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The Library of Congress > Digital Preservation > News Archive > July 2005 News Archive

NDIIPP Holds Three Workshops for States, Territories

The success of the Library's program to collect and preserve the at-risk digital heritage of the nation relies in large part on the partnerships it forms in leading the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program.

The governments of the 50 states, District of Columbia and U.S. territories today produce much of their information in digital form with no analog equivalent. There is a growing need and urgency to preserve this information before it deteriorates, is altered or forever lost through format or technological obsolescence, according to attendees at recent States Consultation Workshops convened by the Library of Congress. More than 150 representatives from state libraries, archives and information technology organizations were invited to one of three workshops in Washington. The purpose of the workshops was to assess states' interest and current work in digital preservation, the types of issues they face and how these commonalities of interest can be leveraged to advance the NDIIPP collaborative partnership network.

The last of three digital-preservation workshops sponsored by NDIIPP was held May 25; the previous two were on April 27 and May 11. Participants came armed with ideas on how NDIIPP and the states could work together, and they thanked the Library for convening people from various state agencies who would otherwise likely never meet.

State governments are grappling with the same issues that other producers and keepers of digital information share: How to select from and preserve the ever-mounting volume of electronic information that documents cultural, historical, demographic, financial, legal, political and other topics?

As one participant from Alabama put it, "We have to compete with other state needs" for funding digital preservation in a time when governments at all levels are being stretched by growing demands from their citizens to do more with less.

And just as the participants were looking for assistance from the Library of Congress, the Library is likewise looking for their support. "We need your help in building the national digital preservation partnerships," said Molly Johnson, director of digital resources, management and planning for the Office of Strategic Initiatives, which is the service unit that is leading NDIIPP for the Library. Johnson explained that "we hope to learn from each other as we work together to preserve the nation's digital heritage."

William LeFurgy, an OSI program manager who organized and led the workshops, noted that when NDIIPP was instituted in 2000, "Congress wanted the Library to be a catalyst for digital preservation. They directed us to catalyze the national digital preservation effort across the nation."

In September 2004, NDIIPP established its first formal partnerships with eight consortia comprising 36 institutions. These institutions agreed to collect and preserve specific types of important at-risk digital information for which no analog equivalent exists – social science datasets, public television programming, political Web sites, geospatial data, the history of the so-called "dot com era" of the 1990s.

"The states are important potential partners," said LeFurgy during his introductory presentation. "We need your recommendations to help guide how we can catalyze collaborative state partnerships, including how we target investments to preserve at-risk information. This is a unique forum for different communities from all states to discuss digital preservation needs."

The challenges in preserving digital materials are affecting all governments no matter their size and no matter their level – federal, state or local. According to a 2003 American Association of Law Libraries study, "State-by-State Report on Permanent Public Access to Electronic Government Information," "The need to provide permanent public access to and preserve electronic government information is challenging and as yet unmet in any comprehensive manner at any level of government. … [This] has resulted in the loss of huge amounts of electronic information during the past decade."

The California Digital Library, an NDIIPP formal partner, noted in its 2003 report, "Web-Based Government Information: Evaluating Solutions for Capture, Curation and Preservation," that "libraries, museums and other memory organizations working with digital content are facing some common problems … that strain their local resources."

The goal of the NDIIPP states initiative is to explore how NDIIPP could catalyze cross-jurisdiction collaborations that are synergistic as well as symbiotic. A key part of this exploration involves understanding how intrastate and interstate networks can share and leverage best practices and resources.

In the morning session, staff from the Center for Technology in Government, which is assisting the Library on this initiative, led a round-robin in which representatives from the jurisdictions briefly discussed their top concern, a key interest they wished to discuss with other states and a success story.

A lack of funding for digital preservation was, not surprisingly, a common worry. A Californian described her state's budget as being "in crisis," and she hoped that she would learn "how to build political capital" for digital preservation.

One of New Jersey's successes was its ability to generate $27 million for digital preservation through a property-document tax surcharge. Oregon said it had managed to receive the strong backing of the governor and legislature to build a digital repository. Illinois said that although "digital preservation has not become part of the bureaucracy yet, we have gotten into the state budget as a line item."

Another major concern for many were the "islands" of digital information that are being created by agencies such as courts and penal systems. These agencies often pay little heed to the need to preserve their records for the long term.

Although a representative from the U.S. Virgin Islands bemoaned the fact that "we are behind the power curve, in an embryonic stage," he was nonetheless encouraged by the fact that "we can build it [a digital repository] right the first time."

During the afternoon, participants broke into groups of four or five states. They were asked to discuss three questions:

  • What kinds of state government digital information are at-risk and what are the priorities for preservation?
  • What are the barriers to creating new networks and enhancing existing ones for digital preservation?
  • What roles and responsibilities should the states and the Library of Congress fill?

The most-mentioned at-risk digital information included databases, Web sites, e-mails of lasting value and "records islands." Many states told of an interest in establishing Web sites that offer cultural and historical information already in digital form but not easily accessible.

Large numbers of participants expressed frustration within their state bureaucracies in making others aware of the importance of preserving the electronic information they oversee. "We need a champion," said one person, "who will help us educate others. Most people don't understand why we need this."

Several attendees said that in some ways they feared their own success in spreading the word on the urgency to save at-risk information. "We don't want this to become an unfunded mandate," said one.

The role for the Library? "We want the Library to continue to facilitate our partnerships with other states so that we can learn from each other and not reinvent the wheel." "I hope you will reconvene these groups. No one has put this group together before."

Clearly, the states want a continuing relationship with the Library, but they do not want the Library to dictate solutions, priorities or plans of action, a wish that reinforces the role of NDIIPP, which is to lead a national program for digital preservation through the formation of a digital preservation network of partner institutions and organizations. The states also emphasized the importance of working with other relevant federal entities with an interest in digital preservation.

A sentiment that was repeatedly expressed: "We want to keep the conversation going."

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