This moment in history provides us with a rare opportunity to go beyond short-term data rescue and set the much needed foundation for the long-term future of preservation of government information.
Awareness of risk. At the moment, more people than ever are aware of the risk of relying solely on the government to preserve its own information. This was not true even six months ago. This awareness goes far beyond government information librarians and archivists. It includes the communities that use government information (our Designated Communities!) and the government employees who devote their careers to creating this information. It includes our colleagues, our professional organizations, and library managers.
This awareness is documented in the many stories in the popular press this year about massive “data rescue” projects drawing literally hundreds of volunteers. It is also demonstrated by the number of people nominating seeds (URLs) for the current End of Term harvest and the number of seeds nominated. These have increased by nearly an order of magnitude or more over 2012.
Awareness of need for planning. But beyond the numbers, more people are learning first-hand that rescuing information at the end of its life-cycle can be difficult, incomplete, and subject to error and even loss. It is clear that last minute rescue is essential in early 2017. But it is also clear that, in the future, efficient and effective preservation requires planning. This means that government agencies need to plan for the preservation of their own information and they need to do so at the beginning of the life-cycle of that information — even before it is actually created.
Opportunity to create demonstrable value. This awareness provides libraries with the opportunity to lead a movement to change government information policies that affect long-term preservation of and access to government information. By promoting this change, libraries will be laying the groundwork for the long-term preservation of information that their communities value highly. This provides an exceptional opportunity to work with motivated and inspired user communities toward a common goal. This is good news at a time when librarians are eager to demonstrate the value of libraries.
A model exists. And there is more good news. The model for a long-term government information policy not only exists, but libraries are already very familiar with it. In 2010, federal granting agencies like NSF, National Institutes of Health and Department of Energy started requiring researchers who receive Federal grants to develop Data Management Plans (DMPs) for the data collected and analyzed during the research process. Thus, data gathered at government expense by researchers must have a Plan to archive that data and make it available to other researchers. The requirements for DMPs have driven a small revolution of data management in libraries.
Ironically, there is no similar requirement for government agencies to develop a plan for the long-term management of information they gather and produce. There are, of course, a variety of requirements for managing government “Records” but there are several problems with the existing regulations.
Gaps in existing regulations. The Federal Records Act and related laws and regulations cover only a portion of the huge amount of information gathered and created by the government. In the past, it was relatively easy to distinguish between “publications” and “Records” but, in the age of digital information, databases, and transactional e-government it is much more difficult to do so. Official executive agency “Records Schedules,” which are approved by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), define only a subset of information gathered and created by an agency as Records suitable for deposit with NARA. (It must be noted that NARA cannot guarantee that it will provide online access to even born-digital Records deposited with it.) Further, the implementation of those Records Schedules are subject to interpretation by executive agency political appointees who may not always have preservation as their highest priority. This can make huge swaths of valuable information ineligible for deposit with NARA as Records.
Government data, documents, and publications that are not deemed official Records have no long-term preservation plan at all. In the paper-and-ink world, many agency publications that did not qualify as Records were printed by or sent to the Government Publishing Office (GPO) and deposited in Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) libraries around the country (currently 1,147 libraries). Unfortunately, a perfect storm of policies and procedures has blocked FDLP libraries from preserving this huge class of government information. A 1983 court decision (INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 952) makes it impossible to require agencies to deposit documents with the Government Publishing Office (GPO) or FDLP. The 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. §§ 3501–3521) and the Office of Management and budget (OMB)’s Circular A-130 have made it more difficult to distribute government information to FDLP libraries. The shift to born-digital information has decentralized publishing and distribution, and virtually eliminated best practices of meta-data creation and standardization. GPO’s own Dissemination and Distribution Policy has further (and severely) limited the information it will distribute to FDLP libraries. Together, this “perfect storm” has reduced the deposit of this class of at-risk government information into FDLP libraries by ninety percent over the last twenty years.
The Solution: Information Management Plans. To plug the gaps in existing regulations, government agencies should be required to treat their own information with as much care as data gathered by researchers with government funding. What is needed is a new regulation that requires agencies to have Information Management Plans (IMPs) for all the information they collect, aggregate, and create.
We have proposed to the OMB a modification to their policy OMB Circular A-130: Managing Information as a Strategic Resource that would require every government agency to have an Information Management Plan.
Every government agency must have an “Information Management Plan” for the information it creates, collects, processes, or disseminates. The Information Management Plan must specify how the agency’s public information will be preserved for the long-term including its final deposit in a reputable, trusted, government (e.g., NARA, GPO, etc.) and/or non-government digital repository to guarantee free public access to it.
