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Canada set to digitize documents, but limit access

The Canadian government’s Library and Archives Canada (LAC) announced more details of its digitization project. In a “digitization partnership” with Canadiana.org, a not-for-profit charitable organization, there will be a large scale digitization project that will involve about 60 million images from numerous collections, including the indexing and description of millions of personal, administrative and government documents, as well as land grants, war diaries and photographs and the transcription of millions of handwritten pages. This is a “10-year agreement.”

The announcement says that Canadians will have “access” regardless of where they live, at no charge.

However, enhanced access (presumably the enhancements added by Canadiana.org of indexing and desciptions and transcriptions?) will be available to Canadians free of charge only “at LAC” and at “subscribing libraries.”

All Canadians will be able to use the enhanced tools “online” and be able to conduct advanced searches “without leaving home” “for a small monthly fee.”

The announcement apparently is describing a system of tiered access, but exactly how it will be implemented is unclear from the wording of the announcemnt. Will users have to visit physical facilities to get “enhanced access”? Or will online access be available to those who can log in to subscribing libraries? Will the restrictions be lifted after the end of the “10-year agreement”? Will the ten years start now, or at the end of the digitization? What is the fee? What is the justification of giving some Canadians free access and charging others?

We still need more details to fully evaluate this project, but it looks like another trade off in which a government improves access through digitization by limiting access in some way and charging fees for access to public information. It appears that the limitations in this case are to the indexing and searching tools. Apparently, if you can find the image you want out of the 60 million images to be created, you will be able to look at it for free.


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