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Preserving Digital Legislative Information: Wrapping Up the MTSA Project

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At the beginning of this month we published States of Sustainability: A Review of State Projects funded by the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) (PDF), a report written by Christopher A. Lee of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The report provides a succinct overview of our recent work with state governments on digital preservation and stewardship.

States of Sustainability Report coverThe SOS report includes abundant details on each of the projects, but the highlights are worthy of blog posts on their own. This time I’ll look back at the work of the Model Technological and Social Architecture for the Preservation of State Government Digital Information (MTSA) project, led by the Minnesota Historical Society (next time I’ll talk about the Geospatial Multistate Archive and Preservation Project (GeoMAPP), led by the North Carolina Center for Geographic Information and Analysis and the North Carolina State Archives).

The MTSA project explored the challenges of stewarding, preserving and providing enhanced long-term access to legislative digital records. In this they certainly weren’t operating in a vacuum: the effort had been receiving attention in the legal community for years.

Back in 2003 a report from the American Association of Law Libraries, the State-by-State Report on Permanent Public Access to Electronic Government Information noted that government entities were making enormous amounts of digital information available to the public, but most were failing to manage the entire lifecycle of electronic government information from its creation to its preservation, ensuring permanent public access all along the way.

a wall with the word "authenticity" written on it
Authenticity by patricklanigan on Flickr

The AALL followed this up with a second report (PDF) in 2007 on the Authentication of Online Legal Resources in the states that examined the trustworthiness of state-level primary legal resources on the Web (some portions were updated (PDF) in 2010).

When MTSA started in 2007 they entered the fray as state governments were accelerating the movement away from paper-based authoring of official legislative information to entirely digital workflows, including ones with digital materials as the only officially published document.

MTSA began with a sense of urgency, but at the same time they carefully designed a project that focused on key issues for legislators and funders, built a coalition of interested parties, and broke the work down into easily understood modules to share back out to other states.

The project focused significant attention on the “access” component of the lifecycle, as they recognized early on that access was an effective catalyst for investment; by demonstrating immediate value to funding sources and important constituencies, they determined that it would be easier to justify and develop support for preservation.

MTSA also recognized that these issues couldn’t be resolved by librarians and archivists acting in isolation. The project built a diverse coalition of participants, including those that write the bills, committee reports, floor proceedings and other legislative materials (such as the Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes); those that manage the technology that keeps the legislature running (the Kansas Legislative Computer Services); national organizations that provide research and technical assistance to state government policymakers on a variety of issues (the National Conference of State Legislatures); private sector participants with market interest in accessible legislative information (Thomson-Reuters and the Sunlight Foundation); as well as the library and archive divisions of each of the partner states (Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee and Vermont).

They then divided the work into modular chunks around different issues (authentication, business cases for digital preservation, cloud computing, government data mashups, legislative metadata, records retention policies, web archiving, XML basics and many more), each of which was explored in great detail, often with an associated white paper as the final outcome.

The NCSL was an especially key partner. In addition to giving the project the opportunity to share their work with state legislators and IT professionals at the NCSL national conferences, they authored the compelling Preserving Legislative Digital Records report that effectively took the issue straight to state government officials.

The MTSA also explored a series of stand-alone projects that tested different aspects of the technical infrastructure for preservation, including digital repository micro-services and commercial digital archiving solutions. They also had a hand in developing a model mobile application to track legislative activity in state government.

We’ve already extensively documented the project’s contributions to the development of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act and their associated work on the authentication of digital materials. Six states have introduced the law this year, and we’ll continue to track that activity as it moves forward.

Looking back, the breadth and scope of what the project accomplished is remarkable, especially considering, as Mr. Lee noted in his report, the degree to which states were dealing with one of the worst budget crises in a century over the entirety of the project.

carol website screenshotThe white papers and other project resources have been compiled in the Center for Archival Resources On Legislatures (CAROL), with even more at the project’s web site and in their final report (PDF).

The long-term stewardship of digital legislative information is an issue that will only become more important over time and NDIIPP will continue to monitor activities such as the State Electronic Records Initiative (SERI) from the Council of State Archivists.

Explore these resources and let us know what you think. If you’ve got pointers to other activities in this area we’d love to hear about them.


  1. I found the reports by Minnesota Historical Society and Tessella on the Safety Deposit Box test to be very useful.

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