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The Library of Congress > Digital Preservation > News Archive > Library Considers Data Appraisal, Selection

December 22, 2010 -- Information that tells a story about how places change over time is essential.   Researchers and policy makers, for example, need place-based information to support economic development, environmental monitoring, disaster response and other critical work.

Detail of the Waldseemüller 1507 World Map shows an image of explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

Detail of the Waldseemüller 1507 World Map shows an image of explorer Amerigo Vespucci. From the Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The challenge here for collecting institutions is two-fold.  First, they need to know which  geospatial data sets are most important to support user needs, both now and in the future.  Second, institutions have to decide how best to maintain availability of these information resources. 

The National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program convened a variety of experts during November 17 and 18, 2010, to consider issues associated with geospatial data appraisal and selection.  An earlier meeting to discuss framing a National Preservation and Access Strategy for Geospatial Data recommended a near-term focus on how collecting institutions should work together to decide which data sets merit preservation and how best to keep them accessible.

The group that met at the Library had representatives from a diverse set of organizations, including the National Archives and Records Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, Census Bureau, National Geospatial Agency, North Carolina State University and Columbia University Research Center for International Earth Science Information Network.  Several elements of the Library of Congress also participated, including the Geography and Maps Division, Congressional Research Service and the eScience Team. 

Institutions that keep geospatial data traditionally have used separate approaches to deciding what sources to add to their collections.   Libraries often think about selection, a term based on institutional collection policies.  Archives, on the other hand, use appraisal, which is a term rooted in recordkeeping mandates, including determinations of what constitutes permanent or archival records.  Given the present ubiquity, use and importance of geospatial information, and also given the limited resources that all collection institutions have to manage holdings, it is worthwhile to take a higher-level view about choosing geospatial data sets for ongoing preservation and access.  NDIIPP supports this perspective, while recognizing that some distinctions remain important regarding institutional policies for appraisal and selection.

Meeting participants were asked to address five questions:

  • Are there any appraisal or selection policies that are good candidates for sharing across institutions?
  • What aspects of the issue require more investigation?
  • Are there shared service models to consider?
  • Are current a/s policies and practices robust and adaptable enough?
  • What are some next steps to advance the practice of geospatial data appraisal and selection?

The questions, along with a number of illustrative presentations, spurred a number of lively exchanges which are captured in the meeting documentation. The group identified a number of information resources that can be added to the NDIIPP-supported Geospatial Data Preservation Resource Center (external link). Other potential next steps included sharing existing polices such as the NOAA Procedure for Scientific Records Appraisal and Archive Approval (PDF) for other organizations to adapt for their own use, and exploring ways for archives and libraries to partner more effectively with data creation entities in the public and private sectors. 

NDIIPP will continue to purse all the various issues associated with a national strategy for geospatial data preservation and access.  A key operational vehicle for this work will be the Federal Geographic Data Committee Users/Historical Data Working Group, which has a number of Library staff in leadership roles.