The title read something like "Another Agreement Restricts Free Access to Public Records." I was shocked and disappointed to see such a commentary on the proposed Generations Network (TGN)/NARA agreement. The proposal does nothing of the sort. The proposal expands free access to public records.
- The contract does not limit access to public records. Access to the original records remains unchanged. Other than your travel costs, you can still freely access these records.
- The digitized copies of these records become freely accessible at all NARA reading rooms. This expands, not contracts, free access to these public records.
- The contract is non-exclusive, so should the taxpayer, the government, FamilySearch or a private benefactor decide to allocate money to digitize the records, it can be done as though this agreement didn't exist. This agreement maintains free access to these records; it prevents exclusivity.
- In all likelihood, these records will be added to the Ancestry collections available at thousands of public institutions. If this happens, it further expands free access to these public records.
- The contract makes the digitized copies of these records freely available to everyone after five years at no cost to the taxpayer, despite the expenses TGN incurs in digitizing the records.
According to the National Archives, at current rates it will take over 2,000 years to digitize all of NARA's holdings. (The New York Times) We need this agreement and the similar agreements with other vendors. This proposed agreement is a definite win for the public. TGN and the other vendors are hoping that during the five years the digitization costs can be recouped. If they can, it will be a win for the vendor as well. I'm hoping it will be a win for these commercial firms or five years from now they will pull out.
Public comments on the proposal must be received by 9-April-2008. If you support the proposal, please visit www.archives.gov/comment/tgn-preamble.html. If you oppose the agreement, please proceed to the end of the Internet ;-).