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Digital Deposit And The Biennial Survey: context and actions

It is time for the biennial survey of FDLP libraries and, therefore, a good time to review “digital deposit.”

Digital deposit is a very simple concept: It simply means that GPO should treat digital and non-digital government information the same way. In so doing, GPO would allow FDLP libraries to select digital government information and GPO would deposit that digital information with the library. Libraries could then build their own digital collections and provide their own digital services for those collections. This is completely different from GPO’s definition of “online depositories” that point to, but do not have, digital files. In the digital deposit scenario, libraries would continue to be depositories regardless of format. [1]

Over the last twelve years, GPO has asked questions on the the biennial surveys that reveal meaningful FDLP library interest in digital deposit. GPO did not ask the same question on every survey and this makes it difficult to compare results over time. In spite of this, the responses from the FDLP community were remarkably consistent.

For example, when asked (in various ways) if libraries were interested in receiving files via digital deposit, hundreds of FDLP libraries consistently said they were interested: 394 in 2005, 453 in 2007, 416 in 2009, and 300 in 2015. (See the Appendix, below, for the details of all the numbers quoted in this post.)

And, when asked (in various ways) if they were already downloading or harvesting digital government information and storing it on library servers, again, hundreds reported doing that: 218 in 2005, 193 in 2007, 87 in 2011, More than 100 in 2015.

As flawed as these figures are (because of their inconsistent wording and use of confusing terminology), they do reveal that many FDLP libraries are interested in digital deposit. They even reveal something about the scale of interest: When asked how many files there were downloading, twenty-one libraries reported downloading “more than a thousand” files in a year (2007).

There is more: we should also remember that thirty-six libraries — including 10 regional libraries! — are already members of the LOCKSS-USDOCS community preservation network — preserving all content in FDsys/govinfo.gov).


This leads us to two conclusions.

  1. This interest in digital deposit comes from libraries themselves. Indeed, this grass-roots interest rose up in spite of GPO’s past indifference and often hostility to digital deposit. [2]
  2. Since GPO has repeatedly expressed an interest in and a need for “partners” in digital preservation, it should consider its existing FDLP library partners since they have repeatedly expressed an interest in this for the last twelve years.

GPO has repeatedly dismissed the existing, expressed interest in digital deposit by focusing on what “most libraries” want. But this is inconsistent with GPO’s own statements about digital preservation and access and the scope of Title 44.

For example, GPO’s National Plan states clearly that “redundancy of digital files are necessary to ensure local access to Federal Government information.” GPO plans that “FIPnet Partners” will “host digital content” and that change is needed and will require “redefining program requirements for the digital age.” And GPO planning assumes that “Collaboration and partnerships with Federal depository libraries… are necessary to accomplish lifecycle management of tangible and digital Government information.” And, in a statement submitted to Congress in July, GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks suggested including “digital formats” in the definion of the scope of the FDLP in Title 44.

GPO is willing to let as few as four libraries (not “most libraries”) preserve the entire FDLP Historic Collection and drop any requirement for access to those paper copies, but dismisses the fact that five times that number are already storing thousands of digital files (without any encouragement and little support from GPO), thirty-six libraries are replicating FDsys/govinfo, and hundreds of libraries have repeatedly expressed interest in digital deposit.

GPO should stop intermittently and inconsistently asking about this and start implementing an actual policy of digital desposit.


There are two things standing in the way of GPO implementing digital deposit: GPO’s budgetary constraints and the lack of pressure from FDLP libraries on Depository Library Council and GPO to make it happen. We believe that most of the technology is already in place since govinfo.gov already facilitates LOCKSS-USDOCS, RSS feeds, APIs, and other developer enhancements. This means that the major expense will probably be in implementing a new system of digital-selection to replace the old “item selection” system. And that expense is already in GPO’s Budget Justification Fiscal Year 2018 (archived version) [page 4]. So really, it’s up to libraries and DLC to push the issue.

We know that GPO can change directions because it has done so in the past when its policies were bad or when they had outlived their usefulness. GPO charged fees for access to GPO Access (the first iteration of FDsys/govinfo.gov back in 1995), but it stopped charging when FDLP libraries — on their own, without any support from GPO — started making GPO Access freely available through their own websites. GPO opposed cooperation with LOCKSS for years before finally accepting that it was a good idea and joining forces with the LOCKSS and FDLP communities to systematically preserve FDsys/govinfo outside of government control. Even the appearance of questions about digital deposit on the biennial surveys can be seen as a small victory for FDLP libraries that want to have the flexibility of participating in digital government information access and preservation in the digital age. And GPO asked James to host a digital deposit meeting at 2017 fall DLC conference, perhaps signaling new interest.

