One of things that libraries bring to the world of government information is the ability to take preexisting materials, make them user-friendly and offer them to the world at large for no charge. This is particularly true in the world of public domain federal government information, at least when it comes to digitizing.
A project I’d like to highlight today is a searchable version of the Foreign Relations of the United States done by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Chicago Libraries.
For those not familar, here is a description of Foreign Relations of the United States from the State Department:
The Foreign Relations of the United States series presents the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity. The series, which is produced by the State Department’s Office of the Historian, began in 1861 and now comprises more than 350 individual volumes. The volumes published over the last two decades increasingly contain declassified records from all the foreign affairs agencies.
Foreign Relations volumes contain documents from Presidential libraries, Departments of State and Defense, National Security Council, Central Intelligence Agency, Agency for International Development, and other foreign affairs agencies as well as the private papers of individuals involved in formulating U.S. foreign policy. In general, the editors choose documentation that illuminates policy formulation and major aspects and repercussions of its execution. Volumes published over the past few years have expanded the scope of the series in two important ways: first by including documents from a wider range of government agencies, particularly those involved with intelligence activity and covert actions, and second by including transcripts prepared from Presidential tape recordings.
In short, it’s a good place to get declassifed materials and context for most US foreign policy decisions. The two University libraries and Federal Depository Library Program members digitized the paper volumes so that the text would be searchable, but researchers can see the actual pages of reproduced telegrams and the like.
I think this resource will be of great value to researchers. When I was an undergraduate, I wrote a senior paper on Turkey’s accession to NATO. I wound up having to use FRUS a lot because that’s where NATO meetings got recorded in the 1940s and 1950s, not as you’d expect in NATO publications. I remember checking out a dozen volumes at a time, stacking them on my apartment floor and carefully going through the index for "Turkey" and looking up pages and bookmarking them for later xeroxing. How I wished I had this product then. If made widely known, it could help people better understand historical foreign policy and contribute to today’s policy debates.
A private company could have done this. But then it would be a subscription product and the average citizen or undergrad student couldn’t be bothered with it. Now our declassified foreign policy heritage, both good and bad is out there for the whole world to see. And that’s a good thing. Now if the CIA would stop trying to block new releases.
Is there some product at your library that you can add value to and show the world? Tell us!
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