John D. Podesta and Carl Malamud (of FedFlix) have written an open letter to President Obama calling upon him to launch an initiative to find out what it would take to scan and post the entire contents of the public-domain government archives so that more people would have access to them.
Imagine if the riches contained in the National Archives, Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, Government Printing Office, National Library of Medicine, National Agricultural Library, National Technical Information Service, and scores of other federal organizations were made available, becoming the core of a national effort to make access to knowledge a right for all Americans. The dream is a big one, but if we do not begin the questions of what it would take to get there, we will never start down that road. Today, we don’t know what it would take.
They discuss some of the other digital library initiatives, such as Google Books, Hathi Trust, the Internet Archive, and the Digital Public Library of America. They touch upon the memorandum Obama recently issued on digitizing all future government records, but point out it does nothing for the thousands upon thousands of volumes that already exist.
They ask that Obama convene a commission or task force to consider the issue, determining what sort of effort it would take to scan material, determine what copyright or other restrictions it might fall under, and figure out what the benefits would be. They compare it to the print archiving initiative Archivist Connor asked President Roosevelt to launch.
They conclude with a link to a Whitehouse.gov e-petition asking the administration to address the idea. To be successful, it needs 24,725 signatures by January 20th. It currently has 275. Ordinarily, I’d say that e-petitions aren’t worth the paper they’re not printed on, but given that this is run by the White House administration itself, I’d expect them to take a bit of notice if it reaches its goal. So why not give it a shot? There have been plenty of worse causes for petitions before, and I think that it really does sound like a good idea to get the ball rolling on scanning governmental archives.
(Found via BoingBoing.)