Federal grant helps 'U' preserve election data

BY ROSIE GOLDENSOHN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 12, 2004

While public opinion polls and voter records contain valuable
information for researchers, such data have frequently been lost or
destroyed over time.

But thanks to a grant of more than $2 million awarded last month
from the Library of Congress, the University will be leading five
other schools in a three-year project to preserve such data.

The Inter-University Consortium for Social and Political
Research — a part of the University’s Institute for
Social Research and one of the world’s largest social science
data archives — is teaming up with five other institutions to
preserve the records.

Opinion polls, voting records and social science data from
surveys on topics such as family income, factory closings and race
relations will be preserved.

Political science Prof. Ken Kollman, interim director of the
Center for Political Studies at the Institute, said such
information will be important to social science researchers in the
future.

“People who … want to study the 2004 election, for
example, would want to have a record of how the candidates were
raising money over the Web and the kind of websites that are
attracting a lot of attention. … That’s going to be
interesting for historians,” Kollman said.

The grant for preserving election data is part of a broader
Library of Congress plan for a network of institutions to store a
wide range of digital data. A total of nearly $15 million was
distributed among eight institutions for preserving data ranging
from Southern music at Emory University in Atlanta to broadcasts of
the public TV news program Frontline on the PBS channel at the
Educational Broadcasting Corporation in New York. A panel from the
National Endowment for the Humanities selected the participating
institutions.

Congress mandated that the Library set up a collaborative
network for preserving such digital content in December 2000,
appropriating $99.8 million for the project.

Guy Lamolinara, spokesman for the Library of Congress, said the
program will avoid the redundancies of paper records held at
numerous libraries, while leaving each institution to study what it
does best. “There’s no way that one institution, even
the Library of Congress, can reserve and collect all this
electronic information. We really do need a network of partners who
have defined roles.”

Lamolinara said digital preservation poses specific challenges
that libraries do not face when collecting published material. He
said that unlike books, whose content remains unchanged over time,
Internet data needs to be preserved in its original form because
websites are frequently updated.

“We really need to think about it at the moment of
creation,” he said.

Also, the media by which digital data are recorded change with
time as technology improves. “There’s regular
reformatting of digital data because there are periodic changes in
the way that data is stored and distributed,” said
Information Prof. Margaret Hedstrom, a member of the national
project’s strategy board.

The Inter-University Consortium will join the University of
North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Connecticut,
Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute, the National Archives and
Records Administration and the Harvard-MIT Data Center in building
a shared content catalog and developing standardized methods for
describing and preserving survey data.

 

Archiving the records

The University has received a grant of more than $2 million from
the Library of Congress to preserve various types of election
data

Among the records that will be preserved are voting records,
public opinion polls and surveys on topics such as family income
and race relations

Five other schools are teaming up with the University to take
part in the three-year project

The project is part of a broader program funded by the Library
of Congress to collect various types of digital data ranging from
music to TV broadcasts