102 Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Formed by Merger he Council on Library

Skip to content