The above link will take you to an article from J.L. Bell’s Boston 1775 blog, where he shares an interesting change he noticed at the Waltham, Massachusetts National Archives outpost. The microfilm reels and readers are gone, replaced by computers. Makes sense right? Digitizing these records is an important step in preserving them, and has the added benefit of being shared with more people at once. But it was this part of his post that bothers me greatly:
A while back, N.A.R.A. entered some sort of public-private partnership with Ancestry.com to digitize the Revolutionary War pension material. That database is now complete. Each agency outlet has a subscription for all its computers. Meanwhile, the service can sell access to the digital files other libraries and individuals. (There’s a similar arrangement withFootnote.com governing other material.)
Great. It’s another instance where a corporation now has the control over a large chunk of our history. OUR history. I don’t know the specifics of the deal, and maybe I’m overreacting, but I find this type of “deal” disgusting. And the idea that Ancestry.com can sell access to the files means that they, and they alone, own them for all intents and purposes.
So what happened to all those reels of microfilm? Were they stored as a back-up? No. Where they given away to any other historical or archival entity? Of course not. They were tossed. They’re at some landfill underneath a community’s rotten leftovers and broken toys. Ancestry.com can’t make as much money off the stuff if there are rogue copies of it flying around! (O.K. maybe I’m running off into Paranoiaville there.)
I don’t know how to sum this up other than asking if anything is safe from being bought and controlled?