... A huge backlog
of paper, microfiche, audio, video, and other materials is located throughout the federal government.
Little money has gone from Congress for digitization, and bureaucracies have resorted to a series
of questionable private-public partnerships as a way of digitizing their materials. For example,
the Government Accountability Office shipped 60 million pages of our Federal Legislative Histories
(the record of each law from the initial bill through the hearings and conference reports) off to
Thomson West, but didn't even get digital copies back. Another example is the recent failed effort
by the Government Printing Office to digitize 60 million pages of the Federal Depository Library
Program, an effort they tried to get through as a "zero dollar cost to the government" effort with
the private sector.
There are no free lunches and there are no "no cost to the government" deals. The costs
involve the government effort to supervise the contract, prepare the materials, and ship them, and
in both the GAO and GPO cases, the government wasn't getting much back for its effort. What the
government and the people usually get is a lien on the public domain, preventing the public
from accessing these vital materials. Similar efforts are
sprinkled throughout the government. I testified to Congress that I had learned that the
National Archives was contemplating a scan of congressional hearings with LexisNexis under
similar circumstances, and many may be aware of the questionable deal the Archives cut with
Amazon where my favorite online superstore got de facto exclusive rights to 1,899 wonderful
pieces of video. ...
After my testimony, I went and visited
senior officials at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. They all said that while they
had tried to get more congressional interest in digitization, and had tried to go after stimulus
money, so far nobody had much success. I asked if they had gone hand-in-hand with their
sister institutions to ask for this money, and it was pretty clear that they had not.
Each institution went in one at a time pleading their own special case to congressional staffers
and to officials at the Office of Management and Budget. ...
If the government invested a mere $100 million of our stimulus package (we've already spent over
$72.6 billion), that means 2 billion pages of
paper or microfiche would get scanned. For $500 million, we're talking a huge chunk of our national backlog
being digitized, a task that would result in an enduring digitial public work for our modern era,
something that would prove
immense use to future generations ...
Gavin Baker at 12/31/2009 07:41:00 PM.
The open access movement:
Putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature
on the internet. Making it available free of charge and
free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.
Removing the barriers to serious research.