So what actions can we take today?

  1. When you complete your biennial survey, add a comment to your answer to question 13 under “Other.” We suggest this:

    Question 13. How do you provide access to online Federal depository publications?
    Select all that apply.

    • Catalog records
    • Library website
    • Library finding aids/subject guides
    • Linking to locally harvested websites
    • Linking to locally harvested publications
    • Provide search capability in a local digital collection
    • Other. Please specify: I would like the option of digital deposit.
  2. If you have not already done so, sign the petition that asks any Title 44 reform of Chapter 19 to modernize the definition of “publications.” As we explain here, this would provide legal-authority for digital deposit. (This is preferable to relying on GPO policies alone since those policies can change with new administrations.)
  3. Join the . This is an important step toward community-led born-digital preservation. Sign up to learn more about digital deposit, how to participate and keep informed.
  4. Consider participating in one or more of the projects that include a growing number of librarians from the FDLP community who are concerned about and willing to work on the preservation of born-digital govt information: The End of Term crawl project, DataRefuge / DataRescue, Libraries+, and PEGI Project. Let us know of others, including local and international groups, too!

The FDLP is your program. Act today to save, expand and sustain the program. Your future users will thank you!

James A. Jacobs (UC San Diego)
James R. Jacobs (Stanford)


  1. The actual technology of moving the files can be accomplished in different ways (and there is no technical need to implement only one of these). For example, GPO could initiate a transfer and “push” files to libraries; or a library could initiate a transfer and “pull” files from GPO.
  2. GPO has actively opposed digital deposit through its policies. Specifically, the “SOD 301” policy explicitly forbids deposit of all digital government information except for the very few things that are written to old media (e.g. “diskette, magnetic tape, CD-ROM”). And GPO’s official Guidance defines “Online Federal Depository Libraries” as those that provide “access to online depository resources” and that “do not receive digital files or copies of electronic content.” GPO has not used the Surveys to examine these policies. Although it has asked questions about digital deposit, the questions have varied every year; (the exception is 2015 when it repeated questions asked in 2009). It asked no questions about digital deposit in 2013 and has, again, dropped all such questions in the 2017 survey. Worse still, GPO has muddied the waters further in the 2017 survey by introducing two new definitions for “digital federal depository libraries” without providing any new guidance for their use. These new definitions define “digital depositories” as having “collections” that are “curated according to library’s collection development policies.” But GPO has not said if these new definitions will supersede the existing Guidance or are just incorrectly worded re-statements of existing policy. Until GPO clarifies what it means, we are left with its official guidance that defines “online depositories” as libraries into which nothing is deposited.


This appendix contains responses relevant to digital deposit extracted from surveys of FDLP libraries. Some comments from GPO from other sources are also included to provide context.



  • In a survey of FDLP libraries that focused on functionality of FDsys, 65 to 85 percent of more than 400 responding libraries (228 – 299) were “interested” or “very interested” in digital deposit.
  • 33 percent of FDLP libraries (394) reported in the Biennial Survey that they were willing to receive at least some Federal digital publication files on deposit
  • 218 libraries (18%) reported in the Biennial Survey that they were already systematically downloading and storing digital documents and providing online access to the general public from local servers.

2005 FDsys Survey

In August 2005, GPO surveyed all federal depository libraries regarding proposed features and functions of GPO’s Future Digital System (FDsys). GPO issued a report of the results in October:

More than 400 of the approximately 1,250 depository libraries responded. GPO asked libraries to rank their level of interest in 28 FDsys functions. Six of those functions dealt with “delivery” of content and two of those with depositing digital files into FDLP libraries.

  • Ability to “pull” content from GPO
  • Automatic “push” of content from GPO

The responses were expressed on a scale of 1 (very high) to 5 (very low):

Service 1 2 3 4 5 ? NA 1 1 + 2
pull 191 108 36 11 4 29 12 55% 85%
push 129 99 75 23 23 33 11 37% 65%

GPO added this note about “Content Delivery”:

Several respondents requested more information regarding “push” and “pull” of content and bibliographic records to/from GPO. While several respondents indicated interest in push technology, many expressed concern that they are unequipped to receive large amounts of electronic content from GPO.

