Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Temporary TA access to public info in exchange for digitization

Michael Cross, National Archives squares the data circle, The Guardian, September 14, 2006.  Excerpt:

[T]hrough a series of innovative licensing deals, the [UK National Archives] is taking an unusual approach to the task of digitising even obscure archives: it's encouraging private firms to foot the bill for doing so, in return for a certain amount of exclusivity - often time-limited - on the use of data. One result, according to chief executive Natalie Ceeney, is to create a thriving industry for genealogy websites in the UK - and the study of our ancestors is already one of the biggest pursuits on the web.

Britain's online genealogy sites are "probably better than any other country," she told the Guardian/RSA Free Our Data debate in July. And certainly, wider access for the public and for private companies is very much what Technology Guardian's Free Our Data campaign seeks to create with Her Majesty's digital crown jewels....

Access to the National Archives is already free, says Ceeney; the problem is that access is to the paper form. Digitising the data makes it far more easily available, and useful; but...[d]igitising documents, especially old ones, is a slow, labour-intensive business.

Thus National Archives online data is not free to electronic shoppers. It'll cost you 3.50 to order your great-grandfather's medal record from the first world war (if he was of that generation, he'll probably have one), and 8.50 to order an electronic image of a document not yet digitised.

But, according to Ceeney, licensing data to commercial firms is keeping costs down. "The average price to download a census record is 60p, about a tenth of what it would cost to digitise it ourselves."

Ceeney's approach may be a neat way of squaring the cost circle as public organisations come under dual pressures to minimise their taxpayer funding while simultaneously making their data widely available....