At the HathiTrust Constitutional Convention, October 2011, partners gave overwhelming support for a ballot proposal to provide “Expanded coverage & enhanced access to U.S. Government Documents.” The nature of the proposed work will be decided by a group process determined by the Board of Governors, but key elements include:
- Facilitating “collective action to create a comprehensive digital corpus of U.S. federal publications including those issued by GPO and other federal agencies.”
- Coordinating “operational plans and a business model to further and sustain coordinated digitization, ingest, and display of U.S. federal publications including those issued by GPO and other federal agencies.”
- And “that HathiTrust develop a process to implement enhanced access protocols to fully realize the potential of a comprehensive corpus of U.S. federal publications including those issued by GPO and other federal agencies.”
Perhaps the most significant impediment to accomplishing the goal of creating a comprehensive corpus of US federal publications is the absence of a reliable inventory of items in the corpus. In discussions related to digitizing government documents, participants recognize that even the promising inductive strategy of relying on the catalogs of regional depository libraries falls short. Many or perhaps all regional depository libraries have not cataloged their collections comprehensively; records exist at the bibliographic level rather than the volume level (e.g., more than 7,000 volumes corresponded to five bibliographic records submitted by Michigan’s Law Library) ; many US federal government publications are cataloged as serials but are regarded by users and librarians as monographs. In short, the fundamental chaos inherent in this non-inventory has led informed individuals in digitization discussions to produce estimates that range from 1.8m to 2.2m volumes, and to estimate average volume page counts from 60 pages to over 300 pages (a total range with a difference of more than 500m pages). Moreover, the absence of an inventory makes impossible tasks like correlating the more than 400,000 documents currently in HathiTrust with the total corpus, and coordinating collective effort across a group of institutions.
To begin to address these issues and to prepare for broader work that will take place as a result of the ballot initiative, HathiTrust has instantiated an emerging project to develop a Registry of US Federal Government Documents. Although the work related to the ballot initiative has yet to be specified, the Registry will be a critical and necessary first piece of infrastructure. The Registry Project will be a collaborative initiative, leveraging contributions from HathiTrust member and non-member libraries, and library organizations.
The duration of the project is preliminarily envisioned to be two years. Further details will be posted here as the project develops.