Preserving USDA Digital Publications


Evelyn Frangakis, Preservation Officer

National Agricultural Library



Today the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is increasingly, and in some instances exclusively, publishing information in electronic form. USDA digital publications produced need to be systematically identified, prioritized, preserved, and archived. While important, sometimes these electronic publications are extremely transitory. For example, NAL’s attempts to locate, catalog and provide access to the annual issues of USDA’s Agriculture Fact Book in electronic form illustrate why it is important to develop a plan to ensure continued access to data representing earlier editions. When the 1995 edition of the Agriculture Fact Book was made available electronically, its preceding electronic edition was removed from its location on a remote computer to make space for the new edition. NAL had entered a record for the electronic editions but had no means to ensure continued access to the complete set of electronic versions. Solutions to the problems of maintaining the entire body of electronic publications and making them available for as long as needed call for cooperative efforts. NAL is partnering with USDA agencies, related federal agencies and other stakeholders to capture and preserve these important electronic agricultural resources.


Given that a number of USDA agencies have begun publishing exclusively in electronic form, the NAL and other key stakeholders and responsible parties are working to develop a preservation plan for digital USDA publications. This plan is being developed together with the Department's Chief Information Officer and key representatives of all USDA agencies, other responsible Federal government entities, and other non-governmental institutions and groups in the agricultural community.


Developing a Preservation Plan

In March 1997 NAL, with the Economic Research Service of the USDA, the Government Printing Office, Cornell University, and the Farm Foundation took the first step in a cooperative venture by convening a 2-day national meeting to begin to identify the major elements and requirements of such a plan. As a result of this meeting, an initial preservation plan, Framework for the Preservation of and Permanent Public Access to USDA Digital Publications, was developed for discussion within the Department of Agriculture. It identifies the principal USDA agencies involved, resources required, and steps to be taken in the near term as well as over an extended period of time.


The Framework calls for the organization of a steering committee to oversee implementation of the preservation plan. The steering committee will have three task groups under it, the: Task Group on Inventory and Life-Cycle Management, Task Group on Technical Requirements and Task Group on User Access and Retrieval. The Framework addresses: the management framework and related institutional roles and responsibilities, both inside the Department and externally, in the long-term preservation of digital USDA publications; the underlying technological infrastructure and technical document management requirements; the development of long-term retention criteria and processes for digital USDA publications; and the main issues in long-term user access to and retrieval of those digital publications.


Next Steps

The Framework for the Preservation of and Permanent Public Access to USDA Digital Publications has been endorsed by the Department of Agriculture. It is being distributed to participants of the National Conference on Creating an Action Plan for Preserving USDA Digital Publications. A steering committee, chaired by the NAL Director and including representatives throughout the USDA as well as external stakeholders will be established to oversee implementation of the Framework. The Framework will be made widely available to external stakeholders for endorsement. A budget request to USDA will be developed to initiate key aspects of the plan. Funding will be requested for a pilot project to apply the Framework to a microcosm of USDA digital publications. Discussions will continue with key stakeholders such as GPO, NARA, and NSF to gather information on proceeding with a digital publications preservation pilot. As a result of initial discussions with these groups, several USDA agencies have already emerged as possible sites for implementation of the digital publications preservation pilot project.



Submitted to the Digital Archives Directions Workshop

May 28, 1998