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Lessons from Change.gov

NextGov‘s Tech Insider has a comment on the problems at Change.gov:

There isn’t much new information in this article, but it does illustrate the digital age paradox of, on the one hand, how easy it is to make information disappear on the web by just removing it and, on the other hand, how hard it can be to make information disappear forever. As Nagesh says:

The fact that so many sites have posted cached versions of the deleted web pages just drives the point home further; in this day and age, nothing you post on the Internet is going to go away quickly just because you pull it off your server.

While there are ad-hoc caches here and there of some of the change.gov pages that have been removed, does anyone know where they are? Can a citizen find them? How long will it be before those ad-hoc copies are removed because whoever saved them loses interest or shuts down their blog or runs out of money or…?

One conclusion that can we draw from this is that ad-hoc solutions are inadequate. Sure, some blogger may have saved a copy of one of the Agenda pages Change.gov removed, and another may have saved another, but this is no way to do systematic preservation.

We are lucky that the Dot Gov Harvest is harvesting the Change.gov site, and I think Starr will post information about public access to those crawls here at FGI soon.

But harvesting web sites is not a complete solution either. Harvesting is imperfect and incomplete. Links can break, embedded content can be lost, databases can prohibit or inhibit crawls of their content, and crawls can only save occasional snapshots of dynamic sites.

There is a solution that is less ad-hoc and more comprehensive: governments need to actively deposit their content at the time of production with depository libraries.

We read so often of libraries trying to “redefine” themselves in the digital age and trying to justify their existence to people who think that google is a library, that ad-hoc solutions to preservation are good enough, and that the government will provide free access to all of its information forever for free.

For those librarians who don’t believe all those myths, here is a simple way to reinvent your library: insist on digital deposit by the government and establish your library as a digital Federal DEPOSITORY Library.

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