James H. Billington, The Librarian of Congress, testified before the House Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch on March 20, 2007. read Billington’s full testimony here.
Billington pointed out that digital information is particularly fragile, but as the number of “digital transactions” that the LOC handles on a yearly basis, is extremely useful and of interest to students, historians, researchers and the general public. Billington said, “No single institution can collect, save and provide access to digital content in the future. Almost all of the Library’s digital initiatives involve learning to work in new ways, in a networked environment, where we are working with others to amass critical content and deliver new and improved services.” Check out “LC21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress” to see the LOC’s analysis of the library’s digital future.
We’re not saying that every library has to manage 295 terabytes of digital content, but ALL libraries should be thinking about, planning for and working toward being digital repositories for their communities. That includes digital deposit, harvesting and other avenues for building digital collections.
It took two centuries for the Library of Congress to acquire today’s analog collectionâ€”32 million printed volumes, 12.5 million photographs, 59.5 million manuscripts and other materials â€“ 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 â€“ 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.
There is a widely-held but false assumption that digital materials accessible today on one’s PC or Blackberry will necessarily be available in the future. That is not the case. The average life of a Web site has been estimated to be 44 to 75 days (bold added), and information not actively preserved today could literally be gone tomorrow. Other essential digital informationâ€”most notably e-journals and data basesâ€”are merely licensed for use in the short termâ€“ the information does not belong to the licensee. By contrast, traditional print books and journals collected by the Library for more than two centuries are, and will remain, in the possession of the Library and accessible to researchers. But it is current information that is often most needed by Congress, and current, up-to-date information is increasingly available only in digital form.
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