Email to a friend
U. of I. to play lead role
in project to preserve digital information
Andrea Lynn, Humanities
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been chosen as one
of the lead institutions in a massive new Library of Congress project
to save at-risk digital materials nationwide.
The U. of I. Library and
the U. of I. Graduate School of
Library and Information Science will receive nearly $3 million over
three years for their role in the Library of Congress preservation project,
called the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation
“Together with the Library of Congress, we’ll address a
problem that grows more pressing every day: How do we collect, manage,
preserve, and make useful the enormous amount of digital information
our culture is now producing?” said John Unsworth, the dean of
the U. of I. Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and
co-principal investigator of Illinois’ grant. Beth Sandore, associate
university librarian for information technology planning and policy
at Illinois, is the other co-principal investigator.
Sandore sees the grant as a unique opportunity and challenge.
“The public has entrusted libraries, museums and archives with
the stewardship of collections and resources so that they can be used
by future generations,” Sandore said. “Collecting, selecting
and preserving digital information requires approaches and resources
that are substantively different from those we have used traditionally.
“This partnership presents a unique opportunity for us to work
with a network of institutions, including our partners, other NDIIPP
grantees and the Library of Congress, to develop both the methods and
the technologies that will help the library community better understand
how to preserve and make accessible significant digital resources for
According to Sandore, the project also provides an opportunity for information
professionals with traditional library backgrounds and those with digital
library expertise to work together to address these challenges.
Illinois’ nationwide partners are the OCLC Online Computer Library
Center in Dublin, Ohio; Tufts University’s Perseus Project; the
Michigan State University Library; and an alliance of state libraries
from Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Partners
on the Illinois campus include WILL-AM,
-FM and -TV (public radio and television stations), the Division
of Management Information and the National
Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).
Illinois’ project more specifically will develop criteria for
selecting digital material for capture and preservation, with OCLC taking
the lead to build software to help automate the process. Illinois, OCLC
and NCSA will jointly provide storage for the digital content collected
in the project in databases called “repositories” and will
test real-world problems that are encountered in the process of digital
Illinois also will explore ways for libraries and repositories to share
and preserve digital information existing in a wide variety of formats
including Web-based government publications, historical documents and
photos, sound and video recordings, Web sites and other varied digital
resources that will be of historical interest to future generations.
Because most digitally created materials have no physical version, these
“so-called born-digital materials are at a much greater risk of
either being lost and no longer available as historical resources, or
of being altered, preventing future researchers from studying them in
their original form,” a Library of Congress news release said,
adding that “Millions of digital materials, such as Web sites
mounted in the early days of the Internet, are already lost –
either completely or in their original versions.”
Illinois, along with the other partners in NDIIPP, seeks to identify
methods and technologies that will help avoid losing information that
is of significant historical value.
The project is expected to involve a great many players and have a wide
ripple effect, both within and outside the state.
“In the best tradition of land-grant schools,” Unsworth
said, “this project puts research and teaching to work in the
service of the state and the nation.”
According to Unsworth, the infrastructure that will be funded by this
grant at Illinois will constitute “a unique environment for the
comparative testing and published evaluation of digital library software
and techniques. That environment also will be used for faculty research
and for teaching students in a new advanced degree program in digital
Unsworth became dean of Illinois’ library school a year ago after
serving as the founding director of the Institute for Advanced Technology
in the Humanities at the University of Virginia. He is a frequent speaker
on topics related to digital scholarship, digital libraries and scholarly
publishing. Sandore has served as associate university librarian for
information technology planning and policy since 2001. Her professional
experience and research focus on developing and evaluating digital libraries
of cultural heritage information.
Illinois is one of eight institutions leading projects under this round
of NDIIPP funding. The others are the University of California, the
University of California at Santa Barbara, Educational Broadcasting
Corporation (Thirteen/WNET New York), Emory University, University of
Maryland, University of Michigan and North Carolina State University
Libraries. Illinois’ grant is the third highest of the participating
Laura E. Campbell, who is leading the NDIIPP initiative for the Library
of Congress, said that “These formal partnerships mark the beginning
of a new phase of this program to raise awareness of the need for digital
preservation and to take steps to capture and preserve at-risk digital
content that is vital to our nation’s history.”
The Library of Congress called for applications a year ago. All applications
were subjected to a peer-review process administered by the National
Endowment for the Humanities. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington
made the final selection.
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. The U.
of I. Library is the largest public university library in the world,
and the U. of I. Graduate School of Library and Information Science
is consistently rated among the best in the world.