Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

March 06 2010

Meet the Scanners!

Back of the FedFlix ID Badge The International Amateur Scanning League held an inaugural meeting on February 11 in Washington, D.C. [ Text of the Announcement | Photos | Mailing List ] I'm pleased to report that things are going swimmingly, and volunteers have successfully ripped the first 42 DVDs. The duplicator that Public.Resource.Org donated to the National Archives has been supplemented with an additional duplicator the Archivist bought, and procedures have been worked out for volunteers to sign up for times on a spreadsheet, get a large number of blanks from the National Archives staff, and leave their completed DVDs at the reference desk to be sent back to Public.Resource on a weekly basis. We were also pleased to learn that there are currently over 3,000 DVDs at the College Park facility, more than twice the number we had expected.

The only minor hiccup reported by our volunteers is because NARA is a big place and not all of the staff had heard of the FedFlix program. Ordinary researchers are only allowed 6 blank discs per visit, whereas our officially-sanctioned FedFlix volunteers are able to take all they can eat. This was quickly remedied by our prime contact at NARA, Leslie Waffen who is Director of the Motion Picture, Sound & Video Branch. Les sent out a memo to all research staff telling them about the program, and that seems to have done the trick.

But, it also occurred to us that perhaps the volunteers were not properly attired and we shared some of the blame for the miscommunication. Indeed, it was obvious that we had forgot the first thing one needs to do when dealing with an official government institution, and that is to properly badge the work force!

Our design team at Point.B Studio quickly developed some Official Government Scanner ID badges, which we have dispatched to the volunteers in Washington, D.C. The badges are laminated, have a handy clip, and feature the IASL logo on the back and a FedFlix Government Scanner emblem on the front.

The idea of a badge with the word GOVERNMENT on it was stolen from Robert Clifton Weaver. Weaver was appointed to be the first Secretary of Housing and Urban Development by Lyndon Johnson, and he was the first African American to hold a cabinet position. Weaver began his government service under FDR as a newly-minted Harvard Ph.D. in Economics. He worked for Harold Ickes as one of the new breed of so-called "Negro Advisors" that were brought into senior positions in government in a radical break from the past. He also became one of the founders of the famous Black Cabinet, which exerted influence throughout government. Robert Weaver worked at at the U.S. Housing Authority, a New Deal program to build public housing in the cities.

As Deputy Director of Race Relations, Robert Weaver tried to accomplish two tasks. He mostly failed in convincing cities that the new public housing developments should be integrated. In those days, the government was still laboring under the separate but equal doctrine (which of course definitely meant separate but certainly not equal). But, Weaver was determined that the contractors that took federal funds to build these developments should employ black workers at least in the proportion in which they were represented in the population. Weaver had no statutory authority to require contractors to integrate, indeed he couldn't get these hard-boiled developers to even talk to him. As Weaver told the story later, he got the contractors to sit down at the table and talk to him through a little sleight of hand:

We bluffed a little bit. I had to do the identification for my staff. It looked like an FBI agent. They sealed with 'Government' and stamped it. Nobody ever read it and we got along very famously.

You can learn more about Robert Clifton Weaver's path-breaking career in Wendell E. Pritchett, Robert Clifton Weaver and the American City, University of Chicago Press (2008) or on the Wikipedia.

With the scanning now under way, I thought I'd share with you the ID of a few of the folks that are involved in this innovative program to crowd-source digitization. With no further ado, I invite you to Meet the Scanners!

Patron Saints of the Scanning League

Robert Clifton WeaverDavid Ferriero
From Left to Right:
Honorable Robert Clifton Weaver, 1st Secretary of H.U.D.
Honorable David Ferriero, 10th Archivist of the United States

Officials of the Scanning League

Michael Edson Justin Grimes
From Left to Right: Michael Edson, Thomas 'cmdln' Gideon, Justin Grimes

Liz Pruszko Trainee Badge
From Left to Right: Liz Pruszko, Badge for Trainees

Shipping and Receiving

Leslie Waffen Carl Malamud
From Left to Right: Leslie Waffen (NARA), Carl Malamud (Public.Resource.Org)

Happy Mutants

Cory Doctorow Mark Frauenfelder Xeni Jardin David Peskovitz
From Left to Right: Cory, Mark, Xeni, and David

Boing Boing, of course, has no official involvement with these scanning shenanigans, but they've done such a good job covering the story, we thought we'd make them a set of ID badges anyway! You can read some of the prior posts on Boing Boing starting with International Amateur Scanning League will rescue our video treasures! For further background, see also my previous Radar post on a National Scan Center.

