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RFS 2.0 – A Year On

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Today’s guest post is from Kate Murray (Digital Projects Coordinator, Digital Collections Management & Services Division), Marcus Nappier (Digital Collections Specialist, Digital Content Management Section), and Ted Westervelt (Chief, US/Anglo Division) at the Library of Congress.


As the Library of Congress expands its digital collecting activities, the Recommended Formats Statement (RFS) has revised its methodology to assess the viability of digital formats. These efforts are part of the Library’s strategy to collect and engage fully with the breadth of digital creative works.

Background on the Recommended Formats Statement

The Recommended Formats Statement identifies hierarchies of the physical and technical characteristics of creative formats, both analog and digital, which will best meet the needs of creators, publishers, and cultural heritage institutions, maximizing the chances that creative content will survive and continue to be accessible well into the future.

The RFS continues to serve two primary functions related to how the Library plans for the preservation and access of materials: 1) provide internal guidance to inform acquisitions-related decisions, and 2) spread best practices for ensuring the preservation of, and long-term access to, the creative output of the nation and the world. Check out this Signal post for more information on RFS-related revisions.

Developing a “Level of Service” model

RFS 2.0 moves toward establishing a “Level of Service” model which clearly defines the differences between “preferred” and “acceptable” formats, in addition to outlining the significance of these differences in practical terms. To this end, RFS 2.0 draws on established best practices, such as the Library’s seven sustainability factors used to evaluate digital formats (disclosure, adoption, transparency, self-documentation, external dependencies, impact of patents, and technical protection mechanisms), as well as local factors, such as staff and systems capacity for handling various formats.

This research led to the development of a template that can be used across content categories to assess formats. The template would ultimately influence the “Level of Service” model and the critical changes in RFS 2.0. (Check out this RFS 2.0 poster session presented by Laura Davis, a Digital Project Specialist in the Moving Image Section of the Library of Congress, at the 2020 Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) Conference.)

Prior to adopting a “Level of Service” model, content categories were often influenced by digitization workflows for acquired analog material. For example, textual and musical works follow similar imaging workflows due to their artifactual and informational similarities. Born digital works, however, will often require a more nuanced analysis in order to define appropriate content categories. For example, a digital map may include a variety of data points that are associated with still images. This blurs the traditional distinctions with regard to how categorization is impacted both by content and an assumed use case.

Significant updates to existing content categories

The 2021-2022 RFS revisions include significant updates to the Geospatial and Non-GIS Cartographic content categories. These changes include the addition of new file formats, such as the Esri File Geodatabase (a preferred format for GIS Vector Data) and GML (an acceptable file format for GIS Vector Data, GIS Raster, and Georeferenced Images).

Other changes to the 2021-2022 RFS include content category updates for Still Image works to better address acceptable size requirements for Photographic Prints and Microfilm.


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 artists, authors, 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 vested interest in safeguarding the survival of these works, and the continued ability of people to use and enjoy them.

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