(The following story is featured in the July/August 2015 issue of the LCM, which you can read in it’s entirety here.)
Collection Development Officer Joseph Puccio discusses the Library’s collection-building today and tomorrow.
When I began my career at the Library of Congress in 1983 as a freshly minted library school graduate, I was astounded by the depth and breadth of the collections, comprising more than 79 million items. Those collections were all physical (analog) items, and they have continued to grow. The Library’s analog collection today totals more than 160 million items. In recent years, a huge amount of digitized collection material and born-digital items has been amassed, too–now consuming more than five petabytes of storage space.
The Library’s acquisitions programs for physical materials, with their supporting policies and technical infrastructure, are long-established and extremely effective. A set of over 70 Collections Policy Statements and Supplementary Guidelines documents guide the institution’s acquisitions and selection operations. These policies were developed over decades and continue to be updated. They provide the policy framework to support the Library’s responsibilities to serve the Congress as well as the United States government as a whole, the scholarly community and the general public. The policies provide a plan for developing the collections and maintaining their existing strengths. They set forth the scope, level of collecting intensity and goals sought by the Library to fulfill its service mission.
Our digital collecting programs, for the most part, are still in the process of being fully developed, with several successfully implemented. These efforts fall under the same framework of our analog collecting policies. However, a range of challenges–both technical and intellectual–must be met.
On the technical side is the challenge of the multiplicity of formats in which digital materials are produced, and the fact that the technology is constantly advancing. Thus, building and maintaining a system to ingest, preserve and provide access to digital content requires continuing modification.
A major consideration is the long-term sustainability of the digital materials. We are concerned about access to the content today and in the future. Another major factor in working with digital content is respecting use limitations imposed by the rights holders (usually creators or publishers).
But the biggest challenge is to decide what to collect and in what format. We do not have the resources to collect all available digital content–not even close. So, the questions we ask include what does the Congress need to support its work now? What will researchers need in 100 years or 500 years? What content best reflects America’s history and should be preserved and made accessible in perpetuity?
Those are questions we asked–and still ask– regarding analog materials. Such questions are even more critical in the realm of digital collecting. Although the policies provide guidance, the reality is that selection decisions–whether for analog or digital material–often require the expert judgment of Library staff members.
As the Library’s digital collecting program expands and matures, policies will continue to evolve. For example, our policy for U.S. newspapers states that we collect those that meet certain criteria, including those that are national in scope or coverage. For decades, we have met that mandate by acquiring paper issues for current use and microfilm for the permanent collection. How will that policy be applied in an environment where the newspapers themselves are available in multiple digital formats and a publication’s content is available separately, via one or more websites and through aggregated databases? Choices will need to be made, and the policies will need to be reviewed and updated on a continuing basis to meet the current and future needs of our users.