I was a few paragraphs into writing this post when, just a few minutes ago, the power in the Madison Building flashed off and back on again. Were it not for WordPress?s auto-save function (new in this version, thankfully!), I would have lost the entire thing.
The only reason I mention that is because ? and here?s the punchline ? this post was going to be about the ephemeral nature of digital information and the Library?s role in saving it. Which brings me back to my original opening:
As I write this post via a Web browser ? I will not say which one ? it makes me think back to the first time in ?another life? that I met Jim Barksdale in Mountain View, Calif. He was the relatively new CEO of Netscape at a time when the company?s Navigator (formerly Mosaic) quickly became the first widely used Web browser, in many ways helping ignite the public?s torrid love affair with the Internet that continues to this day.
Years later, it helps show the serendipity of life (my life, at least) that Barksdale would co-author an op-ed in today?s Washington Post about the importance of the Library of Congress? National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program and why this is a crucial time in the program?s history. (Let?s call it NDIIPP ? pronounced ?EN-dip? ? or the ?Digital Preservation Program,? for short.)
Barksdale is now a member of the Library?s NDIIPP Advisory Council.? He shared a byline on the op-ed with Francine Berman, who is director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UCSD, a key NDIIPP partner.? Here, as they say, are the ?nut grafs?:
An estimated 44 percent of Web sites that existed in 1998 vanished without a trace within just one year. The average life span of a Web site is only 44 to 75 days. The gadgets that inform our lives ? cellphones, computers, iPods, DVDs, memory cards ? are filled with digital content. Yet the lifetime of these media is discouragingly short. Data on 5 1/4 -inch floppies may already be lost forever; this format, so pervasive only a decade ago, can?t be read by the latest generation of computers. Changing file and hardware formats, or computer viruses and hard-drive crashes, can render years of creativity inaccessible.
By contrast, the Library of Congress has in its care millions of printed works, some on stone or animal skin that have survived for centuries. The challenges underlying digital preservation led Congress in 2000 to appropriate $100 million for the Library of Congress to lead the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, a growing partnership of 67 organizations charged with preserving and making accessible ?born digital? information for current and future generations.
Unfortunately, the program is threatened. In February, Congress passed and the president signed legislation rescinding $47 million of the program?s approved funding. This jeopardizes an additional $37 million in matching, non-federal funds that partners would contribute as in-kind donations.
The full piece paints a good picture about the Library?s leadership in mounting a partnership to help decide what is the most critical content, and how to save it.