Ensuring the Long-Term Accessibility of Creative Content

This is a guest post by Ted Westervelt, a section head in the Library’s U.S. Arts, Sciences and Humanities Division; Kate Murray, a digital projects coordinator in the Digital Collections Management and Services Division; and Donna Brearcliffe, an electronic resources coordinator in the Collection Development Office.

Since the first edition of the Recommended Formats Statement came out in 2014, the Library of Congress has been committed to making it as useful as possible to a wide and varied audience. The statement identifies formats, or sets of technical characteristics – such as physical books, digital file types, specific editions or specific metadata elements – that encourage preservation and long-term access for creative works. Recently, the Library released an updated 2018–19 edition of the statement.

The statement’s technical characteristics are of value to the work of the Library of Congress in building its own collection: The scope of the Library’s collection is so broad and diverse that all efforts to mitigate preservation costs down the line are embraced gratefully. This is true of physical works and, these days, even more so of digital works, as the Library dedicates more of its efforts to collecting digital content – including content that is available only in digital form as well as digital copies the Library has decided to obtain in lieu of print versions. Expanding the scope of collection building in this way, and on a large scale, requires care in selection and acquisition, for which the Recommended Formats Statement is a critical tool.

As America’s foremost cultural heritage institution, the Library understands its responsibility to the nation and the world. With regard to the Recommended Formats Statement, the Library is thus well aware of the need to identify the characteristics necessary to support preservation and realizes that others involved in the lifecycle for creative works also have an interest. From the authors, artists, musicians and programmers who create works; to the vendors and publishers who distribute them; to the organizations and institutions that dedicate resources to preserving them – all have a compelling interest in ensuring the survival of these works and the continued ability of people to use and enjoy them.

The value of the Recommended Formats Statement to this broad audience is, in large part, what moves the Library to invest in the annual review and revision of the statement, including reaching out to the creative community to get vital input. The review results from the need to reflect changes in technology and digital-format sustainability. But just as importantly, it allows for critical feedback from the practical, day-to-day work of those who dedicate their time and effort to these creative works, whether they are inside or outside the Library of Congress.

To make the statement useful, it has to reflect reality. For example, the 2018-19 edition of the statement emphasizes the benefit of electronic delivery of datasets. Datasets are a rapidly expanding content area that bring unique challenges for large-scale file delivery and repository management. The datasets section of the statement now includes a preference for access by public or private online URLs over tangible media such as CD-ROM or DVD-ROM. This more accurately reflects the reality of acquiring and managing digital content in modern workflows.

The new edition of the statement reflects a collaboration between Library of Congress staff and members of the creative community. For creators, the statement is a guide to consult before they start work, to help them choose the right canvas on which to express themselves, ensuring that their creative output will stand the test of time. For publishers and vendors, it offers a way to identify material that can continue to be distributed and disseminated long after its first creation. For archives, the statement helps to determine the level of effort that will be needed to ensure that a work will remain for generations to come. For all these partners and colleagues, as well as for its own internal needs, the Library of Congress has issued the new edition of the Recommended Formats Statement, and it very much looks forward to collaborating on future editions.

In the meantime, we welcome your feedback on the 2018–19 edition.

5 Comments

  1. Ira B. Appelman
    August 10, 2018 at 11:00 am

    Does the Library of Congress have any data on the archival preservability of various media? That is, how long do tapes (e.g. cassette tapes), compact discs, DVDs, and other media preserve contents before degrading? Digital records are going to resist degradation better than analog records, but does LOC have data or rules or thumb on the degradation pattern of various media? Thank you.

  2. Michael Rhode
    August 10, 2018 at 11:13 am

    “. For example, the 2018-19 edition the statement emphasizes the benefit of electronic delivery of datasets. Datasets are a rapidly expanding content area that bring unique challenges for large-scale file delivery and repository management. The datasets section of the statement now includes a preference for access by public or private online URLs over tangible media such as CD-ROM or DVD-ROM. This more accurately reflects the reality of acquiring and managing digital content in modern workflows.”

    Is this really a good policy, when even the federal government is now deleting datasets from online access even when they cost very little to maintain? With the acknowledged problem of webrot (and I realized cds are not archival media), this seems to be a classically penny-wise, pound-foolish policy.

  3. John Michael
    August 13, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    Overall I truly commend the Library of Congress for providing outstanding resources (I was able to publish two books from the resources obtained digitally without setting foot into the library!)

    Thank you and thank you for being forward thinking with the researchers in mind to deliver outstanding results

    Sincerely

    John Michael

  4. Wendi Maloney
    August 14, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Thank you for your inquiry, Ira. The Library of Congress has several resources about the expected longevity of physical media. The Preservation Directorate has information about how long CDs and DVDs might last (//www.loc.gov/preservation/about/faqs/audio.html#cddvd) on their FAQ page as well as links to research projects about media longevity (//www.loc.gov/preservation/resources/rt/index.html#RT). Information about proper care and handling for a variety of formats is also available (//www.loc.gov/preservation/care/record.html#Handling and //www.loc.gov/preservation/care/film.html). Best wishes.

  5. Wendi Maloney
    August 14, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    Michael, thank you for your comments.
    The Library seeks to acquire materials in all formats and most subjects (technical agriculture and clinical medicine are excluded). What we collect is driven by our Collection Policy Statements and supplementary guidelines, which are available here: //www.loc.gov/acq/devpol/cpsstate.html. Since datasets can take any form and may be found in works for most subjects we have a “supplementary guideline” specifically for data sets to further guide our collecting priorities. There are specific factors that our recommenders would consider – does the dataset fall within our collecting scope or perhaps the dataset has “enduring high value from a scientific or historical perspective” – since our collections are not only available for our researchers today but long into the future we do strive to have well-rounded collections. The Recommended Formats Statement is a living document – as technology changes it will change – and within it are formats that we can ensure the Library can sustain for future generations.

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