Ed. Department to Save Files Shorn From Web Site

By Michelle R. Davis — October 09, 2002 3 min read
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The Department of Education says it will archive any material removed from its Web site during an ongoing redesign, possibly through an interactive database accessible through the Internet.

John P. Bailey, the department’s director of educational technology, said last week the department was weighing several options for archiving data from the ed.gov site—including the interactive database as well as a CD-ROM that contains all the information currently on the Web site—and making it available to the public.

The department is in the beginning stages of an overhaul of the site that officials say will make it easier to use and to update information there. As part of the overhaul, the department will remove thousands of files, many outdated and no longer accessible from the site’s home page. (“No URL Left Behind? Web Scrub Raises Concerns,” Sept. 18, 2002.)

A May 31 memo outlining what data would be culled from the site said information would be retained if it was needed for legal, policy, or historical reasons or supported Bush administration initiatives, especially the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, the president’s key education legislation.

One of the main “challenges” for the existing Web site, according to the memo, is that content “does not reflect the priorities, philosophies, or goals of the present administration.”

Some watchdog groups, librarians, and educators say they have concerns about the redesign and what material will be scrapped. Both the American Library Association and the Education Writers Association, for example, are writing letters of concern to the department about the upcoming changes.

But Mr. Bailey said the agency had no intention of removing important, relevant information. The process is still in the early stages and material has not yet been deleted.

Assistant secretaries in charge of various offices in the department will review lists of files on the Web site and draw up shorter lists of material to be scrapped. Then an eight-person “content review board,” made up of senior Bush administration staff members, will go over the list to make sure files that need to stay on the site are not deleted, Mr. Bailey said.

“The whole goal is not to make this into a political tool, but make sure the most current relevant information is given to the [Web site] visitors,” Mr. Bailey said.

Though a CD-ROM with information removed from the Web site could be available to the public, it would be “pretty inaccessible,” he said. So Mr. Bailey said the department was investigating whether its Web team, in conjunction with the site redesign, should build in some archiving options like a searchable database. Mr. Bailey did not know what the cost of such a venture might be.

“Files will not be deleted,” he said. “They will simply be archived in such a way so as to make them available and accessible.”

But Patrice McDermott, an assistant director of government relations at the American Library Association’s Washington office, said she had “multiple concerns” about the Web site overhaul.

“We think there should be stakeholder- community involvement both in the development of criteria and the implementation of it,” she said. “We don’t think these sorts of removals of information should be made on the part of their agency and solely through their internal deliberations. There’s a lot at stake here.”

The Education Department memo makes it clear that officials there understand that information posted on the Web site is covered by the Federal Records Act. But Ms. McDermott said most agencies do not take “snapshots” of their sites periodically and record them, as recommended in pending federal guidelines.

Ms. McDermott said that an online archiving system would be helpful, but that a CD-ROM would not, especially if it is not indexed. “There would be no way of easily retrieving information,” she said.

The goal, said Mr. Bailey, is to make sure information is current and available. For example, he said, a report on E-rate usage done by Duncan D. Chaplin, a senior research methodologist at the Urban Institute, was on the ed.gov Web site, though Mr. Chaplin said that he had been told it would not appear there.

However, a link to the report cited by Mr. Bailey last month produced only an error message. When notified of the disconnect, the department updated the link Oct. 2 to successfully connect to the full report on the Web site. Later, Mr. Bailey also provided another link to the report that did work correctly.

“Our intention with this entire effort is to make sure people can find the information they need,” Mr. Bailey said.

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