GPO pilot puts historical Treasury records online
- By William Jackson
- Oct 24, 2012
The Government Printing Office is expanding its online offerings with a pilot program to make historical Treasury Department documents available in a digital format for the first time.
GPO is making a half-century of foreign currency exchange rates available on its Federal Digital System. FDsys will provide a permanent home for the documents with digital archiving and public access.
The site already hosts a wealth of government information generated since the printing office established its GPO Access Web site in the 1990s, and most material produced by agencies now is available online, either through FDsys or on agency websites, said GPO Chief Technology Officer Ric Davis.
“We are in an environment where about 97 percent of government documents are born digital,” Davis said, and the Internet is their natural environment. “What we are doing now is looking at historical information that is being digitized for the first time.”
With development of FDsys, GPO has a full content management system and is moving beyond printing and publishing to cataloging, indexing and authenticating documents online. Documents available on FDsys are authenticated with digital signatures to assure that content has not been altered.
Treasury began the effort to digitize older collections several years ago, said a Treasury official. The department maintains a federal depository library whose records are available to the public, but older documents are available only in hard copy to those to visit the library. Treasury officials then planned to make them available online.
Planning started with librarians, who defined the needs of digital documents, and IT experts, who decided on the methods to achieve them. Digitization began before it was known where or how the documents would be hosted. Documents were put into three formats: Archival quality TIF files, which are large and not easy to use online; PDF files, which are searchable and commonly used online; and Extensible Markup Language (XML) files, which contained useful cataloging and metadata.
The department wanted to minimize costs, leverage existing platforms to the extent possible and to make the documents conveniently accessible. The department considered hosting them internally and in a cloud, but settled on GPO as the most practical way to publish online.
GPO used the Treasury’s XML document files, which required a minimum of additional information from Treasury to prepare them for hosting on FDsys. Documents are displayed in digitally signed PDF files, and also are available in XML so that they can be repurposed in a variety of ways.
“It was a streamlined, automated process to ingest the information into FDsys,” said GPO lead program planner Lisa LaPlant.
The first collections to be put online are Treasury Reporting Rates of Exchange for 1956 through 2005, which list the exchange rates of foreign currencies against the dollar. Librarians identified them as some of the most frequently demanded data sets, a department official said. More recent rate lists are available on the Treasury website.
Next scheduled for online publishing are the editions of the Official Register of the United States for 1829 to 1861 and from 1879 to 1959. These contain information on the federal workforce, including name, job title, place of birth, location of post and annual salary. They are frequently used by genealogists and other researchers.
In addition to the Treasury pilot, GPO also works with the National Archives and Records Administration in the development and application of best practices for preserving and presenting digital data. It has partnered with the Library of Congress to make U.S. Statutes from 1951 through 2002 available on FDsys and is running a pilot with the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts to make court opinions available. It also put more than 5,000 records of U.S. coastal management programs from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration online.
William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.