Growing the File Format Fam

Today’s guest post is from Kate Murray, Marcus Nappier, and Liz Holdzkom of the Digital Collections Management & Services Division at the Library of Congress.


It’s once again time for our semi-annual blog post with updates from the File Formats team of the Library of Congress. We’ve got a lot to share as we look forward to closing out 2023, including lots (!) of new file format description documents (FDDs), a new content category, an exciting Recommended Formats Statement (RFS) update, and a look at our team’s work within the larger format and digital preservation community!

Brand New FDDs (and a Brand New Content Category!)

Our continued work with Myriad Consulting (Ashley Blewer, Abi Simkovic and Frances Harrell) has allowed us to add many new FDDs (including format families!) to the Sustainability of Digital Formats site since June. Take a peek at our publication log for more details, or check out the forthcoming FDDs we’re planning.

Look for our new FDDS in these content categories:

Another new component on the Sustainability of Digital Formats is the creation of a new content category for Accessibility-related Formats. These formats support accessibility for digital content and include formats for audio description, captions, subtitles, timecode, screen readers and more. Bringing the formats, such as WebVTT, SRT, SMIL, and Braille Ready Format, together as a content category highlights the growing effort to be make digital content more inclusive by removing barriers that prevent interaction by people with disabilities.

Screenshot from Sustainability of Digital Formats site with list of format description documents for accessibility-related formats.
Format descriptions from the new Accessibility-related content category on the Sustainability of Digital Formats.

Big News in the Recommended Formats Statement

As described in the recent blog post, there was some other big news for the Recommended Formats Statement, with the movement of FFV1 in the Matroska (mkv) container to a preferred instead of an acceptable format. Recent work to help further support structures and tools (such as FFmeg) for captions and timecodes allowed the Library to make this update to reflect changing community needs and expectations.

Community Engagements

But wait, there’s more! In support of the Digital Preservation Coalition’s (or DPC) World Digital Preservation Day this year and its theme, “Digital Preservation: A Concerted Effort,” we wrote a blog post detailing the collaborative work within the Library and beyond to release the Recommended Formats Statement every year. The blog post, titled, “The Recommend Formats Statement: the File Format Community Collab,” details how each stage of the RFS planning and development process is dependent on cooperative efforts from our beloved technical content teams here at the Library of Congress as well as the external formats community who provide comments on the RFS entries. Long story short, this post is one big THANK YOU to everyone who continues to work with us to make the RFS useful year after year.

Photograph from the iPres 2023 conference panel "Do Unacceptable Formats Exist?" A panelist stands at a podium next to a large screen with the presentation slides displayed. The other 5 panelists sit at a table below the screen.
iPres 2023 panel discussion “Do Unacceptable Formats Exist? Policies, Risks and Strategies: A File Format Debate”. (Spoiler alert: No, we don’t think so.) Photo used by permission from Roxana Maurer-Popistașu’s Twitter post.

You already know there is nothing we enjoy more than chatting about all things file formats with our global file format fam (consider yourself one of us!) and we got to do just that at the recent iPres 2023 conference in Urbana-Champaign. As part of the Policies, Risks and Strategies: A File Format Debate, we reiterated our perspective that there is no such thing as a good or bad format. It’s all about context when it comes to evaluating formats and their applicability to a given situation. We take both global and local factors into account in the Recommended Formats Statement for identifying a format as preferred or acceptable (and, as we can see from the recent change for FFV1/MKV, this can change over time proving our “context” theory with a real-world example). We make the RFS evaluation matrix available so other institutions can customize it for their own use cases.

Wrap Up

We have lots to look forward to as we move into 2024. More and improved FDDs, a growing focus on documenting accessibility features for digital content, continued collaboration with the global community and more. One of our favorite things is to hear from our users with comments, questions and even corrections. Leave a comment here or send us a note at formats@loc.gov.