February 10 2010

International Amateur Scanning League

IASL Logo WASHINGTON, D.C.—Public.Resource.Org is pleased to announce that the inaugural meeting of the International Amateur Scanning League is taking place February 11, 2010. The meeting is taking place at the Sunlight Foundation and we are very pleased to welcome special guests the Honorable David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and senior staff members of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The NARA facility in College Park, Maryland has a wealth of information available to researchers, including over 1,500 DVDs that are works of the government and can be freely copied using a DVD duplicator. NARA is kindly allowing us to install a second DVD duplicator for use of Scanning League members, who will systematically copy those 1,500 DVDs, place them in a FedFlix return envelope, and send them back to Public.Resource.Org. These DVDs will then be uploaded to the Internet Archive, YouTube, and our own Public Domain Stock Footage Library. These 1,500 new videos will join over 1,300 videos currently on-line that have had several million views and were the result of a joint venture with the National Technical Information Service as well as from numerous other government agencies who sent us tapes and DVDs.

FedFlix Return Envelope

The International Amateur Scanning League is an experiment in crowd-sourced digitization to help government and other institutions make their archives more widely available. Volunteers will be given credit for their work in the on-line metadata, will receive cool tchotchkes, and will be eligible to display Public Domain Merit Badges upon completion of designated levels of service.

Bob Hope Merit Badge The initial group of volunteers was the result of an organizing effort by CopyNight members Justin Grimes, Thomas 'cmdln' Gideon, and Liz Pruszko and by Michael Edson, a new media specialist in the civil service at another agency acting on his own and not in an official capacity. At the organizational meeting, volunteers will be taught by the Archivist how to copy DVDs and will self-organize to coordinate time slots when they will be at NARA and to keep track of which DVDs have been ripped. Those interested in participating should begin by subscribing to the IASL discussion list where coordination details will be hammered out.

Justice Sotomayor Merit BadgeKatherine Graham

Edison Merit Badge As part of the inaugural meeting of the IASL, a variety of very cool tchotchkes and support materials are being made available to volunteers, including stickers from CafePress, DVD transmittal forms from MOO, FedFlix return envelopes from ActionEnvelopes, posters from Zazzle, banners from Vistaprint, and brochures from QOOP. When citizens help make works of the government more broadly available, this leads not only to increased access by the public but a host of commercial opportunities for print-on-demand, DVD sales, and other value-added operations.

Georgia OKeefe Merit Badge The extremely cool artwork for this launch, including the Public Domain Merit Badges, the FedFlix logo, and the IASL logo, were all created by Point.B Studio. We're especially pleased to be able to present to the Archivist as well as to the U.S. House and Senate committees that oversee the Archives mounted canvas prints of the Public Pomain Merit Badges. (As always, all our artwork is freely available if you want to make your own prints.) A special authenticated edition of the Justice Sotomayor print will be dispatched to the Supreme Court of the United States in the hope that delivery will be accepted.

There are a variety of models for public-private partnerships. It is our hope that the International Amateur Scanning League will pave the way for a host of new initiatives that will help us all make the public domain more accessible by crowd-sourcing digitization of government archives. These efforts are not meant to replace private sector efforts, and certainly do not alleviate the need for government to step up their own digitization initiatives, such as the establishment of a National Scan Center.

Duke Ellington Merit Badge

December 30 2009

A National Scan Center: A Public Works Project

In the course of doing research for some recent testimony before Congress on the National Archives and Records Administration, I was struck by several facts about how our first National Archivist, Robert D.W. Connor, met some seemingly insurmountable challenges when he took office in the mid-1930s.

The biggest challenge was the deluge of paperwork, a situation not very different from what our national institutions face today. Instead of simply moaning the impossibility of swallowing all the records Connor would need to establish the National Archives, he thought nonlinear. The result was the invention of several key technologies: the airbrush to clean paper, the laminator to protect it, and of course, the microphotograph (now known as microfilm or microfiche), a technology so successful it reduced incoming paper needs by 95%.

The other challenge that Connor faced with the National Archives, a situation again not very different from what our national institutions face today, was a paucity of skilled labor. Lucky for Connor through, the National Archives was born in the middle of the last great depression. Connor went to Harry Hopkins, and together they went to President Roosevelt, and the result was a Works Progress Administration program that ran until 1942 to survey federal archives. The work program put 3,171 people to work in 1,057 communities and created two important reference aids still in use today, the Historical Records Survey and the Inventory of Federal Archives.

