Archives asks for Web freeze frames

The end of the first Web-conscious administration is at hand, and the National Archives and Records Administration wants to preserve the moment.

NARA is asking all federal agencies to take "a one-time snapshot" of their public Web sites on or before Jan. 20. The snapshots are to be preserved in an electronic records archive that NARA is developing. They eventually are to be made available to researchers.

"This is the first administration where the World Wide Web has become a major instrument for transacting business with the government and getting information from the government," said Lewis Bellardo, deputy U.S. archivist.

By preserving a freeze frame of each agency's Web site, NARA hopes to give future researchers insight into how government agencies perceive themselves, their role in government and their responsibility to society, Bellardo said.

Among the interesting sites for researchers may be The White House site, which on Jan. 16 featured "President William J. Clinton: Eight Years of Peace, Progress and Prosperity."

NARA will preserve a snapshot of the White House site, and it also is expected to be preserved and made available online through Clinton's presidential library, Bellardo said. Most presidential libraries are operated by NARA.

While the White House site's main purpose may be polishing the president's legacy, other government Web sites contain records that are important evidence for researchers and historians, Bellardo said. In some cases, documents on agency Web sites are the only records of agency policies or activities, he said. When records exist only in the form of information on the Web, there is a greater danger that they will be lost.

Preserving Web "snapshots" will not capture all Web records, but it will ensure that NARA is able to document at least part of agencies' use of the Internet at the end of the Clinton administration, Bellardo said in a message to agency chief information officers.

The snapshots are relatively simple to take. They require "a low-level knowledge of file editing tools and Web management skills," Bellardo said. Agencies were instructed to record the snapshots on CD-ROMs, tape cartridges or 9-track tapes and deliver them to NARA headquarters in College Park, Md.

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