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State Government Digital Information – A 50 state report

The Center for Technology in Government released this new report based on a survey of all fifty states:

Preserving State Government Digital Information: A Baseline Report
By Theresa A. Pardo, G. Brian Burke, and Hyuckbin Kwon.

According to the press release, the authors identify six major barriers to the sucessful preservation of state government digital data:

  1. Capability for preserving state government digital information is low.
  2. There is no consistent approach to addressing “at-risk” information.
  3. Authority for setting standards and responsibility for providing digital preservation services is dispersed.
  4. Executive, legislative, and judicial agencies operate parallel digital preservation efforts.
  5. Digital preservation and Enterprise Architecture initiatives are not well-connected.
  6. Efforts to develop strategic digital preservation programs are hampered by problem focused practices and funding and staffing models.

I look forward to reading the entire paper and might have some more to say about it. If you’ve read the paper, please leave a comment or drop us a line.

In addition to the paper, the CTG staff also published a set of state profiles that includes information on specific projects. Hopefully in the coming weeks we’ll be able to highlight some states whose initiatives seem especially promising.

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


  1. Rumors and lies are so persistent it is hardly necessary to ensure their preservation; they are tougher than a vampire. Once your name appears on a list, whether it should be there or not it is nearly impossible to get it removed. Records and lists are all too easily duplicated and it is impossible to find all the copies. There are many stories of people whose names are on a no-fly list through no fault of their own. Now, every time they want to fly they have to prove they shouldn’t be on the list before they are allowed to board the plane.

    If you were once mistakenly listed as, say, a child molester, that “negative information” is sure to turn up again no matter how many times you prove it is false — if you can prove such a negative — and get it removed from the record.

    Corporations exist which collect anything they can find out about you to sell to anyone who will pay a fee. They cannot be punished for selling false information unless you prove their intent was malicious. (Note the past tense. You are not permitted to know what is recorded about you until it has already caused harm, and maybe not even then without a court order. Assuming you figure out the source of the lie.) Governments are among the best clients of these corporations. Until someone is required to insure the accuracy of this personal information being so freely traded, it should not be archived.

    Rumors and lies have always had a life of their own; have mercy, don’t make it infinite.

    And really, who looks at old records? A few historians looking for dirt to dish, that’s about it.

  2. Your comments on the misuse of personal information are well taken, but there is much more to government information than records on individuals. Much of the nation’s scientific research is funded by the federal gov’t. The military produces “lessons learned” reports to try to avoid the mistakes of the past. NASA’s publications on space exploration have little personal dirt but go back decades. All of these kinds of documents and more are at risk in a digital age.

    But for your specific question on who uses old records besides historians looking for personal dirt, here are just a couple of examples gathered from the National Archives and Records Administration Performance and Accountability Report for FY 2005:

    People trying to prove their citizenship

    Shang She Jung, 67, of Port Chester, NY, was unable to obtain Social Security benefits because he couldn’t prove his citizenship. He had come to the United States in 1947 as a child from China, but in the 1950s he was separated from abusive parents, without a birth certificate, pass-port, or any other kind of documentation. Our Northeast regional archives in New York City referred him to our Pacific Region in San Francisco. There, Bill Greene, an archival immigration files expert, matched Jung with his family’s original immigration case file and a directive the be admitted “as a U.S. citizen.” The New York Timestold Jung’s story in a 2004 article called “A Man Withoua Country Finds One After 57 Years.”

    People looking for their families:

    Lee Ann Potter, head of NARA’s education programs in Washington, likes to tell of finding her own great-great grandfather’s homestead application among the billions of documents held by the National Archives—and of her husband’s response. She recalls, “His amazement at the tri-folded, 8-page, yellowing document from 1872 prompted him to say, ‘I can’t believe it was actually his. I can’t believe it is here. And I can’t believe they are letting you touch it.”

    Decendents of slaves:

    For five years, NARA has part-nered with Howard University in Washington, DC, to significantly enhance access to one of the most valuable sources of African Ameri-can genealogical information: the records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. While NARA microfilms the rec-ords, Howard, with a grant from the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, is preparing the indexes. The project is to be completed in fiscal year 2006. Earlier, the University of Florida assisted NARA in putting the Florida records on microfilm. – p. 25


    Many other partnerships take the form of loans of documents. For example, NARA has recently loaned Louisiana Purchase documents to various institutions to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the treaty. The National Museum of the American Indian has borrowed various Indian treaties and documents. NARA loaned the Library of Congress a variety of documents, including President Harry S. Truman’s recognition of the State of Israel, for its exhibit “From Haven to Home,” which commemorated 350 years of Jewish life in America.

    According to the same NARA report, many people outside government used federal records in some way during FY 2005:

    Microfilm Researchers – 80,481

    Other Records – 86,686

    Written Requests – 1,115,619

    Public Program Attendees – 245,294

    Museum Visitors – 2,743,147

    And those numbers don’t even count the numbers of folks using published government documents. While I don’t have a count handy for the number of people looking at printed government documents, the Government Printing Office reported in October 2005 that “since its inception in 1994, GPO Access retrievals have exceeded 2.3 billion. June 2005 was the busiest month ever, with more than 39 million retrievals. Through August, more than 392 million documents have been retrieved in FY2005.”

    So millions of people are looking at “old records” in one way or another. That’s one reason they deserve all the protection we can give them. While still fighting the misuse of personal information and error-ridden accusations.

    “And besides all that, what we need is a decentralized, distributed system of depositing electronic files to local libraries willing to host them.” — Daniel Cornwall, tipping his hat to Cato the Elder for the original quote.

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