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Digital Preservation

The Library of Congress > Digital Preservation > News Archive > High School Students Explore Digital Preservation at Library

July 15, 2009 -- What does "digital preservation" mean? It’s not a simple question, as 22 Arlington, Va, high school students discovered during a visit to the Library of Congress.

Arlington high school students

Arlington high school students discuss what digital items should be preserved. Credit: Barry Wheeler

The visit was part of a week-long Arlington Public Schools Summer Seminar on "How Has Technology Influenced the Human Condition?" Library of Congress staff from the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program in close collaboration with staff from the Educational Outreach Division spoke to the students about why digital preservation is imporant to institutions like the Library.

NDIIPP has long been interested in gauging digital preservation awareness in the wider community, and the visit was an opportunity to both engage with the next generation of digital technology users while also educating them on digital preservation issues.

The students had a high level of knowledge regarding technology in general, but the discussion brought out examples of how digital archiving concepts have not fully penetrated the high school student consciousness.

The students have received conflicting messages from parents and teachers regarding the longevity of items posted on the Internet. To discourage the students from posting information that might be embarrassing in the future, they have been told that internet content will exist "forever."

The students have taken this warning literally. While potentially true and technologically possible (and seemingly always true for the especially embarrassing items), in actuality digital content is very fragile, with no guarantee of longevity without responsible care.

Image of Conference Participants

Students are just beginning to understand the challenges of preserving digital information. Credit: Barry Wheeler

After a robust roundtable discussion on digital preservation issues, Educational Outreach staff talked about the Library’s K-12 Web Archiving Project (external link), a collaboration between the Internet Archive, the Library of Congress and the California Digital Library (external link). The program explores archiving the Web from the perspective of students in elementary, middle and high school.

Everyone agreed that the visit was useful. "I have thought about things getting lost in cyberspace," said one student. "There's a chance that most things are online, but they're hard to find because there's so much out there."

"We're very interested in young people's perspective on this issue," said Butch Lazorchak of the NDIIPP staff. "And the session offered a strong example of how the preservation community needs to work on raising awareness about how quickly digital content can disappear."