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Newsletter of the Federal Depository Library Program

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Cumulative Table of Contents Vol. 1 - present [ PDF ] ( includes current issue )

July 15, 2003

GP 3.16/3-2:23/03
(Vol. 24, no. 09)

DVD & the 3 P's: Preservation, Policy, and Public Access

Presentation by Judy Russell
Superintendent of Documents

DVD 2003 International Conference
June 11, 2003

It is a great pleasure to be here with you today to talk about the exciting new opportunities for improving public access to government information using DVD technology.

I am sure that many of you are familiar with the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). It is one of several programs administered by GPO to ensure broad public access to Federal government information.

James Madison's vision for the success of this nation rested on the ability of an informed citizenry to participate in the democratic process and to hold government accountable for its actions. He believed that for democracy to flourish there had to be a free flow of information to the people, with access to government information as a fundamental right.

In 1813, Congress took steps to implement that vision by passing the initial law requiring the deposit of Federal government information throughout the country for free public access. The program was originally administered by the Department of the Interior and later transferred to the Government Printing Office, which was not established until 1861.

In their wisdom, our Founding Fathers created a system that has lasted almost 200 years and has served this nation very well. Today it is the public's primary source of free access to the published information of the Federal Government, and that is why the enabling legislation is sometimes called "America's first freedom of information act."

More than 1,200 Federal depository libraries nationwide provide free public access to Government information in both print and electronic formats. Federal depository libraries are designated by Members of Congress or by law. Many are college, university, and academic law libraries, making the FDLP a key component of the Nation's education system.

Because the system distributes information to libraries throughout the country, there is no way that any natural disaster or terrorist act could ever wipe out the history of this nation and deprive the people of the information generated by their government over time.

However, the system was created before modern means of transportation and communication - before automobiles, trains, and airplanes changed our ability to move rapidly from one part of the country to another; before radio, television and the Internet transformed the way we obtain and share information instantaneously. And long before anyone conceived of small shiny DVD discs that could hold vast amounts of information, be replicated and disseminated cheaply, and protect valuable public data from hardware crashes, viruses, and unauthorized changes.

Initially the depository program was based on capturing documents as they flowed through the printing process and obtaining additional copies for dissemination to depository libraries. Once the documents were shipped to the libraries, the responsibility for preserving the documents and providing public access resided with the libraries.

Today we have a vastly different program. This year only 40% of the titles selected for inclusion in the FDLP will be shipped in paper, microfiche or some other tangible format such as CD-ROM or DVD. 60% of the titles will be made available on GPO Access or through links to electronic publications on agency or other websites. The trend is clear and the change is accelerating.

With the change from paper and microfiche to electronic formats, the responsibility for preservation and permanent public access of the information has moved from the libraries back to the government.

As we examine the next generation of software for GPO Access, we are also preparing to migrate all of our databases forward, add the appropriate XML tags, and digitally sign the content to authenticate it. Simultaneously, we are examining the need to refresh hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of CD-ROM titles that were shipped to depository libraries in the past 10-12 years.

On a recent visit to a regional depository library, I saw rack upon rack of CDs. Many of those titles are now aged and aging. Many run only on Windows 3.1 or Windows 95. They are not forward compatible with todayís operating systems and networks. The data is often embedded in proprietary formats.

We are expecting our depository libraries to run museums, maintaining and operating obsolete technology in order to provide access to a wide array of government information stored on these aging CD-ROMs. GPO will work with the depository community and the publishing agencies to extract and preserve that data or we will lose a generation of important government information. This is a lesson learned from publishing CD-ROM titles that all of us should consider as we make decisions today and tomorrow about DVD publishing.

As popular as it is, DVD publishing in the Government is still in its infancy. One of the earliest government applications of DVD technology that I am aware of was a 1998 DVD published by the Navy for medical training in the event of chemical warfare. It runs a trainee through a series of video scenarios, and the trainee must look at each video for clues to help determine if a chemical attack has occurred, the severity of the injuries, and the proper way to respond. The Air Force also published a DVD in 1998 on the subject of government ethics. Other military titles have followed those pioneering efforts.

