Achieving the Full Potential of Cross-Community Developments in the Digital Environment

The long-term preservation of information in digital form requires not only technical solutions and new organizational strategies, but also the building of a new culture that values and supports the survival of bits over time. This requires that a diverse community of experts-computer scientists, archivists, social scientists, artists, lawyers, and politicians-collaborate to ensure the preservation of a new kind of cultural heritage, the digital document.

-Lyman and Besser (1998)

Much of this report has focused on explicating the archival perspective and demonstrating how it can contribute to the management of digital information. It has also pointed out some of the opportunities resulting from the extension of archival principles to the management of electronic records. A similar explication of the perspectives and functional requirements for digital information and information systems of other information communities, such as museum professionals, preservationists, and systems designers, is now needed. This will enable everyone engaged in the digital environment to see points of commonality and divergence and develop technological, procedural, policy, and educational approaches accordingly.

Several other activities would assist in this endeavor. First, more opportunities are needed for cross-community dialog on issues relating to the development of digital information infrastructure. Such dialog has increased in recent years, as shown by the development of the Dublin Core, the ongoing debate over intellectual property in the digital environment, and the collaborative projects mentioned above. Workshops and conferences hosted by the Council on Library and Information Resources, National Science Foundation, and Northeast Document Conservation Center, among others, have brought the different communities together to discuss key issues such as digital preservation and access. More could be done, however, to bring together rank-and-file members of the professional communities.

Second, identifying substantive documentation on the various projects under way can be difficult despite the presence of substantial project Web sites. A clearinghouse of project-related papers, especially final reports, would help, as would additional interdisciplinary publishing outlets.

Third, and perhaps most important, professional education and continuing education mechanisms need to be reevaluated. A new kind of professional is needed, one whose primary domain is the information metacommunity and who can function effectively in the dynamic interdisciplinary information environment. This might involve

  • changing the core curricula in library and information science programs to include additional professional perspectives,
  • developing more intensive education in archival science and museum administration under a more interdisciplinary rubric such as information studies, and
  • developing new interdisciplinary or interprofessional programs.

Similarly, a pressing need exists to develop effective mechanisms for keeping practicing professionals abreast of techniques and issues in the digital environment. The information professions lack a coherent continuing education infrastructure to systematically address this need.


The archival community has come a long way in the past 200 years. Challenged by increasingly rapid changes in record-keeping and reproduction technologies as well as by changes in bureaucratic structures and collaborative processes, the archival paradigm has evolved into a sophisticated and confident articulation of an evidence-based approach to information management. The archival community has made the following important contributions individually and collaboratively:

  • articulating functional requirements for information systems and records creation processes to ensure the reliability and authenticity of records and the preservation of their evidential value,
  • providing testbeds for implementing and evaluating preservation techniques and technologies,
  • exploiting the roles of context and hierarchy in information retrieval, and
  • developing interoperable metadata.

Such contributions demonstrate the relevance and utility of the archival perspective in the digital environment and argue for consideration of its principles and practices in the development of a new paradigm for the emerging metacommunity of information professionals.