national archives sell out 01.22.2007, 10:21 AM
posted by ben vershbow
This falls into the category of deeply worrying. In a move reminiscent of last year's shady Smithsonian-Showtime deal, the U.S. National Archives has signed an agreement with Footnote.com to digitize millions of public domain historical records -- stuff ranging from the papers of the Continental Congress to Matthew B. Brady's Civil War photographs -- and to make them available through a commercial website. They say the arrangement is non-exclusive but it's hard to see how this is anything but a terrible deal.
Here's a picture of the paywall:
Dan Cohen has a good run-down of why this should set off alarm bells for historians (thanks, Bowerbird, for the tip). Peter Suber has: the open access take: "The new Democratic Congress should look into this problem. It shouldn't try to undo the Footnote deal, which is better than nothing for readers who can't get to Washington. But it should try to swing a better deal, perhaps even funding the digitization and OA directly."
Absolutely. (Actually, they should undo it. Scrap it. Wipe it out.) Digitization should not become synonymous with privatization.
Elsewhere in mergers and acquisitions, the University of Texas Austin is the newest partner in the Google library project.
bowerbird on January 22, 2007 2:02 PM:
peter suber said:
> The new Democratic Congress should look into this problem.
> It shouldn't try to undo the Footnote deal, which is
> better than nothing for readers who can't get to Washington.
i disagree. strongly. undo this deal now. and don't do _any_
more deals like it in the future... under _any_ circumstances...
this kind of deal is _not_ "better than nothing". it's worse.
besides, why is "nothing" positioned as our only option?
we need to inform our politicians, in no uncertain terms, that
governmental bodies must tend our cyberspace infrastructure,
which means (among other things) digitizing our archives and
making the results widely available at the most nominal of costs.
it is an insult to have our "representatives" farm out this work to
corporations who turn around and sell it to the public. an insult!
this _belongs_ to us. now, suddenly, we have to _buy_ it back?
just exactly who is allowing this kidnapping to take place? why?
> But it should try to swing a better deal,
> perhaps even funding the digitization and OA directly.
good luck trying to "swing a better deal" now, suckers...
K.G. Schneider on January 23, 2007 8:06 AM:
Ben, I'm with bowerbird. How is this better than nothing? This isn't just a privatized mass digitization effort; it's a case of putting public content into private pots. And is this your oblique follow-up to the Google post..?
ben vershbow on January 23, 2007 12:26 PM:
I wrote this on no sleep and don't know what I was talking about. I'm with you guys completely and am not sure why Peter's being so conciliatory, but I'm airing his comments all the same.
Been slammed with other work so follow-up on Google may have to wait.
K.G. Schneider on January 23, 2007 8:44 PM:
Get done, then rest, rest, rest. Don't worry about the peanut gallery. We'll be here when you catch up.
Tim Bulkeley on January 24, 2007 9:31 PM:
If the contract says "non-exclusive" then how is this a bad deal? IF it is non-exclusive then another deal with someone else can be made, even if someone can come up with the funds one that is Open Access... Assuming "non-exclusive" surely the issue is not "is this a good deal?" but "How can we get an open access digitization available?
bowerbird on January 25, 2007 3:42 AM:
> If the contract says "non-exclusive" then how is this a bad deal?
that's a fair question.
a deal like this indicates the national archives has zero intention
of doing this job _right_. (which is to not give away the store.)
we need to make sure that they know, in no uncertain terms,
that that is totally unacceptable.
there are plenty of companies that sell government reports that
are also available for free. they make sales by providing things
(like convenience, or faster service, or large numbers of copies)
that the government agencies do not. such deals are tolerable.
but a deal where _the_national_archives_ -- for cryin' out loud --
takes a deliberate dive for a period of 5 years to let a company
skim the cream _and_ take all the milk _and_ butcher the cow
cannot be tolerated.
my goodness. the national archives should have been _leaders_
on digitization _decades_ ago. (and the library of congress too.)
to have them be "just getting around to it" now is embarrassing.
and their willingness to hand _public_ goods off to a _private_
company that will be taking money out of _our_ pockets is...
well, i guess it's what the republicans have been doing all along.
Gary Frost on January 27, 2007 3:56 PM:
You guys tire me out. All screen based representations of print sources act like bibliographic utilties or access systems. The accrued new meanings derived from digital discovery still reside in the original. Of course the institutions need to hang on to the originals, but they somewhat learned that lesson with microfilm during the first era of screen representation.
bowerbird on January 28, 2007 5:48 AM:
gary, i hate to break the news to you, because you obviously
love the paper quite a lot. but in the years to come, paper
is gonna be as useless as "an original" as microfilm is today.
most things will be born digital, and live a long life in digital,
until they become outdated, when they will likely _die_ digital,
never having been printed out to paper even once in that time.
Gary Frost on January 28, 2007 12:08 PM:
I hate to break the news to you, but everything is born digital now. How conceptual works are created is not as important as how they grow up. Paper based communication retains attributes of legibility (immediacy of communication), haptic efficiency and persistence that screen based reading cannot fulfill.
Yes originals come in all media...but all of them are physical. Why we convey conceptual works in physical media is a mystery of bionic reading. The materiality of media is actually the displaced embodiment of the person. Stay real.
bowerbird on January 29, 2007 3:32 PM:
digital is real. cyberspace is alive.
heck, according to _some_ people,
we have had "vigorous debate" here,
and it's all been bits on-screen to me.
and i still can't figure out what you
are saying half of the time, gary...
perhaps i should print it out, and
_then_ i would "get it", eh? ;+)