Thursday, December 11, 2008

world war II collection at the national archive and footnote

The US National Archives and the historical document website have collaborated on the digitization of a large collection of documents from the US involvement in World War II, which are now available on the web site. There is an ars technica article on the collection and interface.

Like the ars technica writer, I had a lot of difficulty finding anything that I hoped to find. My grandfather, father, and uncle all served in WWII. My grandfather died in a friendly fire incident where allied planes accidentally sunk a ship carrying prisoners of war to be returned. I found nothing. There was nothing in the documents nor in the photos. Although I did find out that a man with almost the same name as my uncle (same middle initial but different middle name) was listed as missing when his plane was shot down in 1943. Still, it's a lot of useful content that I'm glad to see digitized and OCR'ed.

I was disappointed I wasn't surprised. I found the navigation to be a bit puzzling. I found I had to have multiple tabs open to easily go back to search. Not just the image but the entire image viewer screen had to come into focus when I selected something to view.

The ars technica writer said that his view of the site included the disclaimer "All Free (for a limited time)," and commented that "... it would be nice to think that a service based on government records of a significant American experience would be free indefinitely." The original press release describing the collaboration is worth reviewing, because it addresses that point in the ars technica article. The agreement allows non-exclusive access, and "After an interval of five years, all images digitized through this agreement will be available at no charge through the National Archives web site." So, Footnote can charge for it for now, but it will all revert to the National Archives for free and open access.

I don't see that disclaimer when using my Library of Congress computer because we have full access -- I wonder how long it will be fully accessible for those without subscriptions?

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