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New Recommended Formats Specifications

The Library has just released its new Recommended Format Specifications, a more current set of specifications for “identifying preservable content.”

Library staff, including subject matter and technical experts, joined the team led by Ted Westervelt, head of acquisitions and cataloging for U.S. Serials – Arts, Humanities & Sciences at the Library of Congress, so they could apply their knowledge of preservation, patron needs, specialized content, and publishing and market trends. Team members included Law Library staff, who brought the perspective of the Law Library’s collection needs.

The team met to develop the specifications that would “serve as a set of hierarchies of the physical and technical characteristics of creative formats.” The specifications are designed to complement, not replace or supersede, the Copyright Office’s Best Edition Statement, which the Library uses to select the formats wanted for the collections. The Best Edition Statement has few references to digital formats and is a bit outmoded in its description of analog formats; the intent is for these specifications to aid with those gaps. The team also took guidance from the Sustainability of Digital Formats guidelines and current collection policy statements when designing the specifications for its users.

There are two intended audiences for these specifications: internal users, specifically library staff involved in dealing with acquisitions; and external users, including members of the creative, publishing, media, business, archival and creative communities.  These users can consult the technical specifications for content created in the following categories:

  • Textual Works and Musical Compositions
  • Still Image Works
  • Audio Works
  • Moving Image Works
  • Software and Electronic Gaming and Learning
  • Datasets/Databases

Most of these categories are broken into subsets, for example: Textual works—print; Photographs—digital; Audio-media independent (digital). The subsets are more finely organized by formats and attributes. The subsets have categories of “preferred” and “acceptable” material within those groupings.


Keeping stuff safe.  [Photo by Harris & Ewing. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.]

To keep the specifications current, work on them will remain an ongoing process. Each spring, permanent technical teams will meet to review the specifications for currency and take into account internal and external feedback given by its users. Each June 30, the Library will issue an updated copy of the Recommended Format Specifications that will remain in force for a full year.

Legal material and texts are increasingly published in digital formats. The new specifications will not resolve all questions related to the preservation of these newly appearing formats but should serve as a compass for content creators and users. When selecting and preserving legal materials, the Law Library staff will find these specifications a practical tool. Creators and users of legal materials should find them useful as well, and hopefully will shape the specifications to enhance their relevance by commenting thoughtfully and often. Doing so will keep help legal content freely accessible in future.

If you have questions about the Recommended Format Specifications, please visit its Resources page for more detailed information and points of contact.

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