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Saving Science Blogs

Mosaic of Minerva by Elihu Vedder . Library of Congress Jefferson Building. Photograph by Carol Highsmith, 2007

Last year I wrote about collecting and preserving websites and how 21st century librarians are integrating the collection and preservation of digital items such as eBooks, datasets, and websites into their traditional analog collections. For example, the Library of Congress has been involved in preserving websites since the year 2000. We traditionally collect websites based upon a theme or a moment in time – Iraq War 2003, U.S. Elections, and Papal Transition 2005.

I also wrote, in Scientific Treasures, about the Science at Risk (July 2012) conference sponsored by the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) .  This conference provoked me to think about the different objects that are created by 21st century scientists (and scholars) and what libraries and institutions will (should) be collecting and preserving for current/future generations.

These aforementioned blog posts motivated me to question my responsibility as a science librarian at the Library of Congress. Am I doing all I can to collect and preserve scientific knowledge for Congress, our current users, and future generations? Is there something at risk of not being collected and can I do something about it?

Captain Robert F. Scott writing in his diary (1910-1911). Photograph by Herbert G. Ponting

I don’t need to convince you that the communication of science has expanded outside the realm of print and we are increasingly ingesting science information from the web, such as websites, blogs, social media, etc.

In response to these questions I came up with a proposal to collect and preserve science blogs. I am happy to report that the Library’s web archiving team approved it, and nominations have already begun!

The main goal of the Science Blogs Collection will be to capture a representative sample of science research, writing, teaching and communication, as well as scientific discourse in the United States. The project will target science blogs that produce original thought and observations in all major scientific disciplines (earth sciences, physical sciences, and life sciences) for all audience levels, and in all categories (press, non-profit, personal, academic, government, etc). The exception will be health and medicine related blogs, which are being captured by the National Library of Medicine.

There is a set of criteria for nominating a blog. First and foremost it must be original thought, self sufficient. It cannot be a blog full of links to other blogs.

Ainsworth Rand Spofford (1825-1908) standing,amid stacks of books and library shelves.

The following questions must be addressed:

  1. What is the usefulness of this information? (Example: does it help explain current U.S. science policy?)
  2. Will this blog supplement a preexisting collection? (Example: journals on a particular scientific topic)
  3. Does this blog have research value? This is a hard one to answer, but I look at the main topic of the blog and the author.  For example, a blog written by a scientist researching the melting ice caps includes data, photographs or other observations. I would consider to have  research value.
  4. Is the blog at risk? For example a blog from a funded science project that lasted a year could be at risk of being lost as new project blogs replace it, or when a publisher upgrades its software/website, it might not migrate the older content (e.g., blogs) to its new site.

Last, but certainly not least, Can the blog be easily captured? That is, how is the blog structured and created? Does it contain an abundance of embedded multimedia; do you need to sign in to access the content, etc?

The Library of Congress’ mission “is to support the Congress in its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.”

In its essence, the Library of Congress is a National Library. It’s the people’s library.  So if you were a science librarian who wants to preserve a selection of science blogs that would benefit Congress and the American people, what would you collect and preserve for posterity? What are your selection criteria? What makes a good blog? What topics are important to collect?

Now it’s your turn- tell me what type of science blogs should be preserved. To get your juices flowing I recommend reading Scientific American blog editor Bora Zivkovic’s Science Blogs- definition and a history.

First Ladies of Fashion

I wrote my first blog post January 7, 2009 for the Library, Food Fit for the President, for the inauguration of the United States 44th President Barack Obama. President Lincoln is a major inspiration to the President and the inauguration contained strong themes related to Lincoln. For example, the President used Lincoln’s Bible to take […]