The Center for American Progress think tank and the transparency group Public.Resources.Org want to turn the vast holdings of the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Government Printing Office and other government agencies into the core of a national digital public library.
"We are not necessarily suggesting that the federal government immediately undertake an ambitious effort to scan [all government] holdings," CAP Chairman John Podesta and Public Resources President Carl Malamud wrote in an online petition titled "Yes we Scan" posted Wednesday.
"We believe it would require a decade-long commitment to digitization to make our nation's cultural, scientific, educational, and historical resources available, but we can't even begin that discussion unless we know how big the problem is," they wrote.
The authors suggest President Obama appoint a commission to investigate the government's full archival holdings and what it would take to bring it online.
Podesta and Malamud reference a recent executive order Obama signed directing agencies to create better strategies for storing digital records. That order, they say, "discusses how to make record-keeping move into the modern age in the future, but does not address how to rescue the past and make it useful for Americans."
The petition links to a separate version posted on the White House's own petition site We the People.
Podesta was chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton and a co-chair of Obama's presidential transition team. Malamud, a Web entrepreneur and open-data activist previously used the Yes We Scan pun in a campaign for the recently tumultuous appointed post of head of the Government Printing Office.