The Government Publishing Office produces a range of government documents, from U.S. passports for the State Department, to official publications for Congress.
But GPO is also in the business of providing public access to government documents online through its GovInfo website – and the number of digitized records on that site is growing.
“We’re all about public access. It’s our key strategic initiative to find this material, and then digitize it and make it available through GovInfo,” Laurie Hall, GPO’s superintendent of documents, said in a recent interview.
GPO Supervisory Analyst Suzanne Ebanues said the agency since 1994 has made congressional hearings available on GovInfo, but is now working on digitizing a collection of over 9,000 hearings prior to 1994.
“We have to prioritize. We started off with filling in the gaps in GovInfo. GovInfo didn’t start until 1994, so we’re kind of [going] backwards,” Ebanues said.
Older hearings scheduled for digitization include a June 1979 House Science and Technology Committee hearing on the Three Mile Island nuclear plant disaster, and a 1977 hearing about the proposed relocation of GPO to a site on New York Avenue in downtown Washington, D.C.
GPO is also working with the Law Library of Congress to digitize the U.S. Congressional Serial Set collection, which is comprised of House and Senate documents and reports.
Volumes include committee reports, presidential communications to Congress — including State of the Union addresses — treaty documents and federal agency materials, which include annual reports.
GPO is currently digitizing volumes of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set that range from the 15th to the 103rd Congresses.
The initial public release of this collection began in September 2001, but Ebanues said the project remains ongoing, and will take at least another five years to complete.
“There’s at least 15,000 volumes of the serials, so it’s going to take us a long time. But it’s got really cool stuff in it. There’s an exploration of the valley of the Amazon in Brazil from the 1850s that the Navy Department undertook. You find state constitutions, like the constitution of Iowa from 1846,” Ebanues said.
Ebanues said GPO’s digitization is primarily done by outside vendors, but the agency does have the capability to digitize records for an agency or agency customers.
GPO also worked with the Office of Federal Register to digitize its entire collection, and also worked with the Library of Congress to digitize every issue of the Congressional Record.
GPO, through its Federal Depository Library Program has been sending federal government publications to libraries across the country for 150 years.
Hall said GPO, as part of that program, is currently working with Utah State University’s library to digitize more than 1,000 World War II pamphlets and records.
“We’re going back and working with these libraries and with other federal agencies to digitize runs of this material – old material that nobody knew was there. There’s some real gems there,” Hall said.
Once digitized, those digital records will be available on GPO’s GovInfo website.
“A lot of that material is probably in the NARA collections, but it’s not as easily accessible to folks. Our key thing is for public access,” Hall said.
GPO also participated in the development of the Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) guidelines, along with the Library of Congress.
“We talk regularly with the Library of Congress. They share their digitization plans with us, and we share ours to see if there’s any way we can communicate. If we’re planning to digitize an agency’s material, we can also reach out to them and see if they want to participate,” Ebanues said.
Hall said GPO is required to digitize its records to a FADGI three-star level, but does “a little bit above that,” and scans to a 400 pixels per inch standard, because some federal publications contain small print.
“We want to be sure that is clear and as readable as possible. We have digitization masters in an uncompressed JPEG 2000 format that’s safely in the archival side of GovInfo, so that if we need to reproduce the PDF, we can,” Hall said.
While GPO has a long history of digitizing government records, other agencies, facing a year-end deadline to submit all new permanent records to the NARA an electronic format, may be less familiar with best practices for digitization.
“We have found that definitely better is to spend more time prepping the tangible publications so that you don’t end up sending things to the vendor to be digitized that are incomplete, and that you have to go back and waste time trying to find a replacement copy,” Ebanues said.
“We have found that it’s really helpful to do a test batch, if you’re using a vendor to do your digitization. That way, you can ensure that they understand your requirements before they get too far into their workflows, and have set up workflows that don’t actually meet the requirements. We also spend a lot of time doing quality assurance on any digitized images and metadata that we get from a vendor,” she added. “We have found that way that we get the best quality product that we put into GovInfo.”