Just before I testified, I read in the New York Times that the President of France had just announced a stimulus package of $50 billion. President Sarkozy pledge 2% of that stimulus package, a full $1.1 billion, towards scanning and digitizing a national archive. I didn't use the term Freedom Scans in my testimony, but the fact that the French were far ahead of the U.S. in putting paperwork into cyberspace seemed a political opportunity.

In the U.S., we face a similar deluge of paperwork that we faced in the 1930s. A huge backlog of paper, microfiche, audio, video, and other materials is located throughout the federal government. Little money has gone from Congress for digitization, and bureaucracies have resorted to a series of questionable private-public partnerships as a way of digitizing their materials. For example, the Government Accountability Office shipped 60 million pages of our Federal Legislative Histories (the record of each law from the initial bill through the hearings and conference reports) off to Thomson West, but didn't even get digital copies back. Another example is the recent failed effort by the Government Printing Office to digitize 60 million pages of the Federal Depository Library Program, an effort they tried to get through as a "zero dollar cost to the government" effort with the private sector.

There are no free lunches and there are no "no cost to the government" deals. The costs involve the government effort to supervise the contract, prepare the materials, and ship them, and in both the GAO and GPO cases, the government wasn't getting much back for its effort. What the government and the people usually get is a lien on the public domain, preventing the public from accessing these vital materials. Similar efforts are sprinkled throughout the government. I testified to Congress that I had learned that the National Archives was contemplating a scan of congressional hearings with LexisNexis under similar circumstances, and many may be aware of the questionable deal the Archives cut with Amazon where my favorite online superstore got de facto exclusive rights to 1,899 wonderful pieces of video.

We can learn much from the French leadership on this issue. After my testimony, I went and visited senior officials at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. They all said that while they had tried to get more congressional interest in digitization, and had tried to go after stimulus money, so far nobody had much success. I asked if they had gone hand-in-hand with their sister institutions to ask for this money, and it was pretty clear that they had not. Each institution went in one at a time pleading their own special case to congressional staffers and to officials at the Office of Management and Budget.

There was one more thing I learned about our first National Archivist, which was that he had backing where he needed it and the political skills to use that backing. One of the big challenges Archivist Connor faced was getting the agencies to cooperate with him in giving the National Archives their records. His solution was leadership: President Roosevelt agreed to host a meeting of a newly-formed National Archives Council in the Cabinet Room. That, needless to say, got the department secretaries and agency chiefs to show up, and they elected the Secretary of State as head of the Council. The Council only met a few times, but that was all it took, and the result were new federal policies about how agencies should dispose of their records.

There are several agencies in the government that face huge digitization and scanning backlogs, including the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Government Printing Office, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Technical Information Service. In addition, there are agencies such as the Government Accountability Office and the Defense Visual Information Directorate that have valuable archives.

Chairman Wm. Lacy Clay of the the Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee asked many very informed questions of the panelists, and one that came my way was about costs for digitization. Today, the widely accepted cost for scanning a piece of paper and running it through OCR is about 10 cents per page. These are the numbers that you hear from places like the Internet Archive and Google Book Search, and that's what I told the Chairman. But, I also told the Chairman that it was my belief that if the government starting scanning at volume, those costs could go down by half. I also testified about the vastly reduced costs of digitizing video, a task I perform under a joint venture with the National Technical Information Service using less than $10,000 in hardware.

If the government invested a mere $100 million of our stimulus package (we've already spent over $72.6 billion), that means 2 billion pages of paper or microfiche would get scanned. For $500 million, we're talking a huge chunk of our national backlog being digitized, a task that would result in an enduring digitial public work for our modern era, something that would prove immense use to future generations, and would also save the government tremendous amounts of money in storage costs and other facilities expenses.

What would it take to get the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Government Printing Office, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Technical Information Service all singing off the same page and working together? There is a tremendous opportunity for White House leadership here, bringing the parties together and creating a compelling case on why we should launch and fund a 5-year $500 million effort to create a National Scan Center. Both the CIO and the CTO in the Executive Office of the President have talked about the tremendous "moral authority and convening power" of the White House, and I believe that this issue is of sufficient importance that it would be worthwhile to pursue.

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!