08 July 2008

Increasing travel costs promote digitization

Dick Eastman in his Online Genealogy Newsletter has a posting The Rising Cost of Travel Versus Online Research worth reading. He points out the high cost of driving to a major archives 35 miles from his home given the escalating cost of fuel, tolls and parking, and poor public transit access to those facilities. Dick points out that increasing costs make commercial online services look like increasingly better value, but that they still only provide a small fraction of the records you might go to an archives to see.

People who live not 35 miles, but 350 miles from an archives have long been aware of this cost of access to free public institutions. It's a reality the 35 milers are now waking up to. Under this economic pressure if public service institutions, like archives, want to maintain a respectable number of clients served they will need to increasingly embrace digitization and online provision of service.

Digitization of records, and providing them over the Internet, is just another step along the path that started when original records were placed on microfilm. There is no reason why simple digitization has to be handed over wholesale to commercial enterprises, unless you believe that archives and record offices should have been run as commercial entities anyway. There remains a substantial scope for commercial genealogy activity in providing value-added indexing.

Whichever organization provides it, digitization will have the benefit of providing increased equity of access, no matter where the client lives, and that's a good thing.

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