Federal Librarian Fall 2009

The Feds Are Scanning...
And It's Not What You Think!

If you were not able to attend either of the professional conferences this Summer then you missed a very clear trend: Federal librarians are stepping forward to digitize the print holdings of their respective Departments and Agencies. There were a number of sessions at both the Centennial Special Libraries Association Conference, June 13-17 and the American Library Association Annual Conference July 9-14 that highlighted the work federal and armed forces libraries are undertaking to improve access to their libraries’ holdings. From the Naval Postgraduate Schools’ Homeland Security Digital Library to the National Agriculture Library’s AgSpace, federal and armed force's libraries are embracing the digital library.

Digitization Efforts

At the US Geological Survey, the USGS Library is a partner in efforts to digitize the entire catalog of over 130 years of publishing in the earth and natural sciences as well as an effort to digitize over 300,000 topographic maps that illustrate the changes in the American landscape as our cities and towns have grown over the last century. The USGS Library also has an extensive library of historic photographs that were taken during scientific explorations from the 1850s forward. USGS has developed a Publications Warehouse for serving digital publications, a Web site for access to historic photography, and access to digital map products through the USGS Store. The USGS Store provides access to download digital publications and maps for free or order print-on-demand copies for a fee.

In addition to digitizing the products of their organizations, some federal librarians are also digitizing out-of copyright literature in order to expand access to their valuable library holdings. The most extensive of these efforts is the Smithsonian Institutions’ Biodiversity Heritage Library. The Smithsonian has partnered with Botanic Gardens, Natural History Museums and academic institutions to invest in digitizing the life science literature from the earliest works through the early 20th Century. Their efforts are placed in the public domain on the Internet Archive’s Digital Library. The Smithsonian’s contribution to that effort are being digitized by the Internet Archive both on-site at the Smithsonian and in a scanning center operated on-site at the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ FEDLINK Program has developed a fee-for-service model for other federal and armed forces libraries to use the Internet Archive scanning center. The service, called FedScan, places digitized publications in the Internet Archive Digital Library in formats that can then be downloaded and placed in federal library collections. Many federal and armed  forces libraries are either contracting for digitization or establishing their own capabilities to digitize their library holdings. Most federal and armed forces libraries are scanning journal articles and book chapters in order to electronically fulfill interlibrary loan requests. These on-demand requests are forming the core of growing digital library holdings in many libraries all across the government sector.


With all of these efforts, a number of issues have emerged around the standards that are being used to create these new digital collections. Issues about bit depth, resolution, quality, formats, etc. are being addressed through collaborative working groups. Two such working groups include a Federal Libraries and Information Centers Committee (FLICC) Working Group on Preservation and Digitization and a Federal Digitization Workgroup being led collectively by the Library of Congress, Government Printing Office and National Archives.

These groups are working together to identify the appropriate standards and guidelines and to assist agencies and departments in developing their digitization efforts in ways that incorporate standards inherently. The FLICC Working Group is currently surveying agencies and departments and will be publishing the results of that survey in the coming year. The Federal Digitization Workgroup has developed a Web site where they are posting their work products for use by the broader community.

Share Your Experience

If your library is digitizing collections and you want to share your experience, consider writing an article for the Federal Librarian. We all learn from one another and this venue is a great place to reach others in a similar situation. If you haven’t started a digitization project but you want to in the future, I recommend getting involved in the FLICC Working Group or starting a small group with other agencies or departments with similar goals and challenges. The FEDLINK FedScan program will allow you to do a test batch and you can then test out your own capabilities for handling the metadata, transfer, and ingest processes involved with digitization. It is exciting to see federal and armed forces libraries stepping forward to digitize their collections and serve their users in new ways. There is a wealth of experience in our community and both ALA and SLA have active forums for learning from one another.


Naval Postgraduate Schools’ Homeland Security Digital Library –

National Agriculture Library’s AgSpace –

USGS Publications Warehouse –

USGS Photographic Library –

USGS Store –

Smithsonian Biodiversity Heritage Library –

Internet Archive Digital Library –

FEDLINK FedScan Service –

FLICC Working Group on Preservation and Digitization –

Federal Digitization Workgroup –

By Richard Huffine

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