GPO issued a Clarification of Library Survey Terms (Future Digital System (FDsys) Blog, Monday, October 24, 2005) to define terms in the survey after the survey and the report.

Push: Intentionally and specifically serving out information to a target recipient(s). Content is automatically sent (“pushed”) from GPO to a list of interested users. This is analogous to shipping a box of depository documents, only with electronic content instead of tangible copy.

Pull: Downloading content on an as-needed basis. Content is made available for users to select and retrieve (“pull”) to local servers or computers. For example, currently users may be said to pull documents from GPO Access.

2005 Biennial Survey

The 2005 Biennial Survey asked two questions relevant to digital deposit:

Question 65. My library systematically downloads, stores online publications identified from GPO Access or through GPO-created PURLs, and makes them accessible to the general public from local servers. This past year my library downloaded the following number of digital publication files (this does not include shipping lists, Web pages, or databases):

# %
0 972 82
1-25 119 10
26-100 38 3
101-500 35 3
501-1000 5 0
1001-5000 13 1
more than 5000 8 1
Total 1190 100


Question 66. My library is willing to receive Federal digital publication files on deposit from GPO, store them, and make them accessible to the general public from local servers. My library is willing to receive the following number of digital publication files per year (this does not include shipping lists, Web pages, or databases):

# %
0 796 67
1-25 210 18
26-100 75 6
101-500 46 4
501-1000 24 2
1001-5000 17 1
more than 5000 22 2
Total 1190 100


2006 DLC meeting

Digital deposit was discussed at the Spring 2006 Depository Library Council meeting

From the Q&A Summary:

Content Scenarios
…[6] A Technical Processing Librarian schedules the digital deposit of volume 86 (2006) of the Survey of Current Business along with cataloging records.
Interactions with FDsys:
– Log into a “MyFDsys” administrative account.
– Schedule a digital deposit of content and bibliographic records.

Question 9:
How does GPO plan to implement a program of digital deposit, and what are the plans to incorporate digitally deposited publications into GPO’s preservation strategy?

Summarized Response:
GPO will continue to work with the library community to clarify what is entailed in the concept of “digital deposit”, whether it is simply receiving a document through push technology or whether there’s an intention to manage the document over time using a full range of preservation processes. [page 2]

Comments from Council and Audience
Numerous council and audience members commended GPO on the FDsys requirements including requirements related to … digital deposit…. [page 3]



  • 38 percent of libraries (453) reported that they would want to receive digital document deposits if offered.
  • 16 percent of libraries (193) reported that they were already downloading and storing digital documents.
  • 20 libraries downloaded more than 1000 files in 2007.
  • 19.7 percent of libraries (236) reported that they intended to download and store digital documents in 2008.

  • 17 libraries libraries anticipated downloading more than 1000 files in 2008.

The 2007 Biennial Survey asked two questions about “Locally Storing Electronic Content.”

Question 35. Indicate the number of Access Derivatives (PDF files) your library systematically downloads, stores, and makes accessible to the general public from local servers.

0 1-25 26-100 101-500 501-1000 1001-5000 Over 5000 Total
# libs that downloaded 1006 105 31 24 13 15 5 1199
# libs that plan to download 961 126 42 34 17 10 7 1197

Question 35a. If the FDLP distributes Access Derivatives (PDF files) to depository libraries using a push mechanism from FDsys based on the library’s item selection, would your library want to receive them? (The retention rules for selectives and regionals would apply to these files.) [page 29]

number percent
Yes 453 37.78
No 738 61.55
No answer 8 0.67
Total 1199 100.00

GPO summary:

More depository libraries are now willing to receive digital files from GPO to store on local systems (thirty-eight percent versus thirty-three percent in 2005)…. 38% are willing to receive access derivatives (PDF) files from GPO to store and make them accessible via local servers. [page 36]

GPO Presentation on the 2005 Biennial Survey

At the Spring 2007 DLC meeting, GPO made a presentation on Digital Distribution to Depository Libraries: Exploring the Issues (April 17, 2007). (After a lunch-time discussion of digital deposit at the Fall 2017 DLC meeting, GPO re-posted a two page summary of that 2007 presentation.) The presentation and the summary both report on the 2005 biennial survey. The summary provides insights into GPO’s thinking about and attitudes toward digital deposit ten years ago. Excerpts from the summary:

GPO is also considering an affirmative distribution of authenticated and official published digital content to Federal depository libraries. Digital distribution would involve GPO “pushing” electronic publications to depositories based on their selection criteria. Title 44 of the U.S. Code requires selective depository libraries to retain Federal publications disseminated through the FDLP for at least five years, and with few exceptions depository materials must be maintained permanently by regional depository libraries.

