UNT libraries partners with the U.S. National Archives

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- 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," said 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," explained Cathy N. Hartman, assistant dean of digital and information technologies at UNT Libraries. "The information would have disappeared 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 came up with the CyberCemetery idea in January of 1997 when 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.

"If you're going to have a democracy, people have to be informed of what their government is (and has been) doing," Hartman said. "Historically, this was done in the paper world through the Federal  Depository Library Program. Publishing in the digital world is quite recent really, beginning during the Clinton administration."

But by 1995, she 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 said.

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

A Few CyberCemetery Facts You Can Harvest:

  • Begun with one web site, today there are at least 45 sites in the CyberCemetery – the most recent being the Iraq Study Group.
  • The collection has grown from simple HTML pages to complex multimedia web sites. The 9/11 Commission web site, for instance, came with 30 gigabytes of streaming video, including the videotaped hearings.
  • The CyberCemetery gets more than 175,000 visitors each month.
  • Some of the most popular areas? The defunct National Gambling Commission's gambling impact study report and former Vice President Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government site.
  • Don't bother asking UNT librarians to remove sensitive but not classified information on the CyberCemetery. They'll refuse. "It's for the people of this country," Hartman said of the CyberCemetery's free and open access. "It belongs to the people."
  • Now as an Affiliated Archive, copies of these one-of-a-kind materials are also protected officially by the National Archives and Records Administration.

To visit the CyberCemetery go to http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/ .
For more information, contact Cathy Hartman or Starr Hoffman, UNT Libraries at 940-565-3269; the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300 or Veronica Meter, U.S. Government Printing Office, at 202-512-1957.

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