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Mapping Federal Geospatial Stewardship Efforts

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I’m obsessed with maps, especially digital maps. I’m continually amazed by the tools being developed to use location data to make our lives easier. Luckily, this interest dovetails with NDIIPP’s concerns about ensuring that digital mapping survives for the long-term, so I’m regularly scanning the landscape to figure out ways we can engage the wider mapping community and get them thinking about long-term stewardship.

FGDC logoBack in mid-September a couple of us attended the meeting of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee. NGAC is a Federal Advisory Committee sponsored by the Department of the Interior under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, reporting to the Chair of the Federal Geographic Data Committee. NGAC provides advice and recommendations related to the management of federal and national geospatial programs and provides a forum to convey the views of non-federal stakeholders in the geospatial community. It’s the kind of place where some of the real work of government gets done.

We always try to do a NGAC Meeting Public Comment (PDF) at each meeting to inform the committee members on the Library’s latest digital mapping activities. One of the things we talked about this time is the FGDC’s interest in helping state governments develop geoarchiving business plans as part of their 2013 NSDI Cooperative Agreements Program.

The category builds on the guidance developed by the NDIIPP-supported GeoMAPP project and the Geoarchiving Business Planning Toolkit they developed, and will potentially award up to 3 cooperative agreements of up to $40,000 each. The categories of CAP funding are still tentative, but this is an exciting opportunity for state librarians and state archivists to work with their geospatial divisions, chief information officers and information technology infrastructure to develop coordinated statewide plans for preserving digital maps for the long-term. The official announcement will be posted on at the end of October or early November so keep your eye out for it (we’ll announce it on our Twitter feed, of course).

Geospatial Platform logoWe’ve also closely followed NGAC’s interest in the development of the Geospatial Platform, a managed portfolio of geospatial data, services, applications and infrastructure. The Geospatial Platform is an effort crossing the entire federal government designed to help users discover geospatial data both by hosting data and by integrating with existing cataloging services such as, which publishes the availability of federal datasets, many of which have a geospatial component.

Libraries and archives should pay attention to the Platform activity. First, it’ll enable easier access to geospatial data, allowing users to pull in a variety of data from a single source to use in their own applications.

Secondly, the Platform may evolve to become a centralized clearinghouse of geospatial datasets, enabling archival entities to do “one-stop shopping” and harvest snapshots of federal geospatial collections for preservation purposes at any given point in time at a single point of contact. This “archiving” piece of the Platform still has quite a bit of work to be fully articulated, but efforts are underway.

Circular A-16, first published in 1990 and updated in 2002, establishes guidelines for the management of digital spatial data in the federal government. The Circular A-16 Supplemental Guidance, issued in November of 2010, further defines and clarifies selected elements of Circular A-16 to facilitate a coordinated federal geospatial asset management capability.

Federal geospatial lifecyleWithout getting too deep into the wonky details, this Supplemental Guidance includes, among many other things, the Geospatial Data Lifecycle stages that agencies should use when developing, managing and reporting on geospatial datasets.

One of the seven stages of the lifecycle identified in the Supplemental Guidance is “archive,” defined as the “required retention of data and the data’s retirement into long-term storage.” How this becomes operationalized is still to be determined, but there’s a stake in the ground at the federal level that says that “archiving” is an important stage of a geospatial lifecycle that must be addressed.

The business needs and the technical requirements of this stage of the lifecycle will start to get fleshed-out more fully through the work of the FGDC’s Users/Historic Data Working group and others, and it’s an activity worth watching.

Sometimes the federal government moves slowly, but we’re starting to see progress all around on preserving digital geospatial information. You can see it too, if you just know where to look.

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