CRL's Leviathan agenda for digital government information

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Government information, and its survival and integrity in the age of Big Data, is a major topic of concern to scholars and researchers.  Exciting new initiatives to expose national and local government-produced data freely on the web coincide with reports of the wholesale disappearance of emails at public agencies like the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

Research libraries play a key role in ensuring that “tangible” government records and publications remain intact and available for the long term.  U.S. and Canadian libraries serve as public depositories and preserve and collect key paper records and publications of domestic and foreign governments.  The new realities of born-digital information, however, require us to rethink our approach to preservation.  CRL’s 2014 Global Resources Forum, “Leviathan: Libraries and Big Government in the Age of Big Data,” explored these challenges.   The Leviathan presentations and conversations are archived online at:, and the report on the Forum can be downloaded at:

The Leviathan conversations yielded five broad strategies that will now become the basis for CRL planning and priorities in the coming years.   The strategies may not resemble the ones you traditionally associate with CRL, but I believe they are well suited to the challenges we face today.  They involve, for example:

  • “Drilling down”:  intensive evaluation of the major platforms through which researchers obtain access to born-digital government information, whether those platforms are maintained by the GPO, National Archives and Records Administration, and Library and Archives Canada, or by commercial vendors like ProQuest and Bloomberg;
  • “Acting up”: supporting the work of non-library organizations, like UNESCO, American Historical Association and the National Security Archive, which share our interest in the integrity and disclosure of public information.

The “Leviathan agenda” will serve as a blueprint for CRL’s ongoing work in this important realm, and I will report again as our program takes further shape. Meanwhile, I encourage you to consider the report and to share it with others who may have an interest in this timely and compelling issue. And I welcome your own thoughts and comments on the agenda.

We owe special thanks to Ingrid Parent, Scott Walter, Mary Case, and Judith Russell, whose advice and participation made Leviathan an important agenda-building event for CRL and its community.

Bernard F. Reilly
President (2001-2019)
Center for Research Libraries