Library aims to ‘capture the human record’

Digital content of all kinds is doubling in volume each year, said Laura Campbell, the associate librarian of Congress for strategic initiatives.

She must figure out how to save the content in a national digital information infrastructure, using a $99.8 million appropriation plus $75 million the library itself is trying to raise to get matching funds from Congress.

Like the National Archives and Records Administration, the library does not yet know how to preserve so much information, Campbell acknowledged. She plans to enlist a network of partners—federal agencies, content owners, content distributors and other libraries, as well as hardware and software contributors—to store and access the materials.

“There isn’t a format we wouldn’t deal with: text, graphics, photographs, audio and video,” she said. “We want to capture the human record. You can’t hear old wax music cylinders or read old 5.25-inch floppy disks” without compatible players and PCs.

Millions of digital works flow into the Library of Congress each year through copyright filings, outright acquisitions, and famous donations such as Leonard Bernstein’s music collections and Mathew Brady’s Civil War daguerreotype photos.

“We have six million maps and the world’s largest sound collection,” Campbell said. “Sometimes we can specify the format.” But she added that the survivability of digital materials as formats and technologies change will mean migrations of unknown scope.

Studies of the current state of the art, commissioned by the library, covered six areas: Web sites, electronic journals, electronic books, digitally recorded sound, digital moving images and digital television. All have different needs for long-term preservation. Intellectual property rights are another area of difficulty.

The result, the study consultants noted, might be “shifting roles and responsibilities for creators, distributors and users.”

For more information, go to www.digitalpreservation.gov.

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