Many Benefits! We believe that such a requirement would provide many benefits for agencies, libraries, archives, and the general public. We think it would do more to enhance long-term public access to government information than changes to Title 44 of the US Code (which codified the “free use of government publications”) could do.
- It would make it possible to preserve information continuously without the need for hasty last-minute rescue efforts.
- It would make it easier to identify and select information and preserve it outside of government control.
- It would result in digital objects that are easier to preserve accurately and securely.
- It would make it easy for government agencies to collaborate with digital repositories and designated communities outside the government for the long-term preservation of their information.
- The scale of the resulting digital preservation infrastructure would provide an easy path for shared Succession Plans for Trusted Digital Repositories (TDRs) (Audit And Certification Of Trustworthy Digital Repositories [ISO Standard 16363]).
IMPs would provide these benefits through the practical response of vendors that provide software to government agencies. Those vendors would have an enormous market for flexible software solutions for the creation of digital government information and records that fit the different needs of different agencies for database management, document creation, content management systems, email, and so forth, while, at the same time, making it easy for agencies to output preservable digital objects and an accurate inventory of them ready for deposit as Submission Information Packages (SIPs) into TDRs.
We believe this is a reasonable suggestion with a good precedent (the DMPs), but we would appreciate hearing your opinions. Is A‑130 the best target for such a regulation? What is the best way to propose, promote, and obtain such a new policy? What is the best wording for such a proposed policy?
We believe we have a singular opportunity of awareness and support for the preservation of government information. We believe that this is an opportunity, not just to preserve government information, but also to demonstrate the leadership of librarians and archivists and the value of libraries and archives.
(This is the second of two posts about setting long-term goals. The first post is A Long-Term Goal For Creating A Digital Government-Information Library Infrastructure.)
James A. Jacobs, Librarian Emeritus, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Federal Government Information Librarian, Stanford University
Now that so many have done so much good work to rescue so much data, it is time to reflect on our long-term goals. This is the first of two posts that suggest some steps to take. The second post is A rare opportunity to make a long-term difference.
The amount of data rescue work that has already been done by DataRefuge, ClimateMirror, Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) projects and the End of Term crawl (EOT) 2016 is truly remarkable. In a very practical sense, however, this is only the first stage in a long process. We still have a lot of work to do to make all the captured digital content (web pages, data, PDFs, videos, etc) discoverable and understandable and usable. We believe that the next step is to articulate a long-term goal to guide the next tasks.
Of course, we do already have broad goals but up to now those goals have by necessity been more short-term than long-term. The short-term goals that have driven so much action have been either implicit (“rescue data!”) or explicit (“to document federal agencies’ presence on the World Wide Web during the transition of Presidential administrations” [EOT]). These have been sufficient to draw librarian-, scientist-, hacker-, and public volunteers who have accomplished a lot! But, as the EOT folks will remind us, most of this work is volunteer work.
The next stages will require more resources and long-term commitments. Notable next tasks include: creating metadata, identifying and acquiring DataRefuge’s uncrawlable data, and doing Quality Assurance (QA) work on content that has been acquired. This work has begun. The University of North Texas, for example, has created a pilot crowdsourcing project to catalog a cache of EOT PDFs and is looking for volunteers. This upcoming work is essential in order to make content we rescue and acquire discoverable and usable and to ensure that the content is preserved for the long-term.
As we look to the long-term, we turn to the two main international standards for long-term preservation: OAIS (Reference Model For An Open Archival Information System) and TDR (Audit And Certification Of Trustworthy Digital Repositories). Using the terminology of those standards our current actions have focused on “ingest.” Now we have to focus on the other functions of a TDR: management, preservation, access, and use. We might say that what we have been doing is Data Rescue but what we will do next is Data Preservation which includes discovery, access and use.
Given that, here is our suggestion for a long-term goal:
Create a digital government-information library infrastructure in which libraries collectively provide services for collections that are selected, acquired, organized, and preserved for specific Designated Communities (DCs).
Adopting this goal will not slow down or interrupt existing efforts. It focuses on “Designated Communities” and the life-cycle of information and, by doing so, it will help prioritize our actions. By doing this, it will help attract libraries to participate in the next stage activities. It will also make long-term participation easier and more effective by helping participants understand where their activities lead, what the outcomes will be, and what benefits they will get tomorrow by investing their resources in these activities today.
How does simply adopting a goal do all that?
