3rd party retrodigitisation: important, but not OA self-archiving

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 4 Sep 2005 21:00:07 +0100

[Posted with permission]

> On Fri, 2 Sep 2005, peter mazzoglio wrote:
> Dear Dr Harnad,
> I read the article "Critiques and rebuttals continue in UK open access
> debate" and wish to make a consideration:
> A national project sponsoring digitisation of historical documents
> in national archives leads to the production of material that can be
> offered online to any user.

Dear Dr. Mazzoglio:

Providing access to historical documents via retrodigitisation (like the
digital preservation of current digital publications) is very important,
but it is very different from Open Access, which is something a current
author provides for current digital documents, either by publishing them
in an Open Access journal or by self-archiving them in an Open Access
Eprint Archive.

> In Italy this does not exist yet, but we
> are working to start the whole process and what we think is that,
> as producing a single digitised document has its cost, anybody who
> downloads the document should at least pay the cost of a photocopy,
> say 0.10 Euros. In Sweden, national archives consider the payment of the
> time one roams in their site, without caring of how much is downloaded.

That's fine. Costs can and should be covered. No doubt once the initial
investment in retrodigitisation is recovered it will no longer be
necessary to continue charging as much -- or anything.

> Presently, in Italy, as this service does not exist, handicapped people
> have very little chances of visiting archives, who can, obviously visits
> nearby archives and only during opening hours, waiting for the material
> to arrive (a limited number of registers or documents) and for
> photocopies (to be paid for, and if many, to be withdrawn a week later)
> of what was selected. The cost to get to the archives is remarkable as
> per time and travel. It is rather a medieval situation.

Quite. And digital access will be a great help.

> A project of digitisation needs funding. National Institutions, private
> sponsors (and this means that the document lots must be sponsored and
> the ad should be obvious when one visits that particular lot online)
> and autofunding (coming from the income of the online service). The
> latter point is essential in my opinion.
> What do you think of this?

I have no idea about the true costs involved, how long it will take to
recover them, and whether or not there exist sources of subsidy which
might cover those costs on a one-off basis so that such a valuable
service can be made available to users for free. What makes all of this
different from the Open Access (OA) movement is that OA is essentially
a *1st-party* movement:

It is the OA *author* (necessarily still alive!) who elects to give
away the digital version of his work (usually a text), and does so
either by publishing it with an OA publisher, who does not charge for
access, or by self-archiving it in a toll-free access site. The paradigm
case is research journal articles, which the author does not write for
sales-revenue but in order to maximise their access and usage, for the
sake of research impact (which may then generate "impact income" in the
form of research funding, employment, salary, tenure, prizes).

There is alas no counterpart for most of this in 3rd-party
retrodigitisation (nor in digital document creation in general).

Wishing you success in your project,


Stevan Harnad

> Thankyou for an answer.
> dr Peter John Mazzoglio
> Centre for Historical studies and research
> University of Turin, Italy.
Received on Sun Sep 04 2005 - 21:16:50 BST

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