Last February, a Senate hearing highlighted the sorry state of the Founding Fathers projects. While no one questioned the extremely high scholarly quality of the published volumes of papers that have been produced to date, the hearing noted the glacial production pace, high cost, and limited access to the finished products (which are expensive and bought by few libraries). The obvious question was whether technology could address the problem, and Congress ordered the Archivist of the US to report on the matter.
NARA’s report, “The Founders Online: Open Access to the Papers of the America’s Founding Era,” was sent to Congress in April, but it has received little notice or discussion. This is unfortunate because it is an important work on an important issue. There is much to admire in the report, but overall it demonstrates a fundamental failure to understand what open access means or how technology can make scholarship more productive. It seems more interested in protecting existing partnerships and editorial practices than in breaking new ground and fostering public access. Let’s hope that Congress recognizes how unsound the recommended approach is and pushes NARA to do more.
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