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What are we to keep? thoughts on the National Collection (DttP Spring 2015 feature article)

The Spring 2015 issue of Documents to the People (DttP) just arrived at my door. The feature article in this issue is titled “Thoughts on the National Collection” and was collaboratively written by myself, James R. Jacobs, along with Shari Laster, Aimee C. Quinn, and Barbie Selby. I’m posting my segment titled “What Are We to Keep?” as it was written under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share-Alike CC BY-NC-SA license. The other pieces include: “Segmenting the Government Information Corpus” by Shari Laster; “Who is Responsible for Permanent Public Access?” by Aimee C. Quinn; and “Where Do We Go From Here?: Some Thoughts” by Barbie Selby. I’ll post the other segments if I get permission from my collaborators.

The question of “how many copies” of print documents the FDLP should collectively keep is the wrong question asked for the wrong reasons and trying to answer it will only lead to the wrong answers and irreparable loss of information. For me, even thinking about answering it raises more questions. How can we know how many copies to keep unless we specify the purposes for which we wish to keep them? What are those purposes? How will we know if we are meeting our goals? How will discarding paper benefit users? How can we be sure that we are not losing information when we discard paper copies if we do not have an inventory of the paper copies that exist? How can we implement a policy that is so vague that it doesn’t define things like “a requisite number of copies,” and how decisions will be made, and which apparently treats a born-digital XML document created by GPO and an indifferent digitization without OCR text and missing its maps and foldouts as of equal value?

Let’s be clear. We are talking about the records of our democracy. Loss of even a single page could damage the ability of historians, journalists, economists, and citizens to understand our history and hold our government accountable for it successes and its failures. We have those documents now in our libraries; there are not hundreds or even dozens of copies of these documents floating around in used bookstores or elsewhere. They are in our charge.

Keep reading “What are we to keep?”…

Also see the What Are We To Keep FAQ for further context and bibliography.

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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