When "open access" means "beware of the leopard"

[Read the post]

This…kind of seems to be scraping the barrel in looking for things to be outraged about. What exactly were you expecting WWII files that have been locked away for decades to be, all pre-scanned & tagged with keywords?


The less it inspires people to over-react, the more practical a bit on info may be.

Well it might be a start to permit volunteers to scan and tag. It’s very likely the problem here is budget.

I seem to recall there are documents that can only be viewed at the Library of Congress, and some that are only found at the National Archives, but I learned that in my childhood, and it might no longer be true.


As far as I (don’t) know, 100% of the things I learned in my childhood are either no longer true or were never true in the first place.

The only constant is change.

1 Like

Yet, people will dive into those records and come up with a new way of thinking about that historical period in France. So yeah, it’s not all immediately available, but it’s what historians have been dealing with for a very long time. It’s a victory, actually. And digitizing all those documents and making them searchable online is another project that would be nice. Britain has started doing it. The Folger in DC is doing it now… I also think people are underestimating just how much there is out there, in terms of government documents.


Would lo-o-ove me some full Vatican archive access. :smile:


Though it seems that unless everything there was pre-scanned, pre-indexed, and available from the comfort of your couch, getting physical keys to the vaults would not count as “public access” enough to make this blogger happy.
I work on open-data initiatives inside our own government, and to me, any (even terribly budget-constrained) opening up is a step in the right direction.

Hearts and minds (or policies) first, logistics later.

1 Like

Yes, a case in point as to how long and difficult things like this can be - I think Wikileaks has spoiled us to a degree :wink: most documents aren’t able to be just put on a thumb drive.

1 Like

As an archivist, I have to tell you that the phrase open access does describe exactly the situation and the French Government has used it correctly. It’s unfortunate there are no finding aids or index - if there were, they would be databased, and I’m sure that database would be searchable online. It’s unfortunate that most public archives are not funded well enough to describe thoroughly all their holdings or deal with their back-logged collections.
It’s nice that you think having to actually go where the materials are to do any research is an unbearable chore, but most researchers who have worked with primary documents in holdings around the world, would be pleased to educate you to the joys of discovery inherent in that. Then there is the matter of completely serendipitous discoveries in primary materials that no finding aid could ever give you. I think your time would be much better spent advocating for better funding of our cultural history institutions than whining because you don’t understand archival terms.


The Police Museum rules (linked in the article) specifically prohibits researchers from placing copies of the documents online (with some vague language allowing the police to grant exceptions in some cases).

But what does “beware of the leopard” mean?

Mr Prosser: But, Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.
Arthur: Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually telling anybody or anything.
Mr Prosser: But the plans were on display…
Arthur: On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.
Mr Prosser: That’s the display department.
Arthur: With a torch.
Mr Prosser: The lights had probably gone out.
Arthur: So had the stairs.
Mr Prosser: But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?
Arthur: Yes yes I did. It was on display at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying beware of the leopard.

cf: Adams, Douglas


It always makes me a little teary eyed (not an exaggeration), and I want to clutch my paperback third edition.

Time to watch some rare parrot YouTube’s.


This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.