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Footnote: a little troubling?

I'm curious to know what the historians on my flist think about Footnote. It purports to be a public web repository for original documents, and also has various web 2.0 features that allow users to make collections, upload things themselves, annotate etc. Apparently they have a "unique relationship" with the National Archives (this is heavily, if not exclusively, USan, in case you're wondering). One review comment I saw referred to it as the "Flickr for documents." Well, no, I don't think so.

At first, I thought "hey, cool," but after a look around, I found something rather troubling - mostly the fact that you have to pay $59 per year for the use of it! Yes, some documents are free, but it's unclear which ones, and who decides which one are of "national historic importance" (free) and which ones get put behind the pay-per-view curtain? There doesn't appear to be an institutional price or group rate, which one would rather expect. Surely, if the documents are from the National Archive they should all be free? Or is the payment now because this company has ownership of the digitized versions?

Anyway, just thought I'd put this out there - I'll be interested to hear what others think. For me, it's much too American to be of any interest professionally (as teacher or researcher), but as a research tool, is it the beginning of what could be a disturbing trend, or is it less important than it thinks it is?

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
oursin
Jun. 13th, 2007 06:37 pm (UTC)
This sounds more like the, is it Ancestry.com website? which offers something similar, geared to family historians, plus access to digitised census records etc.

With The National Archives (UK) you have to pay for at least some of their digitised resources - when I had occasion to use the 1901 census searching was free, but if you wanted the full entry you had to pay (and I may add that the proofreading was really crap - 'Vova Scotia' for Nova Scotia). I think you also have to pay if you want to download various virtual archives they've created.

I'm in two minds about this. Yes, historical archival material should be free: and mostly it is, if you go and look at the originals yourself. But there are really significant resource issues in doing massive digitisation programmes, and the money has to come from somewhere. Which is why we're seeing a lot of public/private partnership thinggys - I note that eventually the (US) National Archives stuff will be free at point of digital access everywhere.

One might, I suppose, think of the costs of accessing these virtual 'archives' (which tend to be way selective and cherry-picky) as something which is more or less equivalent to the costs and hassle of in-person visits or ordering photocopies/microfilm/photographs, or hiring a contract researcher and which users have to balance up for themselves.
intertext
Jun. 13th, 2007 07:15 pm (UTC)
Yes - those are good points; I particularly get the notion of how much it costs to digitize the documents in the first place and maintain the site etc. And you're right about it being something on the order of Ancestry.com. I think my hackles rose because it seemed to be purporting to be something rather more than that. But, there ARE quite a lot of free documents available, and the quality of the viewer is quite good - so maybe it's less problematic than I thought. That's why I asked :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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