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Where Does Federal Digital Information Go When The Lights Go Out?


I thought some of my readers might be interested in this recent post on AALL’s Washington Blawg about Saturday’s New York Times article on the loss of federal online information:

In Digital Age, Federal Files Blip Into Oblivion, by Robert Pear, published: September 12, 2008

Robert Pear of The New York Times succinctly describes the enormous challenges of preserving the vast array of federal online government information in an article published on September 13, 2008, entitled, “In Digital Age, Federal Files Blip into Oblivion.” The article captures a key concern raised by AALL in a letter to members of Congress last April about the short-sighted and disappointing decision of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) not to harvest agency Web sites at the end of this administration….”(full blog post, linking to NYT article).

Excerpt from the NYT article:

Countless federal records are being lost to posterity because federal employees, grappling with a staggering growth in electronic records, do not regularly preserve the documents they create on government computers, send by e-mail and post on the Web.

Federal agencies have rushed to embrace the Internet and new information technology, but their record-keeping efforts lag far behind. Moreover, federal investigators have found widespread violations of federal record-keeping requirements.

Many federal officials admit to a haphazard approach to preserving e-mail and other electronic records of their work. Indeed, many say they are unsure what materials they are supposed to preserve….

“We expect to see the wholesale disappearance of materials on federal agency Web sites,” said Mary Alice Baish, the Washington representative of the American Association of Law Libraries, whose members are heavy users of government records. “When new officials take office, they have new programs and policies, and they want to make a fresh start.”

Richard Pearce-Moses, a former president of the Society of American Archivists, said, “My biggest worry is that even with the best and brightest minds working on this problem, the risks are so great that we may lose significant portions of our history.”

The Web site of the Environmental Protection Agency lists more than 50 “broken links” that once connected readers to documents on depletion of the ozone layer of the atmosphere.

At least 20 documents have been removed from the Web site of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. They include a draft report highly critical of the civil rights policies of the Bush administration….’ (link to full article)

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