Research libraries have long collected and preserved the documents and publications of domestic and foreign governments, and have acquired in microform the archives of many of those regimes. In this way, they ensure that information and documentary evidence vital to scholarship remains available for the long term.
The digital environment brings new complexities and uncertainties to this task. The immense oceans of information that government agencies produce and collect today, and the inherent fluidity and impermanence of digital media, require a fundamental rethinking of longstanding preservation practices.
At the same time, those very technologies are creating tremendous new possibilities for information access and management. Governments worldwide are committing to “open data,” and a growing legion of activists and entrepreneurs are now embracing government transparency as a cause, and even a business opportunity.
Clearly, for CRL and the North American research libraries concerned about the continued integrity and accessibility of information, the times call for a new playbook. The 2014 Global Resources Forum Leviathan: Libraries and Government Information in the Age of Big Data, convened by CRL on April 24–25, explored these new realities and examined the complexities and opportunities they present. Forum speakers identified ways in which “e-government” imperils the long-term integrity and accessibility of information. The discussions yielded five broad strategies that research libraries, individually and collectively, can adopt to address those threats.
The Leviathan presentations and discussions are now archived online at: www.crl.edu/leviathan. This issue of FOCUS offers a synopsis of the challenges and strategies identified. The Leviathan conversations will form the foundation for CRL planning and priorities in the field of government information for the coming years. While the activities called for may not resemble those one traditionally associates with CRL, we believe that they are suited to the challenges we face.