Here’s the good news: The Law Library of Congress has acquired the digital Federal Register (1936 – 1993) from Hein, which until now had only given licensed access to the collection to libraries which had subscribed. The collection is available from the LoC website.
But this raises a few troubling questions:
- While the collection seems to be in the Public Domain, the Library of Congress, in its agreement with Hein, states that access “precludes bulk downloading and commercial reuse” and “is provided for personal, educational, and research use.” I’m not a lawyer, but I was unaware that Public Domain material could have license restrictions placed on its use. This small print limits both public access and digital preservation efforts.
- Related to #1, I don’t mind the block on the commercial reuse, but bulk access would be very cool for the researchers I know who are interested in corpus and textual analysis. LC should have a process in place to facilitate that kind of access. Bulk access should also be allowed for Web harvesting and preservation efforts of the Internet Archive and others.
- The historical content is not yet available via FDsys (which has 1994 – present) or federalregister.gov (also 1994 – present), and I’m not sure if LC’s historical content will be integrated with the current content as it should be since the content 1994 – present is controlled by NARA and GPO. This also limits access as users will need to know that they need to search at least 2 sites to get access to the complete run of FRs.
- Related to #3, what will happen to the Government Publishing Office’s project in partnership with the National Archives currently underway to digitize the Federal Register itself and make it available via FDsys/govinfo.gov/federalregister.gov? If GPO and NARA decide that LC’s access is good enough, will they pull the plug on their project? This would be a very bad thing because the GPO/NARA project *will* give access to the historic run (1936 – 1993) in conjunction with the material already available on FDsys and federalregister.gov. And that content will no doubt be in the public domain, will be available for bulk download and will make its way into LOCKSS-USDOCS for distributed preservation by FDLP libraries.
In conclusion, pretty good access to the historic Federal Register is pretty good, but the American public deserve amazing access AND digital preservation assurances for the long term.
The Law Library acquired this collection from William S. Hein & Co., Inc. to make all volumes of the Federal Register available in open access to researchers. The collection starts with the first Federal Register in 1936 and contains all volumes through 1993. For more recent volumes, see federalregister.gov and FDSys (volumes 1994-2015). The Law Library website for the collection is //www.loc.gov/collections/federal-register/.