Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Testimony given by the Librarian of Congress

On March 20, the Librarian of Congress -- Dr. James H. Billington -- gave testimony before the
U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch. Here are some highlights from his testimony (which is 7 pages in length): [my emphasis added]
  • It took two centuries for the Library of Congress to acquire today's analog collection—32 million printed volumes, 12.5 million photographs, 59.5 million manuscripts and other materials – a total of more than 134 million physical items. By contrast, with the explosion of digital information, it now takes only about 15 minutes for the world to produce an equivalent amount of information. Researchers at Cal-Berkeley produced estimates of the amount of information produced and circulated on the Internet in 2003 – it was equivalent to 37,000 times the content of one Library of Congress. Most of this information exists only in digital form: so-called born-digital items, many of which are already irretrievably lost.
  • The average life of a Web site has been estimated to be 44 to 75 days, and information not actively preserved today could literally be gone tomorrow.
  • To cite some examples: of a sample set of 56 primary sources identified by the Congressional Research Service to support research on Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and 2006, 21% were no longer available on the Web in 2007. Web sites relating to the national elections of 1994-the first time the Web played a role in such elections—have also vanished. It was not until 2000 that the Library began preserving election Web sites. Political scholars wishing to write the history of how the Web has influenced politics will have to do so without important pieces of the puzzle.
  • In late 1994, we launched a program to digitize 5 million items of American history and culture for educational purposes—the National Digital Library. The budget was $60 million with a 3-to-1 private match for every dollar of congressional support. By the end of the 1990s, the Library had well over 5 million items of American history on-line. We have continued this process and now have more than 11 million items on our American Memory Web site for educational use by teachers and librarians. The Library has benefited from the support of the Ad Council to promote the Library's educational and literacy programs. Our overall Web usage climbs continuously and now stands at more than 5 billion electronic hits each year.
  • Through NDIIPP [National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program], the Library has built a national network of 67 partners to collect, save and provide access to a body of high-quality research and educational content in digital form. We have been working closely with content providers, technology innovators, libraries, archives, and end-users to advance the science and practice of preserving important at risk materials that are perishable and often exist only in digital form... The Library now manages a total of 295 terabytes of digital content, including 66 terabytes of digital material preserved by our partners across the nation.
  • Just as the Library has acquired, preserved and made accessible more than 134 million traditional analog items (books, manuscripts, maps, music and movies), we are now applying the skills and values of traditional librarianship to the digital world. I have been told by members of Congress and their staff that if they want information, they simply find it on Google, and you can indeed find a flood of information on Google – sometimes hundreds, and even thousands, of sources for a single query. Our goal is to integrate the best available electronic information into the knowledge, judgment and wisdom contained in books and in the minds of our curators so that Congress and the American people continue getting the same authentic, reliable information and knowledge that have been the hallmark of the Library since its inception in 1800. [Comment: Even with the Library of Congress nearby, members of Congress are relying on Google and other search engines for their information needs!]
  • The scope of our digital strategy encompasses every aspect of the Library and envisions our playing a central role for the nation in three ways: (1) digitizing and distributing online for educational purposes primary materials from the Library of Congress and other repositories, (2) gathering and preserving in the Library and other cooperating institutions important digital material produced elsewhere and in danger of disappearing for use by Congress and the nation, and (3) converting as many of the Library's processes and products into electronic and digital forms as possible.
There is also impressive information in his testimony about the new National Audiovisual Conservation Center (NAVCC) located in Culpeper, VA. This indeed will be a state-of-the-art facility.

At the local level, we are not always cognizant of what the Library of Congress is doing. Therefore it is good that Dr. Billington's testimony is available online. Hopefully many people will at least skim it.

I am always hoping that those who are learning (those who are running ahead of the pack and blazing new or different trails) will give presentations are conferences and write articles. So...those of you at the Library of Congress...please make your rounds and visit the library conferences. Talk about what you are doing. Show us pictures. Bring us up to speed. We're all ready to learn from you.

Thanks to M.R.Weaver, one of my students, for pointing out this testimony. I noted in our class discussion that those who are job seekers should note this quote from the testimony:
We have shared with Congress some of our ongoing efforts to ensure the professional development of our staff, training, mentoring, and performance planning and evaluation. We have a large number of staff who are retirement-eligible, and we will have to hire many new staff with specialized skills that are often hard to find.

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