when public goes private: access to US National Archives costs $

The U.S. National Archive struck a deal with footnote.com. The good news? Lots and lots of historic documents wil be “available” in digital format for researchers, hobbyists and nerds like you and me. The bad news? For five years you are going to have to pay to access these documents online, or travel to Washington DC to view them for free. The documents also have terms of use that are onerous, annoying or just plain bizarre. More ananlysis and links about this deal at Dan Cohen’s blog.

What I am not certain of is how users accessed these documents in the pre-footnote era? Did Archive staff photocopy them and send people copies for a small fee? I’m also not entirely clear if these documents will be OCRed and available as text, or just locked up in proprietary formats and barely keyword indexed. In any case, while I understand why the Archives sees this as a savvy move, it’s bad news for citizens and sets a bad example of shifting public documents into the private sphere because we’re too broke to do the work ourselves. [del]

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