Newswise — