I had the privilege of hearing about this notion from Carl himself when he was in DC a few weeks ago. It made great sense especially given the zeal with which Carl explained it. I was delighted to see him post a thoughtful write up of his suggestion to pursue digitization as a national effort, inspired by France’s disbursal of stimulus funds along a similar vein.
Carl makes a compelling case for a home grown digitization effort funded by also by stimulus money. He relates it back to the challenges faced by our first National Archivist and the inventiveness with which he approached considerable challenges.
The biggest challenge was the deluge of paperwork, a situation not very different from what our national institutions face today. Instead of simply moaning the impossibility of swallowing all the records Connor would need to establish the National Archives, he thought nonlinear. The result was the invention of several key technologies: the airbrush to clean paper, the laminator to protect it, and of course, the microphotograph (now known as microfilm or microfiche), a technology so successful it reduced incoming paper needs by 95%.
There is an implication to this idea that Carl just touches on in the write up. He discusses the lack of skilled labor available in the 1930’s. His use of the term public works is intentional, now as then there is a dividend that a modest amount of stimulus money could return in the form of new jobs and improving the lot of any number of workers who could acquire experience and training they could take back into the market.
The overshadowing of that element by his conclusion is forgivable. He lays a challenge at the feet of the Obama administration to step in and lead as is suggested by the very historical example Carl cites.