Government documents from microfiche are coming to archive.org based on the combined efforts of the Internet Archive and its Federal Depository Library Program library partners. The resulting files will be available for free public access to enable new analysis and access techniques.
Microfiche cards, which contain miniaturized thumbnails of the publication’s pages, are starting to be digitized and matched to catalog records by the Internet Archive. Once in a digital format and preserved on archive.org, these documents will be searchable and downloadable by anyone with an Internet connection, since U.S. government publications are in the public domain.
Seventy million pages on over one million microfiche cards have been contributed for scanning from Claremont Colleges, Evergreen State College, University of Alberta, University of California San Francisco, and the University of South Carolina. Other libraries are welcome to join this project.
The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), founded in 1813, provides designated libraries with copies of bills, laws, congressional hearings, regulations, and executive and judicial branch documents and reports to share with the public. Initially, the documents were on paper but in the 1970s, the U.S. Government Publishing Office began to use microfiche.
“While the new format saved space, the viewing and copying issues were exacerbated, so microfiche was never a favorite of the public,” said James Jacobs, a U.S. government information librarian and member of the Free Government Information organization. “That was one of the main reasons I was excited to have this content digitized. These important publications will be online and more accessible.”
Once all the documents are digitized, access will be greatly enhanced, and it will allow people to do broader machine analysis of digital content to track larger trends across years of technical reports or agency activity, Jacobs said.
The collection includes reports from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NASA, the Department of Interior, and other government agencies from the 1970s to the present. There are also transcripts of congressional hearings and other Congressional material that contain discussion of potential laws or issues of concern to the public, Jacobs said.
“From water to nuclear energy to frogs, whatever it is, Congress has a meeting and invites experts to talk about the issues,” Jacobs said. “It’s a way for the public to peek into the legislative process.”
Microfiche is not a format that can be easily read without using a machine in a library building. Many members of the public are not aware of the material available on microfiche so the potential for finding and using them is heightened once these documents are digitized. And as the information is shared with other federal depository libraries, there will be a ripple effect for researchers, academics, students, and the general public in gaining access.
“The Internet Archive is looking for more microform donations and currently has the funding, thanks to a grant from the Kahle/Austin Foundation, to transform the cards into digital documents, opening up a rich collection of public documents to a wider audience,” said Liz Rosenberg, donations manager. “The Archive can also cover the cost of shipping and provide a home for microforms that libraries no longer have the space to store and wish to gain digital access.” Learn more about the Internet Archive’s donations program.
With this expanded access to the workings of government, Jacobs said that digitizing microfiche is helping promote the open sharing of knowledge: “You have to have an informed citizenry in order to have a democracy.”
If your library has microfiche collections that you’d like to donate, you can learn more about the Internet Archive’s donations program through our Help Center. Please contact us with inquiries or when you are ready to start a donation.