UNT libraries a partner with the U.S. National Archives

Friday, December 22, 2006

The University of North Texas Libraries has something no one else has - the nation's only CyberCemetery.

Its collection of web sites and electronic publications once published by now-defunct or "dead" U.S. government entities appealed to the National Archives, the official keeper of government records.

So the National Archives and Records Administration recently invited the university to affiliate with it, ensuring continued access to important reports and e-files.

To be an "Affiliated Archive" is a very prestigious designation for UNT, say those in the know.

"It's a unique distinction and very unlikely to be given to too many other academic institutions," says Dr. B. Donald Grose, dean of libraries at UNT.

Currently UNT is one of only three institutions of higher education that are Affiliated Archives of the National Archives. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis are the other two.

"We had a number of web sites of dead federal agencies that the National Archives did not have," explains Cathy N. Hartman, assistant dean of digital and information technologies at UNT Libraries. "The information would have disappeared or be gone if we had not captured it."

The computer server that preserves the electronic graveyard of government agencies and commissions that are DOA - dead on arrival - is housed in the basement of the Willis Library at UNT. It will enter its 10th year of cyber life in 2007.

Hartman and other members of the Government Documents Department in the library came up with the CyberCemetery idea in January 1997 when she they learned that one agency, the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR), was closing and its web site would be removed from the Internet. Hartman took the initiative to see what could be done to preserve the ACIR web site. While attending an American Library Association conference in San Francisco that summer, Hartman worked closely with George Barnum of the Federal Depository Library Program to finalize plans and make what would become the CyberCemetery a reality.

The CyberCemetery (http://govinfo.library.unt.edu) currently contains more than 45 sites, including a newly added site for the Iraq Study Group's report. The collection, which is visited by more than 175,000 people each month, has grown from simple HTML pages to complex multimedia web sites. The 9/11 Commission site, for example, has 30 gigabytes of streaming video, including the videotaped hearings.

Some of the most viewed sites include the defunct National Gambling Commission's gambling impact study report and former Vice President Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government site.

Hartman says the CyberCemetery is important because it "informs users of what their government is and has been doing."

"Historically, this was done in the paper world through the Federal Depository Library Program. The Publishing in the digital world is quite recent really, beginning during the Clinton administration," she says.

But by 1995, Hartman and others began seeing a problem. Government agencies were putting up web sites, but once their Congressional funding ran out or they finished their work and closed, their web sites began disappearing.

"All of this information that would have at one time been printed and distributed was no longer being put out there to libraries," Hartman says.

UNT Libraries became the guardian of the dead government records, reviving them for all eternity.

Hartman says that because the CyberCemetery is free and open to all computer users, UNT librarians refuse to remove sensitive but not classified information from the site.

"The site is for the people of this country. It belongs to the people," she says.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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