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Lessons from Canada – Good and Bad

Like the United States, Canada also has a federal depository system. We at the Alaska State Library are fortunate to be a selective Canadian documents depository. As such, we are on the Infodep (sort of a cross between FDLP-L and govdoc-l) mailing list that has a public, but dated archive. Two recent announcements from Canadian Depository Services Staff show that our Northern (or Eastern if you’re in AK) neighbors do things better and worse than us.

On the one hand, I think they have a better understanding of the challenges involved with preserving digital documents as shown by this quote by Gay Lepkey, Head of Documentation of Publishing and Depository Services in an April 12th posting (full e-mail available on request to dnlcornwall@alaska.net) to the public infodep list (emphasis mine):

“As for the stability of electronic publications housed on DSP servers, we can say that the DSP electronic collection has been very stable since its
inception and the current policy is that it remain so. However, the persistence of electronic information is a significant and much discussed problem for which there is not a globally agreed to and adopted solution.
Whether or not the PDF file format has long term stability in the context of evolving IT environments, whether the required software will be supported indefinitely or whether there will be the will and resources to migrate PDF files to a new and accessible format is unknown and not capable of being
. In the future, web-based electronic pathways to information resources may well become completely obsolete, making the problem of “broken” URL’s or the like, moot. Librarians tend to take the long view.
Paper is a medium that barring misuse or accident has a “persistence” that has been field-tested.”

On the other hand, unlike the United States, a number of Canadian publishing agencies use copyrighted, proprietary software in their agency CD-ROMs, and so lead to products which cannot be circulated or ILL’d, as explained in this April 14, 2005 e-mail from Tony Moren, Chief, Information Management, Communications and Library Services for Statistics Canada:

“However, the legal side cannot be ignored. First, it should be remembered that we do not allow libraries to provide access to our electronic files (e-pubs) through an external network. Allowing patrons to walk out with this material would go against this prohibition. Further, is the library prepared to be a facilitator to a potential breach of copyright by patrons?
Many CDs contain not only Statistics Canada data but also software that is owned by third parties and licensed to Statistics Canada and its clients for use exclusively within the product. Should this software be copied/pirated and used with other data, possibly in a commercial venture, and legal action was taken by the owner, such action could well target Statistics Canada, the
library and the patron. Use is more easily controlled within the premises of the library.

To avoid any possible problems which could arise through the circulation of Statistics Canada CD-ROM products, it is strongly recommended to not allow the circulation of CDs, and instead make them available via a LAN which is not accessible outside the library/institution.”

So people won’t get the wrong impression of Mr. Moren, he is very friendly and helpful on many matters pertaining to Canadian statistics. I think their depository community is lucky to have him and his knowledge.

While we at FGI are focused on the use and preservation of US Government information, it is sometimes helpful to see what other countries are doing. We can adopt their best practices and views, and avoid the worst of their mistakes, if we’re willing to listen.

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