Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Where is AALL's Leadership? GPO's Digitization of Legacy Documents

Last spring, ALA and ARL together issued a letter to the co-chairs of the Congressional Joint Committee on Printing, Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Robert Brady. Here is the letter:

On behalf of the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of
Research Libraries (ARL), we are writing to express our strong support for a project that will digitize our nation’s historical public domain government works and make these broadly available to the American public. The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) will soon seek the approval of the Joint Committee on Printing to undertake this important public access project at no cost to the government. We request your strong and immediate support of this initiative.

For over 140 years, the GPO, through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), has made government information available at no cost to the public. In order to ensure that there is effective, permanent, no-fee access to these valuable government documents in electronic formats, GPO is working with other entities to digitize the legacy documents collection. This collection of over 2.2 million documents once digitized will vastly improve public access to these historical and cultural resources of our nation and importantly, preserve this deteriorating resource. Many of the volumes in this legacy collection are brittle due to age and publication on acidic paper. It is our understanding that GPO will receive from the awardee of this no-fee contract, the unaltered digitized files that GPO will then preserve and use to create access files within GPO’s Future Digital System (FDSys).

Today, the vast majority of public domain resources in the FDLP are not as effectively accessible to many members of the public as they are in print or microform – formats no longer preferred by users. More importantly, these resources are distributed geographically throughout the U.S., oftentimes at great distances from the user. This initiative will open the doors of the institutions housing these paper documents to the public without regard to where they live.

These resources cover virtually every facet of U.S. history, government policy, and administration. This will allow members of the public the ability to understand their culture and history in new, meaningful ways and encourage greater civic engagement. It will foster new educational applications such as building new web accessible educational materials not currently possible in print format. Importantly, this means that educators and students will have access to needed materials previously unavailable without regards for geographic location or financial limitation.

We applaud GPO and the awardee for collaborating to make government information available without restriction and with no cost to the public during these uncertain economic times.

We encourage you to quickly approve this GPO request so that these valuable resources can be made accessible to the public as soon as possible. Please let us know if there is additional information that we can provide.
As you can see, the original plan was to find a collaborating partner to digitize the documents for free. I am guessing that they did not find any takers on the original RFP because now there has been $600,000 allocated for the digitization. AALL did not join on the original letter, and has not yet spoken to GPO or the Joint Committee on Printing on the matter.

We are professionals and have joined as members in a professional organization. In fact, we support a Washington office with the very important goal of making statements on behalf of our organization. Where are they? Why have they not said anything on this matter?

I will admit that I am speaking with an axe to grind on this matter. I am a former board member of LLMC, which hopes to get part or all of the contract. But as a law librarian, i also think I can say that their digitized files fall squarely into the Legacy Documents that GPO hopes to prioritize -- the primary law of the United States, state, local and federal. And that the quality of the digitization that LLMC has provided is consistently very high. That quality is what they have sold us over the years, and what libraries have relied upon. We have seen with the problems in Google Scholar, for instance, scanning done badly, problems with digitized legal texts where the scanners and people digitizing did not understand how to link the tables or indexes or other finding tools to the text inside with metatags or hyperlinks, or even to include them. The inclusion of difficult fold-out inclusions and pocket parts are a headache that scanners don't anticipate or know how to solve, but that LLMC has long-since managed.

Please, OOTJ readers, consider sending an e-mail to
Kate Hagan, the Executive Director of AALL (khagan@aall.org)
AALL President Catherine Lemann (clemann@courts.state.ak.us),
and Government Relations Office Director, Mary Alice Baish (baish@law.georgetown.edu

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