Library of Congress Needs Volunteers to Digitize Its Records

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Vendors would work for free, but they’d essentially gain exclusive rights to the materials for up to three years.

The Library on Congress renewed a call for contractors to help digitize millions of manuscripts, photos and other materials—for free.

The library on Thursday started accepting bids for “no-cost contracts” to copy and scan numerous records to be posted online. The offer is open to both commercial and non-commercial groups involved in digital publishing.

While digitization efforts are already underway, the additional help is needed “to respond to increasing expectations for collections materials and related items to be made available on the Library’s website,” officials wrote in the solicitation. The library solicited similar volunteer digitization services in 2013.

Vendors could set up shop on-site at library facilities, they said, but groups would need to provide their own scanning equipment. Officials would assign vendors to digitize specific collections, and each project would come with its own timeline and requirements. Ultimately, groups would provide the library with digital files and metadata for each document.

However, those records wouldn’t be made available online for up to three years, allowing groups to “recoup first copy costs,” the library said. In other words, even though vendors wouldn’t directly earn anything for their work, they could charge people to access the digitized materials before they’re made public.

Vendors would also be able to explore the library’s entire collection during the duration of their project. The library would also train contractors to handle and store records, many of which are centuries old.

As of 2017, the library held some 167 million physical documents—books, manuscripts, photographs, prints, maps, audio and video recordings—in its collections, according to its annual report. Officials didn’t disclose what percentage of those resources are digitized, but they said the library’s website was visited nearly 75 million times in 2017.