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Information Entrepreneurs | Sep 06, 2005 08:39

RUSSELL BROWN, National Library, Sept 2, 2005

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I was recently able to bring this part of the project to a kind of closure when I liberated the Lange speech itself. And I say "liberated" advisedly. I was only able to gain "listening access" to the recording from Sound Archives, in order to transcribe it. I negotiated for months to try and get the recording released online, with the approval of Mr Lange. But, the day before he died, I got the final word from Radio New Zealand. I could use the recording, but not make it available in any form that could actually be downloaded.

This wasn't good enough for me: not only would it have an adverse bearing on quality, it also precluded derivative uses. I quite liked the idea of those ringing words being sampled and worked into a dance record. And so, might I say, did David Lange. Eventually, a last-minute plea to TVNZ bore fruit. The recording can be downloaded by anyone, and 3000 people have. It is linked to, along with the transcript, from Wikipedia and the website of the Economist. And that dance record is in the works. Finally, I fulfilled the expectation of actuality.

I must emphasise that I don't blame any individual for the difficulties of the process. Archive organisations need policies - and on a more practical level, funding - for this kind of project. It's my fervent hope that in the next few years, both the policies and the funding will be forthcoming.

It is truly exciting to see the National Content Strategy take shape. And if I could have one wish, it is that the strategy will admit New Zealanders. The blessing and the curse of libraries and archives is their sheer breadth. Having decided to disseminate, what to disseminate first?

The answer, at least in part, is to disseminate what people want. I imagine a modest, simple fund to digitise works on request from the public. Perhaps someone wants a work to illustrate an argument, to enhance a Wikipedia entry, or simply for the pleasure of making it available. Once it is published, like those old RFCs, it can never be unpublished.

My point is this: that the keepers of knowledge can either operate a command economy, with five-year plans, or they can let in the information entrepreneurs. They can be the benevolent dictators who started it all.

I would hope that it will soon be possible for motivated individuals to make their own paths through our great common heritage; for our great archives to be adorned and enhanced with Wikis, web projects and blogs. That our online encyclopaedias can harness the power of community. And that there will be a flowering so broad and so fast-growing that it will be hard to count its blooms.

And if it does prove hard to draw all this activity together? You may anticipate my answer: start a blog.

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