Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Public comments sought on NARA's "Plan for Digitizing Archival Materials for Public Access"

The National Archives and Records Administration web site states:

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is seeking public comment on its draft Plan for Digitizing Archival Materials for Public Access, 2007-2016. This draft plan outlines our planned strategies to digitize and make more accessible the historic holdings from the National Archives of the United States.

The document is divided into several sections. The first section, INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND, provides information on NARA's mission, our archival holdings, and our past experience with digitization, to give you the context of the draft Plan for Digitizing Archival Materials for Public Access, 2007-2016. Section II, PLAN OVERVIEW, describes our planned goals, activities, and priorities for digitization. Sections III through V provide listings of current digitization activities being carried out by NARA and through partnerships to digitize and make available archival materials. Appendix A contains draft operating principles that we are using as we enter into partnerships and Appendix B references relevant NARA guidance that applies to handling of archival materials being digitized and the technical guidelines for image creation and description. We particularly invite your comments on Sections II, III, V, and Appendix A.

All comments are due by Nov. 9, 2007. Comments may be sent to Vision@nara.gov or by fax to 301-837-0319.

The draft is a 24 page document with one section (NARA-led Digitizing Projects) marked as "Pending."

Section IV is a "List of Formal NARA Partnerships to Digitize Archival Materials." Include are partnerships with Google, EMC, Univ. of Texas, iArchives, and the Genealogy Society of Utah. Appendix A lists "NARA Principles for Partnerships to Digitize Archival Materials." These are principles that they are testing and which are subject to refinement. The principles provide leeway and acknowledge that there is no single required partnership model.

I find item 4 on that list to be interesting and wonder how it will be implemented. That item states (my emphasis added):

Public access to publicly owned resources will remain free. Partners may develop and charge for value-added features, but access to the digital copies ultimately should be readily accessible and free. NARA acknowledges partners’ potential proprietary interest in the digital copies and to value-added features, and also emphasizes its own need to maintain and provide an “archival view” of the materials that allows us to understand the actions of government (e.g. who created the records? Why? How were the records used? What is their original order? How do they relate to other records of the same person or organization?). NARA also acknowledges that there may be a variety of models to achieve free on-line public access to digitized materials.
  • Partners shall provide NARA without charge a full set of the digital copies produced by the partnership. These copies shall adhere to NARA’s technical specifications. Ultimately, NARA will have unrestricted ownership of these copies, including the right to make these copies freely available online.
I wonder how the NARA copies will compete with the copies held by the partners? Will NARA be able to offer its copies immediately for public use or does the word "ultimately" mean "eventually"? Could free mean that you access them for free, if you view advertisements?

I hope people will look at the document in its entirety and give NARA feedback, especially since we in the U.S. may have to live with the impact of this document for many years to come.

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