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Report Examines Authenticity in the Digital Environment

CLIR Press Release


For Immediate Release May 25, 2000

Contact: Abby Smith 202-939-4758

Report Examines Authenticity in the Digital Environment

Washington, D.C.—The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) has published Authenticity in a Digital Environment, in which five experts from different domains of the information resources community address the question: What is an authentic digital object? The question has gained urgency and importance as information—from personal correspondence to medical and financial records—is increasingly created, stored, and transmitted electronically.

For humanists and scientists, the question must be resolved before they can feel confident in creating and relying upon digital information. For custodians of information resources, the answer has profound implications for the task of cataloging and describing an item, and for setting the parameters of what is preserved and by what technique or series of techniques.

“Authenticity” in recorded information connotes precise, yet disparate, things in different contexts. It can mean being original but also being faithful to an original; it can mean uncorrupted but also of clear and known provenance, “corrupt” or not. The word has specific meaning to an archivist and equally specific but different meaning to a rare book librarian, just as there are different criteria for assessing authenticity for published and unpublished materials. Behind any definition of authenticity lie assumptions about the meaning and significance of content, fixity, consistency of reference, provenance, and content. In the digital environment, we have yet to create a common understanding about the multiple meanings and significance of authenticity.

The report is based on a workshop organized by CLIR in January 2000. Contributors include Charles Cullen, president and librarian of the Newberry Library; Peter Hirtle, co-director of the Cornell Institute for Digital Collections; David Levy, consultant and former researcher at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center; Clifford Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information; and Jeff Rothenberg, senior computer scientist at The Rand Corporation. A concluding essay by CLIR Program Director Abby Smith highlights the responses of workshop participants to the issues raised by the authors and identifies the key themes that emerged.

Authenticity in a Digital Environment is available from the Council on Library and Information Resources for $20 prepaid, including postage and handling. Checks should be made payable to CLIR and mailed to CLIR Publication Orders, 1755 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C., 20036-2124. Credit card orders may be placed by calling CLIR at 202-939-4750, sending a fax to 202-939-4765, or sending e-mail to The full text of the document is also available on CLIR’s Web site,

The Council on Library and Information Resources works in partnership with libraries, archives, and other information providers to advocate collaborative approaches to preserving the nation’s intellectual heritage and strengthening the many components of its information system. It works to support institutions as they integrate audiovisual and digital resources and services into their well-established, print-based environments.

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