First, by expressing the long-term goal in the language of OAIS and TDR it assures participants that today’s activities will ensure long-term access to information that is important to their communities.
Second, by putting the focus on the users of the information it demonstrates to our local communities that we are doing this for them. This will help make it practical to invest needed resources in the necessary work. The goal focuses on users of information by explicitly saying that our actions have been and will be designed to provide content and services for specific user groups (Designated Communities in OAIS terminology).
Third, by focusing on an infrastructure rather than isolated projects, it provides an opportunity for libraries to benefit more by participating than by not participating.
The key to delivering these benefits lies in the concept of Designated Communities. In the paper-and-ink world, libraries were limited in who they could serve. “Users” had to be local; they had to be able to walk into our buildings. It was difficult and expensive to share either collections or services, so we limited both to members of our funding institution or a geographically-local community. In the digital world, we no longer have to operate under those constraints. This means that we can build collections for Designated Communities that are defined by discipline or subject or by how a community uses digital information. This is a big change from defining a community by its institutional affiliation or by its members’ geographical proximity to an institution or to each other.
This means that each participating institution can benefit from the contributions of all participating institutions. To use a simple example, if ten libraries each invested the cost of developing collections and services for two DCs, all ten libraries (and their local/institutional communities) would get the benefits of twenty specific collections and services. There are more than one thousand Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) libraries.
Even more importantly, this model means that the information-users will get better collections of the information they need and will get services that are tailored to how they look for, select, and use that information.
This approach may seem unconventional to government information specialists who are familiar with agency-based collections and services. The digital world allows us to combine the benefits of agency-based acquisitions with DC-based collections and services.
This means that we can still use the agency-based model for much of our work while simultaneously providing collections for DCs. For example, it is probably always more efficient and effective to identify, select, and acquire information by focusing on the the output of an agency. It is certainly easier to ensure comprehensiveness with this approach. It is often easier to create metadata and do QA for a single agency at a time. And information content can be easily stored and managed using the same agency-based approach. And information stored by agency can be viewed and served (through use of metadata and APIs) as a single “virtual” collection for a Designated Community. Any given document, dataset, or database may show up in the collections of several DCs, and any given “virtual” collection can easily contain content from many agencies.
For example, consider how this approach would affect a Designated Community of economists. A collection built to serve economists would include information from multiple agencies (e.g., Commerce, Council of Economic Advisors, CBO, GAO, NEC, USDA, ITA, etc. etc.). When one library built such a collection and provided services for it, every library with economists would be able better serve their community of economists. And every economist at every institution would be able to more easily find and use the information she needs. The same advantages would be true for DCs based on kind of use (e.g. document-based reading; computational textual-analysis; GIS; numeric data analysis; re-purposing and combining datasets; etc.).
We believe that adopting this goal will have several benefits. It will help attract more libraries to participate in the essential work that needs to be done after information is captured. It will provide a clear path for planning the long-term preservation of the information acquired. It will provide better collections and services to more users more efficiently and effectively than could be done by individual libraries working on their own. It will demonstrate the value of libraries to our local user-communities, our parent institutions, and funding agencies.
James A. Jacobs, Librarian Emeritus, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Federal Government Information Librarian, Stanford University
Laurie Allen, Assistant Director for Digital Scholarship, at Penn Libraries walks us through an overview of what our colleagues engaged in data rescue events have learned and how academic research libraries can complement those efforts.
Data rescue events are a bottom-up strategy to get as much data as we can when working with people with a wide variety of skills sets (not necessarily library-related skill sets) during a limited time-frame.
We are proposing research libraries can complement this with a top-down strategy. Librarians know how government agency data is organized, what types of information researchers need, and can target the work of downloading sets to be conducted as part of their routine work.
We are seeking a few research libraries who would be willing to commit to specific agencies and collaborating on a shared workflow as a pilot.
We hope you can join a collaborative project that leverages the talent and energy of librarians in addressing a wicked problem: Preserving born-digital government data.
Given the successes of the #DataRefuge project to rescue climate and environmental data, librarians have started to connect, ask, act, and contemplate collective action for more types of data. Let’s figure it out together!
Join us for a 30-minute webinar to kick-off collaborations:
Monday, February 6 @ 12:15 pm ET
Here are some background documents that led us to reach out the ARL to convene people and energy toward positive action:
Leveraging Libraries (pdf, 1/27/17)
Libraries Network Overview (pdf, 2/1/17)
Chain of Custody (github, 2/1/17)
Hope to see you online!