Printer Speak

Or it could have been, as Barry Manilow sings,”I write the songs, I write the songs.”

After an extensive review of the history of the Government Printing Office, which dates back to 1861, Bruce James finally got around to how he’s going to transform the world’s largest printer (and, as he said at another point, probably the world’s largest purchaser of printing services). The Jamesian mission is to move GPO from the 19th to the 21st century. To do this, he spent his first year in office gathering facts, partly by visiting libraries and printers. The second year he worked with employees to develop a strategic vision. It was, he admitted, “a painful process.” But GPO ended up with a document detailing its vision of the future. That, said James, “was the music, now it’s up GPO to write words to the music.”

The problem is simple. People don’t want paper. They want online access. The Federal Register is a case in point. It’s print subscriber base was 35,000 ten years ago. Now it’s 2,000. But there’s half a million downloads. Another stat from the Public Printer: More than 50% of documents are now “born digital.”

James sees a pairing of agency personnel with experts brought in from the private sector as important to achieving his vision — the complete digitization of government documents, all the way back to the Federalist Papers.

Novel concepts at GPO: Actually visiting other government agencies to ascertain best practices, along with university laboratories and companies to uncover innovative technologies. Establishing an office of new business development. Get paper documents out of warehouses and move to a JIT (Just in Time) rather than JIC (Just in Case) model.

The digitization vision means assigning metadata for each document and having a standard character set. What if GPO chooses the wrong technology? James hopes this won’t happen, but his backup is film that will last 40 years. He’s confident that GPO will be able to migrate digitized documents to future technologies. He wants documents digitized to the quality level of the human eye can perceive, probably 600 dpi. But it goes beyond the printed page. He envisions capturing government events, not just documents, as rich text media. In the future we won’t just read, we’ll see and hear what happened in Congress, for example.

His target timeframe is ambitious — 70% done within next 3 years.

Marydee Ojala
Editor, ONLINE: The Leading Magazine for Information Professionals

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