Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Digital Data

I suspect most academic law libraries have a lot of redundancy in their collections. For instance, my library subscribes to the microfiche edition of House and Senate bills despite having reliable access to them over LexisNexis, Westlaw, Congressional Universe, Thomas, etc. The only rationale for this aspect of the collection development policy is my concern about the permanence of electronic information. As a research library, we need to be able to guarantee that our patrons will always be able to access certain materials, and with electronic information, I cannot give this guarantee. An article by Coral Davenport entitled "Fragile Digital Data in Danger of Fading Past History's Research" underscores the reasons for my concerns.

Read it here.

Davenport cites a number of examples of the impermanence of digital data, perhaps the most "chilling" of which implicate the "historical record." One historian fears "that for the future historian, the records could be much less comprehensive, and there could be much fewer of them." I wasn't aware of the fact that "the government began storing key military records, such as flight details, on computers as early as the Vietnam War era." Unfortunately, the records of flights in Vietnam "'are sitting in obsolete tapes in an obsolete format.'"

A posting today by Claire Germain to the LIPA listserv provides a glimmer of hope for the future. She pointed out that the Library of Congress "has just launched a Web site devoted to information about its program to capture and preserve historically important Web sites so that they can be accessed by future generations of users." The URL is It will be worth keeping an eye on the development of this initiative.

1 comment:

Betsy McKenzie said...

Thank you, Marie, for this excellent post! This is just excellent. Even if we just look at statutes, regs & judicial decisions, I think we are looking at a very fragile framework still to rely on total digitization to carry our legal literature into the future. It is helpful to see this newsworthy note.