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Saving electronica – More staff, money needed

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The Library of Congress is falling behind in collecting electronic journals, magazines, Web sites and CD-ROM’s, the New York Times reported July 27.

“The nation’s creativity is at this point significantly represented by what’s happening electronically,” James O’Donnell, vice provost of information systems and computing at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Times. O’Donnell chaired a National Academy of Sciences committee that released a report on the library’s digital preparedness on July 26.

Preserving electronica is a challenge for any research library because of its sheer volume and rapidly changing formats. In addition, the Library of Congress has some built-in limits to its ability to respond quickly to trends, according to the report.

As a creature of Congress, the library is caught in governmental bureaucracy.

More specifically, the library desperately needs a sophisticated system for receiving and managing digital documents. The library also needs to recruit and retain a staff of computer experts from a field already suffering a labor shortage.

The committee also suggested that the library shift resources away from its effort to make digital copies of the physical books and documents in its collection. Those papers, they suggested, would still be there in five years, while the more ephemeral electronic documents might not.

The report recommended that the library appoint a new deputy librarian for strategic planning to handle these issues. It also emphasized the need for the library to cooperate with other national libraries and institutions.

James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress, said he was encouraged by the findings of the study but unsure how to find the money to implement the committee’s suggestions. The library asked for a $21 million increase in funding for digital archiving in its 2001 budget request, but is unlikely to receive anything like the full amount.

Private partnerships are one solution. Six years ago, the library started its National Digital Library Program, paid for largely by corporations, foundations, and individual donors. By the end of this year, the library will have placed 5 million of its 119 million items on its American Memory Web site for use by the public.

For full story, go to the New York Times.

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