Petition Drive Underway to Create Commission on Digitization of Federal Holdings

A petition drive is underway asking the Obama administration to create a commission that will answer–within one year–such questions as: What are our federal holdings?  What would it take to digitize them?  How much would it cost?  What are the economic and non-economic benefits? The organizers are asking for 25,000 signatures by January 20, 2012. Sign on here.

In September 2011, the White House launched an online petition website, We the People, on which anyone can post an idea asking the Obama administration to take action on a range of issues, get signatures, and get a response from their government. Learn more about the effort and add your name to the petition by going to!/petition/start-national-effort-digitize-all-public-government-info/15vthgVB

You can also visit Archivist of the United States David Ferriero’s blog to learn how such an initiative might affect the National Archives.

A group called “Yes We Scan” is leading the petition drive to have the federal government analyze the cost effectiveness of digitizing holdings from the National Archives, Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, and scores of other federal agencies. “Yes We Scan” is an effort by the Center for American Progress and to promote digitization of all government information in an effort to make it more accessible to the world.

According to the “Yes We Scan” organizers, to date, thinking about digitization has been piecemeal. Individual agencies have initiated their own projects or thought about the problem in terms of prototypes and pilots. Only the White House can bring these efforts together under one roof and begin to think in terms of a national digitization strategy for our federal government. While funding to undertake such an ambitious goal in the near future is admittedly not available, an analysis could provide the basic scope of what it would take to start the process.

“Yes We Scan” is asking the Obama administration to convene governmental and non-governmental experts, perhaps in the form of a Presidential Commission, Interagency Task Force, or other mechanism. Under the proposal, the “Federal Scanning Commission” would be tasked to answer 6 questions and deliver a report within a year:

1. What are the holdings of our national institutions? How many images, documents, videos, and other objects are there?

2. How long would it take to digitize these materials?

3. How much would it cost given current technology? Is there directed research or are there economies of scale that would bring those costs down?

4. What is the strategy for digital preservation of these materials? How will we avoid digital obsolescence?

5. What is the strategy for identifying restrictions on use of the material? How does one identify and safeguard materials that have copyright restrictions, contain personally identifiable information, or contain classified materials?

6. What are the economic and non-economic benefits of such an effort?

  • What are the cost savings to government?
  • What are the economic benefits? Would this effort enable industries that build on top of scientific and technical information, spur innovation in the legal marketplace, or enable our creative industries to create more effectively?
  • What are the non-economic benefits? Will such an effort lead to better STEM and other educational efforts? Will it promote a more informed citizenry and better access to justice?

If you support this effort, add your name to the online petition by January 20, 2012.