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The Fall, 2023 issue of Documents to the People (DttP) just came out. This issue is always interesting because it includes a section of MLIS student submissions. This time around was no different. An article by Miguel Beltran, a grad student at University of IL at Urbana Champaign (which also happens to be my alma mater!) caught my attention because it was on a subject that FGI has long written about: the exigency of born-digital preservation of government information.
Citation: Lessons Learned in Born-Digital Preservation. Miguel Beltran. Documents to the People (DttP), Fall, 2023. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5860/dttp.v51i3.8124.
Beltran’s insightful analysis revolves around the documents of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) and an investigative report by the Washington Post entitled “At war with the truth.” Beltran points to the BIG ELEPHANT in the FDLP room: the processes, workflows, and infrastructures needed to curate (collect, preserve, and give long-term access) government information are not currently in place and that “clear strategies and widespread collaboration are necessary to preserve government information on these mediums.”
As more government documents are created in digital mediums, it is increasingly important that agencies could preserve and make them available to the public. This article discusses one group of government documents related to the war in Afghanistan and the
landscape that would potentially preserve them. Based on the current conditions, there is a possibility that these documents and those of a similar nature may be overlooked and lost to future generations.
I checked the Catalog of Government Publications (CGP) for author: “United States. Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction” and the newest SIGAR report there is from May of 2022. Herein lies the problem as Beltran notes. Without a agreement in place between SIGAR and GPO, many of this agency’s reports will fall through the cracks and not be cataloged for the National Collection or actively preserved. The main SIGAR site has been harvested by the Internet Archive many times since 2009 (but the reports page and its corresponding RSS feed have been collected far fewer times since only 2015, at very random intervals, and NOT by GPO!). That means that, though the SIGAR site is in the wayback machine, the reports from this agency are not necessarily even in wayback and certainly NOT in GPO’s FDLP web archive.
Therefore, the ONLY way to assure that these born-digital documents are curated is to go through the list one-by-one in a brute force kind of way to check to see if they’ve been cataloged in CGP and then report them as “unreported” documents to GPO. So that’s what I’m going to do 🙂
Thanks again to Miguel Beltran for again raising the important issue of born-digital preservation. Have you reported a document to GPO today? I challenge all of my FDLP colleagues around the country to report 5 documents per week to GPO. Together we can fill some of the cracks that are currently in the National Collection.