The media of the twentieth century deteriorate faster than the media of other centuries, and the volume of materials that require stewardship is enormous. The task of keeping scholarly materials fit for use has grown so large, complex, and expensive that it can no longer be solely the responsibility of the library or archive. Preserving this resource base while also attending to the needs of digital information requires the informed cooperation of creators and publishers of information, as well as of budget officers, legislators, and assorted commercial entities.
Library of Congress/National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program
This year, CLIR provided support for a national initiative that addresses the long-term preservation of digital content. The initiative, mandated by Congress in legislation passed in December 2000, calls for the Library of Congress to lead a nationwide effort to develop a digital preservation infrastructure that will provide persistent, rights-protected access to digital content. The Library contracted with CLIR to organize key activities in the initial planning phase of this work.
The Library has done more than simply try to understand the technical issues associated with preservation. It has focused on reaching out to and involving a broad range of institutions, stakeholder communities, and organizations that may be new to traditional libraries and archives. New players come to preservation because they create and own the rights to content that will be crucial to understanding the cultural development of the nation and the world in the decades, or even centuries, to come. Much of this content is audiovisual and inherently digital; it is therefore especially vulnerable to loss.
CLIR’s contributions have been to help identify people and institutions to include in discussions, write background essays, help bring to light important issues, and provide staff and publication services. CLIR also helped organize three sessions that brought together representatives from the broadcast, entertainment, commercial and noncommercial publishing, library, and research communities in the fall of 2001. Essays commissioned as part of that effort have been published jointly with the Library and released on both organizations’ Web sites. As experts in digital library issues, CLIR and DLF staff members have frequently been asked to review commissioned work and to write background essays.
Preserving Web-Based Scholarship
With funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, CLIR convened a group of scholars, librarians, technologists, publishers, and others to discuss the fate of scholarship created for and disseminated on the World Wide Web. An increasing number of scholars are creating sites comprising born-digital and reformatted information for a variety of purposes: teaching, research, even the creation of new primary source documentation about contemporary events. Most of these sites are developed outside the purview of a library or other institution dedicated to the stewardship of information over time, and they become obsolete before their potential value for scholarship can be assessed and action taken to preserve them. Many of these resources are created at great expense, supported or commissioned by foundations or federal agencies, yet seldom do funders demand or even expect that they be maintained for long-term accessibility.
Conference participants were asked to identify the emerging roles for traditional and new custodians of scholarship and primary source materials. A range of organizational models for preservation was examined, from JSTOR, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s D-Space, and the Internet Archive, to those of scholarly societies such as the American Geophysical Union and publishers such as Oxford University Press. The purpose of this activity was to see what functions of creation, organization, dissemination, and preservation can and should be assumed by various stakeholders in the chain of scholarly communication. In fall 2002, CLIR will publish a report that proposes some initial responses to the challenge of preserving Web-based scholarship.
The State of Preservation Programs in American College and Research Libraries
In fall 2001, CLIR initiated a study of what U.S. college and research libraries are doing to preserve their collections. Besides revealing what preservation activity is taking place at various institutions, the study aimed to identify which approaches work well and to learn how practitioners think national programs and organizations might help them improve their programs. The study was conducted in several phases and has involved the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data.
The study was done in cooperation with the Association of Research Libraries, the University Libraries Group, and the Regional Alliance for Preservation, and with representation from the Oberlin Group, land grant institutions, preservation educators, and the American Library Association. The work was carried out with support from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Results will be published in fall 2002.