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Your Gummint Nixes Digital Preservation

It may not be sexy or all that visible; you can’t download it to your iPod; it’s not right under your nose every day. In fact, you may not be aware of one of the most important activities where librarians have engaged their values and skills for the last decade.

Nevertheless, please sit up and listen. Close to a decade’s worth of digital preservation efforts just took a major hit in House Joint Resolution 20, which zeroes out $47 million in appropriations for crucial work in this area.

In fact, if you added up all the NDIIP projects, I’d bet you’d have over a century of blood, sweat, toil and tears dedicated to preserving cultural memory.

As a freshly-minted project investigator on an ongoing multi-institutional project where MPOW is a participant, I was at the NDIIP partners meeting held in San Diego this January, and I have but one word to say about the many projects I witnessed that week: “Wow.”

From efforts to preserve public television to LOCKSS archives to the many successful projects designed to protect our digital brain trust for many generations ahead, I felt jazzed and excited and quite proud. We librarians play key roles in many of these projects. It was also one of those times when I felt that my taxation was getting excellent representation.

Post-9/11 and post-Katrina, you’d think our gummint would get that you can’t put all of your cultural eggs in one basket–that we absolutely must come up with trustworthy methods and protocols for ensuring we preserve our digital heritage. Then again, with such minimal adult supervision at the helm for these past six years, while the world heats to a boil and we foment war with hostile nations, maybe the assumption is we won’t be around much longer to appreciate the fruits of our labors.

It stings that much more that the House also whacked LC’s new catalog and even its furniture. But at least we know where the money’s going.

A couple of the participants in the “emerging leaders” program at ALA commented to me that in their one-day workshop, they had been asked to create plans for projects that would never see fruition. I agree that’s dumb (though on reflection, it does sound depressingly like some places I’ve worked for…). If any of you ELs are reading this, my own project to you would be to read up on digital preservation, write something on your own blogs, and get activist about this central issue by speaking out on its behalf. (Hey, put it on YouTube, and I’ll dance to it.)

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