Collection of last resort

"Collection of Last Resort"

Government Printing Office officials have held preliminary discussions with librarians about creating a backup library to supplement federal depository library collections. GPO officials describe the new concept as a "collection of last resort."

But officials at libraries that are part

of GPO's Federal Depository Library Program have mixed views about the proposed collection.

A period of public comment on the proposal began in the spring, and GPO officials have extended it to Sept. 7.

GPO officials said they are only exploring the idea of a backup library

and are looking for feedback. But they said new policies may be needed to guarantee free, permanent public access to the

government's nearly 2.2 million titles. A collection of last resort would preserve those titles, both in tangible and electronic forms, in the event of an accident or a catastrophe.

Such a collection might even be thought of as a safety net during a period in which libraries are making a transition to digital formats. "The collection of last resort will be the guarantor of the digital files," said Judith Russell, GPO's superintendent of documents and managing director of information


In addition to copies of government information stored in the nation's 1,300 depository libraries, GPO's collection of last resort would store that information in paper and electronic formats, Russell said. The collection would be created in tandem with GPO's previously announced plan to digitize all tangible government information stored in federal depository libraries.

GPO's draft proposal states that preservation copies of tangible items in the collection of last resort would be stored in environmentally controlled, secure facilities outside the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

Early discussions have centered on making the National Archives and Records Administration a caretaker of the collection of last resort. Another backup collection might be located somewhere west of the Mississippi.

Officials at the Arizona State Library, Archives

and Public Records, one of 53 regional libraries in

the depository program, have ideas about where a collection of last resort should be located. "There should be at least five or six paper archives, and two should be west of the Mississippi," said Gladys Ann Wells, the library's


Another librarian, Janet Fisher, who is director of the Law and Research Library at the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, said she favored stretching the collection west. "It's also important to have something outside of the Beltway," she said.

Some other librarians, however, would like to see a more decentralized safety-net collection. "Since digital preservation is so new, it is very important to have a diversity of preservation approaches including different technical, funding and policy approaches," said Patricia Cruse, director of the Digital Preservation Program at the California Digital Library.

Cruse said the current safety net

provided by the geographically dispersed federal depository libraries could be

undermined by a collection of last resort that relies on only one or two locales or


Sternstein is a freelance writer in Potomac, Md.


Safety in preservation

Government books, historical documents and microfiche, the staples of the nation's Federal Depository Library Program, may need more protection in an unsafe world, according to Government Printing Office officials. They are weighing the concept of a collection of last resort that would:

Support the program and other GPO activities including information sharing and print-on-demand for publications sales.

Encompass all types of material including objects born digital and acquired by discovery or harvest, digital preservation masters resulting from print processes, digital preservation masters scanned or otherwise produced from analog originals, and access copies of digital objects derived from the preservation masters.

Be maintained in geographically dispersed locations.

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