The flow of DVDs into the depository library program accelerated in January 2000 when the Patent and Trademark Office switched from CD-ROM to DVD for its USAPat product. The advantages of DVD were obvious. PTO was able to produce one DVD per week instead of 5 CD-ROMs. PTO has subsequently expanded its DVD publishing to include a number of other patent and trademark titles, all of which are included in the FDLP.

As a result of the PTO products and the announced plans of the Census Bureau to use DVD as a major part of its dissemination of the 2000 Census, GPO changed its minimum technical requirements for workstations in Federal depository libraries to include a DVD drive effective in 2000. Now there are over 1,200 libraries nationwide equipped with DVD players, ready to receive new titles as they are published.

We donít keep separate statistics on DVD titles versus CD titles, so I canít tell you the exact number of the DVDs that have been shipped to depository libraries since 1998, but I can tell you that DVDs are being produced by a number of agencies and provide a wide variety of content.

In addition to PTO, the Census Bureau and the military, we have distributed DVDs from the National Center for Health Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics. The North American Banding Council has issued a DVD on bird banding. We have DVD titles from US Geological Survey, EPA, and NASA. There is a training DVD for ambulance drivers issued jointly by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health of the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as a number of other Department of Transportation titles.

A number of these titles capitalize on the ability of DVD to deliver audio-visual presentations. All of them take advantage of the expanded storage capacity of DVD. Most of them offer the data with embedded software for viewing and manipulation, but many of them have addressed the concerns I raised with respect to the early CD-ROM titles and have left the data accessible in standard, non-proprietary formats, so it can be exported and manipulated by a variety of software.

The use of CD-ROM as a publishing media was accelerated in the early 1990s by the establishment of SIGCAT, now morphed into DVDA (the sponsor of this conference), which offered opportunities for government agencies and vendors of software and services to exchange information about best practices, successes and lessons learned. Jerry McFaul at USGS was the founder and host of SIGCAT and is still very active in DVDA. Another significant factor in the rapid adoption of CD-ROM as a publishing media was a series of classes that were offered by the GPO Institute for Federal Printing and Publishing. Jerry and I were part of the initial staff that taught those courses and they were extremely popular.

Now, Jerry and I are joining together again, along with several other agencies to establish a DVDA working group on government information preservation, which can help all of us understand and utilize the DVD technology more effectively. The initial participants, in addition to USGS and GPO, are NIST, NARA, the Library of Congress, and Census. The purpose of the group will be to address the longevity of the DVD media, standardization of logical structures for DVD publishing, and guidelines for access protocols to ensure that data published on DVD is accessible in the future. We welcome other agencies to join with us and become active participants in the group.

The first meeting of the working group will take place at NIST in late July. It will include a tour of the NIST DVD testing laboratory and provide an opportunity to discuss our goals and objectives. Working together, we can use this technology to facilitate government agencies' efforts to produce DVDs for internal agency use and, where appropriate, for public access.

I hope as the agencies represented here develop their DVD applications that they will work with GPO to make sure that as many as possible can be distributed through the Federal Depository Library Program. This is an inexpensive means to disseminate your agency's information and to place it in libraries with staff trained to assist users and collections of other materials to augment the content of your publications. GPO and our library partners are committed not just to current access to materials in the program, but to permanent public access, so we will assume responsibility for migrating the data forward when that becomes necessary.

As I said in the beginning, DVDs are ideal for dissemination of government information. They hold vast amounts of information, can be replicated and disseminated cheaply, and protect valuable public data from hardware crashes, viruses, and unauthorized changes. There are exciting possibilities for many types of government information to be published on DVD. If we are careful in our choices of software and data formats, we can ensure the availability of the content for current users and future generations.

I look forward with you to seeing the range of DVD applications expand over the coming year and become an ever more important means by which the government fulfills Madison's vision for an informed citizenry.