CLIRinghouse Number 3

Quick insight into information-investment issues for presidents, CAOs, and other
campus leaders from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)

Number 3, November 2001

The Issue for Presidents and CAOs:

Preserving Information Assets: Whose Responsibility Is It?

Academic administrators need to know about an effort to develop a “national digital preservation strategy” because many of their institutions will benefit from and take part in it. The U.S. Congress has appropriated $100 million for the effort, which the Library of Congress is leading.

The initiative arises because the advantages of digital technology for making information more accessible are so clear. Higher education institutions of all sizes are using and expanding a multitude of online resources-administrative databanks, institutional records, research databases, e-publications, and library collections. These institutions must now determine which of these burgeoning e-resources need long-term preservation and how they should be preserved. Because digital information so easily crosses institutional walls, questions are also arising about who should preserve it and who should pay for it.

These issues in the Library of Congress project are well known to the academic library community. In funding the project, the U.S. Congress recognized that an archiving network of closely collaborating content creators, content distributors, and academic libraries will be necessary to meet preservation challenges. Exactly what are these challenges?

The Challenges:

What Is Technically, Legally, and
Financially Feasible?

Some participants in the Library of Congress project argue for saving everythingpaper-based and digital. But, were that possible, it might be neither necessary nor desirable. Saving even part of what seems worthwhile for the long run requires meeting technological, financial, and proprietary challenges.

  • Technological challenges: Information on computer tapes and disks is less durable than information on paper. But even if digital media were long-lasting, rapid changes in computer systems and programs would eventually render older digital material unreadable. Institutions now “migrate” information to new platforms to keep it usable while they experiment with other strategies for preservation.
  • Financial challenges: Academic libraries have developed plans for preserving the most important segments of their print collections, including microfilming “brittle books.” Much of this work has been financed by the National Endowment for the Humanities and private foundations. Faced with demands for financing digital developments to support teaching and research, universities have been hard pressed to allocate funds for preservation of print materials. Now universities and their libraries must also consider the financial needs of digital preservation. In effect, a campus library’s budget must now support two libraries, one traditional and one digital.
  • Proprietary challenges: The campus library does not own all the digital resources it provides to students and scholars. In many cases, libraries negotiate licensing agreements to provide access. But the publishers and distributors of licensed material may not commit in their business plans to its long-term preservation. That is why several research libraries, in a program funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, are experimenting with technologies and governance models for preserving the growing number of electronic journals. Academic libraries will develop individual approaches to meeting their preservation needs.


Looking Ahead for
Universities Specifically

What responsibility do institutions of higher education, individually and collectively, have for capturing and preserving today’s digital resources for the future? In addition to work being done in the Library of Congress project, four academic library organizations are jointly surveying academic library programs that preserve resources of all kinds, traditional and digital. The study will provide a factual basis for identifying current and future needs for preservation in libraries in higher education.

As the academic library study and the Library of Congress project begin to produce results, decisions will be needed about the role of each college and university in preserving digital resources of its own, in sharing preservation responsibility with others, and in developing appropriate financial and legal arrangements. It is not too soon for campus administrators to join their librarians in thinking about these possibilities. Future issues of CLIRinghouse will report on additional preservation developments of concern to administrators.

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