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International Initiatives in Digital Preservation: What are we Learning?

subject: Neil Beagrie
Public Law 106-554
digital resources
digital libraries
Library of Congress
digital preservation

For Immediate Release: May 10, 2003

Contact: Kathlin Smith 202-939-4754

International Initiatives in Digital Preservation: What are we Learning?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—”Preservation is a digital time bomb; failure to act may lead to total loss.” This possibility, as expressed in a new report on preservation abroad, is chillingly familiar to American library administrators. Publishers, scholars, teachers, and libraries are creating vast quantities of digitally formatted material with little notion of how it will be preserved for long-term use. What can be done?

To find out, the U.S. Congress is financing an effort called the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP). The purpose of NDIIPP, which is being led by the Library of Congress (LC), is to produce a national strategy to collect, archive, and preserve the burgeoning amounts of digital content, especially materials that are created only in digital formats, for current and future generations.

To see what we can learn from the experience of other countries, LC commissioned Neil Beagrie, program director for digital preservation in the United Kingdom’s Joint Information Systems Committee, to review major initiatives abroad. His report, National Digital Preservation Initiatives, has just been published by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and LC. The report focuses largely on efforts in Australia, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, but also looks at several multinational initiatives.

The report identifies the following “underlying trends” that complicate the preservation problem worldwide:

  • Because of the fragility of digital media, decisions concerning preservation of digital materials must be made relatively quickly—well before their historical importance has been proved.
  • Increases in both traditional and digital information are straining national institutions. Institutions themselves must now evaluate digital materials that are not vetted by publishers.
  • New areas of collecting are growing: film, television, and Web sites have become important parts of the cultural record.
  • Distribution arrangements are changing. Institutions now license access to, rather than purchase, much of their electronic material. It is not clear who has responsibility for archiving this licensed material.
  • The commercial need to protect intellectual property rights is overshadowing the need of memory institutions for permission to archive. No country surveyed had enacted comprehensive legal provisions for archiving digital publications.
  • Archiving arrangements need to be global, because international publishers deliver digital material globally.

Mr. Beagrie’s report includes several recommendations from national libraries to the NDIIPP that may be useful to research libraries. One recommendation cautions that the “ultimate preservation solution” remains elusive and, in the meantime, a combination of approaches is likely to be appropriate. More funding will be needed to tackle the preservation challenge, and it is therefore imperative to increase public awareness of the problem.

National Digital Preservation Initiatives is available on CLIR’s Web site at Print copies will be available for ordering through the Web site in the near future.

The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the management of information for research, teaching, and learning. CLIR works to expand access to information, however recorded and preserved, as a public good.

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