…During the October 2006 Depository Library Council Meeting… many of the discussion participants were interested in having active digital distribution available as an option…

General Assumptions
5. GPO will distribute digital files optimized for public access. These files will typically be smaller than the archival copies preserved by GPO.



  • 416 libraries (roughly 37 percent of respondents) expressed interest in receiving digital files on deposit.
  • 21 percent see lack of digital deposit as an unmet need.
  • The report recommended that, “As the number of interested libraries increases, GPO should pursue plans to implement delivery of digital files for depository materials.” [pages 5, 17]

2009 Biennial Survey and Needs Assessment

The 2009 Biennial Survey was incorporated into the Needs Assessment survey.

The survey asked three questions about digital deposit:

18b Please answer the following questions related to receiving deposit digital files of online publications:

  • Are you interested in receiving digital files on deposit?
      417 yes (37%)   708 no
  • Have you discussed this with your library director/dean?
      702 yes (62%)   423 no
  • Is there administrative support for receiving digital files on deposit?
      376 yes (33%)   749 no

    [Note: We compiled these response totals from the Raw File. They differ slightly from those in the report p.57]

  • In addition, digital deposit was listed in Question 10:

    10. What services and/or resources do you need from the FDLP that you currently do not have? (Please select all that apply):
    [4]…Deposit of digital files:    21% [Final Report, p.13]



    • 87 libraries reported storing at least some digital depository publications on library servers.

    2011 Biennial Survey

    The 2011 Biennial Survey did not ask if libraries wanted digital deposit. The only question relevant to digital deposit gave libraries an opportunity to indicate that they are already downloading and storing digital documents locally. This was one of seven possible responses to a general question about how libraries “manage online depository publications” (page 25, question 20).

    Question 20. How does your library manage online depository publications? Select all that apply. The library…

    Academic Federal Public Special State Total
    “Houses at least some digital depository publications on library servers” 53 10 14 0 10 87


    The 2013 Biennial survey did not ask any questions relevant to digital deposit. The closest was one question tht asked: “How do you provide access to online publications?” It offered only only four responses that implied the question was about pointing, not collecting: “Catalog records, Web site, Library guides, Other.”



    • Almost 300 libraries (24% of respondents) expressed interest in receiving digital files on deposit.
    • More than 100 (10%) said that they were already harvesting documents from agency web sites.
    • More than 150 libraries (15%) said that deposit of digital files was an unmet need.
    • A question about “content management activities” that the library already provides, 78% said they “manage digital collections.”
    • 18% said that “permanent public access to and stability of digital content” was a “major problem or challenge.”

    2015 Biennial Survey and Needs Assessment

    Q 18b. Please answer the following questions related to receiving digital files of online publications on deposit:

  • Are you interested in receiving digital Are you interested in receiving digital files on deposit?
  • Have you discussed this with your Have you discussed this with your library director/dean?
  • Is there administrative support for receiving digital files on deposit?
  • Total Academic Fed Gov State Gov Local Gov Public Special
    interest 24% 25% 39% 21% 20% 39%
    discussed 51% 55% 36% 51% 17% 39% 39%
    support 21% 21% 30% 21% 17% 8%

    Q 21. Please answer the following question related to preservation:
    Does your library harvest or capture content from Federal agency websites?

    Total Academic Fed Gov State Gov Local Gov Public Special
    yes 10% 9% 39% 17% 7% 8%

    Q. 10. What services and/or resources do you need from the FDLP that are currently not being provided?

    Total Academic Fed Gov State Gov Local Gov Public Special
    deposit of digital files 15% 16% 18% 8% 17% 14% 23%

    Q 5. Services and content management activities your library provides to your patrons.

    Total Academic Fed Gov State Gov Local Gov Public Special
    Managing digital collections 78% 81% 77% 67% 50% 67% 92%

    Q 4. Factors considered Major problems or challenges to providing information and services?

    Major Problem Total Academic Fed Gov State Gov Local Gov Public Special
    Permanent Public Access to and stability of digital content 18% 20% 27% 15% 17% 9% 15%

    CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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