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January 2005 Partners' Kickoff Meeting

The spirit of cooperation that is key to the success of the Library’s efforts to lead a national program to collect and preserve digital materials was clearly evident when the question most asked of the Library during a recent meeting was, "How can we work together?"

The meeting was held Jan. 12 and 13, 2005 at the Library. This was the first opportunity for the partners in the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) to meet each other and discuss how they will achieve the objectives of their own projects as well as those of the overall national program. Each of the eight partners is working with other partner institutions on their projects.

The partners, whose representatives traveled from as near as Maryland and as far as California, were recipients of awards, announced Sept. 30, making them the first formal NDIIPP "digital preservation partners" with the common goal of building a national digital-preservation infrastructure. The partners will collect and preserve significant information that is "born digital" (created in digital form) and at risk of loss. They also will form an enduring collaborative network for sharing "best practices" and addressing common issues.

Because no single institution – not even the Library of Congress – can maintain all the digital information that will be essential to future researchers and lifelong learners, each institution has agreed to collect and preserve a specific type of material: political Web sites, public television programs, geospatial data, culture and history, social science data, even materials relating to the birth of the very medium NDIIPP is working to preserve.

Laura E. Campbell, associate librarian for Strategic Initiatives, who is leading NDIIPP for the Library of Congress, welcomed participants to the Digital Preservation Partners "kick-off meeting," thanking them for their commitment to digital preservation – and for agreeing to be the pioneers in this pioneering program. Campbell also thanked Mary Rasenberger, policy adviser for special projects in the U.S. Copyright Office, who is overseeing the NDIIPP partnership agreements, and Ariel De, who helped plan the two-day meeting.

Campbell soon learned that despite the diversity of the institutions and their projects, all attendees had come prepared to discuss similar issues. Rasenberger requested attendees to ask "burning questions." Many of them focused on the following: "What are the criteria for success?" "What are the common sets of challenges for all the groups?" "How do we allow access to these materials while observing copyright law?"

Marybeth Peters, Register of Copyrights, told partners that "the Copyright Office is facing many of the same issues you do. Historically, we have acquired materials for the Library of Congress as part of the mandatory deposit requirement. But how do we acquire and preserve digital materials?"

Many members of the audience were nodding in agreement when Peters said, "Copyright may be perceived as a barrier" to achieving the goals of preservation and access. But she also reminded them that "copyright encourages creativity" because it "creates exclusive rights. The debate has always been the same: to balance what is needed to encourage creativity with what is needed in the public interest."

While noting that many issues relating to copyright law have remained constant, Peters did acknowledge that "the players are different. Everybody is creating and distributing works" in digital formats. Peters was optimistic that "we can come up with solutions that will respect the rights of creators while allowing reasonable public access."

Deanna Marcum, associate librarian for Library Services, followed Peters with her own "burning question."

"When people ask 50 years from now, ‘Why didn’t you do enough to preserve these materials,’ What will we say?" According to Marcum, Library Services is addressing such as issues as the types of digital materials that need to be collected and how best to do so given the costs of digital preservation. "What do we need to do as national and international stewards of the world’s digital creativity?"

Following Marcum, the eight partners’ presentations of their own projects completed the day’s working session. Highlights of the projects included:

  • The California Digital Library is developing Web archiving tools that will be used by libraries to capture and preserve Web-based government and political information, such as the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election.
  • The Educational Broadcasting Corporation is establishing the first procedures and national standards needed to preserve public television programs produced in digital formats. Such popular and respected series as "American Masters," "NOVA" and "Frontline" are to be preserved as well as their associated Web sites.
  • Emory University and its partners are building the MetaArchive of Southern Digital Culture. The content includes collections and exhibitions relating to the Civil War, civil rights, slave narratives, Southern music, handicrafts and church history.
  • Because not all digital materials can or should be preserved, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is developing criteria for determining what is worthy of digital preservation.
  • The University of Maryland’s "Birth of the Dot-Com Era" project is preserving at-risk digital materials from the American business and legal culture during the early years of the commercialization of the Internet.
  • The University of Michigan Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research is identifying, acquiring and preserving data used in the study of the social sciences, such as opinion polls, voting records and large-scale surveys on family growth and income.
  • The University of California at Santa Barbara is leading the formation of a National Geospatial Federated Digital Repository to design an infrastructure and collect materials across the spectrum of geographic formats.
  • The final presenters were from North Carolina State University. This project is also collecting and preserving geospatial data resources, including digitized maps from state and local government agencies in North Carolina.

That evening, before dinner, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington greeted participants in the Jefferson Building’s ornately elegant Members’ Room. "You are the key to the success of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program," he said. "As the first formal partners in this groundbreaking program, your projects will be the foundation upon which a digital preservation network is built.

"Institutions such as yours have always recognized the need to record and make available the record of human achievement," he continued. "But at no time in history have the challenges been greater than in the digital age, where information can be so easily altered – even lost – never to be recovered."

The Librarian then noted that he hoped the inspirational nature of the richly decorated room would inspire the participants in their "pioneering" work. The room’s ceiling panels represent civilization through the spectrum of light, and the large mosaic panels above the fireplaces at each end of the massive room are dedicated to law and history.

The following day was devoted to breakout sessions focusing on four "affinity" groups that will make it easier for the partners to work together to identify and address major cross-cutting issues. These groups will develop solutions that will benefit all the NDIIPP partners as well as potentially all communities with an interest in digital preservation.

Groups were formed to discuss intellectual property rights, collection and selection of materials, technical infrastructure and the economics of sustaining a digital preservation program over the long term. Each group identified its priorities for action over the next six months. Library staff are facilitating the work, and each group will present its initial results during the next partnership meeting in July.

As Dr. Billington reminded the NDIIPP partners the night before, "With new technologies comes a surfeit of information that is transitory and fragile and whose long-term value may be difficult to assess. There has never been more information available and it has never been so inherently difficult to preserve for posterity.

"We welcome and applaud pioneers in the field such as you, who are willing to take the hard road and attempt to address the difficult tasks associated with the long-term preservation of our digital heritage."

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