States of Sustainability: The NDIIPP Preserving State Government Information Initiative

When I first started at the Library of Congress in 2004 I was hired to support the imminent Preserving State Government Information initiative. Over these nearly eight years I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most innovative and committed people in the country on addressing the challenge of keeping state and local government data available and accessible.

My work at Library has been deeply aligned with these efforts from day one (very satisfyingly, I might add), which is why I announce with great pleasure the release of States of Sustainability: A Review of State Projects funded by the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) (PDF), a report written by Christopher A. Lee of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that provides a succinct overview of the work we’ve accomplished.

The initiative developed out of an understanding that state governments have faced (and continue to face) formidable challenges in caring for digital records with long-term legal and historical value. NDIIPP sponsored a series of workshops in 2005 that revealed a large majority of states lacked the resources to ensure that the information they produce in digital form only, such as legislative records, court case files and executive agency records, was preserved for long-term access.  We summarized our findings from the workshops in Preservation of State Government Digital Information: Issues and Opportunities Report (PDF).

Glen McAninch; Credit: Rob Hill, KY Dept for Libraries and Archives

Glen McAninch; Credit: Rob Hill, KY Dept for Libraries and Archives

The Preserving State Government Information projects were designed to address these resource issues and support projects that would develop and share tools, services and practices that would help all states make progress in managing their digital heritage.

Lee’s report offers findings about the persistence of the state projects in the face of dramatic changes and challenges, as well as their abilities to build collaborative bridges across professional communities and divisions within their own states. It’s an inspiring read.

The report also includes a comprehensive overview of state partner digital preservation activity and suggests several recommendations for future action.

Recommendation 1 – Adopt Robust Strategies

State personnel with responsibility for digital preservation should cast their collaboration nets widely. Partnerships with chief information officers, software vendors, advocacy groups, and domain experts from data-intensive units of agencies can be just as important as partnerships with librarians and archivists. Someone who is a partner now may lose his/her job, shift to other duties or otherwise become unable to participate in further collaboration. Effective programs for digital preservation involve social networks that are robust and diverse enough to withstand shifts in state politics, finances and priorities.

Recommendation 2 – Continue to Look Outward

A fundamental factor for continuing success will be state government professionals continuing to look outward. Digital preservation is a highly dynamic arena, with frequent emergence of new projects, technologies, models and funding opportunities. Engagement in and monitoring of professional forums and events is a valuable way to learn about trends, innovations and opportunities. Outreach activities are also essential for informing and revising work practices and approaches. Interstate sharing of experiences and lessons can also help to determine which options and strategies are appropriate in a variety of contexts. Collaboration does not require conformity to a single approach across all states.

Recommendation 3 – Pick a Mode of Contribution and Act on It

In order to engage in collaborative work, it is important to have something valuable to offer the other collaborators. Contributions can take a variety of forms. Each role implies its own set of strategies and risk factors. Identifying which role one is likely to play in the collaboration can be an important step toward formulating a plan of action.

These recommendations, as well as implications and recommendations for funding agencies working in this area, will be the subject of future blog posts. We’ll also do posts in the near future that dive into each project and provide a comprehensive overview of their work and suggest how their activities might lead to future state government digital preservation activities.

The lead entities and the focus areas of the four projects:

Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, Persistent Digital Archives and Library System. Arizona lead this project to establish a low-cost, highly automated information network that reaches across multiple states.

Minnesota Historical Society, A Model Technological and Social Architecture for the Preservation of State Government Digital Information. The project worked with legislatures in several states to explore enhanced access to legislative digital records.

North Carolina Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, Geospatial Multistate Archive and Preservation Project (GeoMAPP). The GeoMAPP effort addressed the preservation of at-risk and temporally significant digital geospatial content.

Washington State Archives, Multi-state Preservation Consortium. The Washington State Archives used its advanced digital archives framework to implement a centralized regional repository for state and local digital information.

We are interesting in your reaction to these recommendations.  Are they the right ones for helping us move ahead with preserving the digital outputs of state and local government?

One Comment

  1. Kathleen Williams
    April 3, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Really interesting report, thanks for making this available.

    Your readers may find it useful to know of another long-time source of federal support for electronic records proposals, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). We have been a steady supporter of such work for some time, including the work of many state archives. The URL for our current Electronic Records grant opportunity is locate at:
    http://www.archives.gov/nhprc/announcement/electronic.html

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

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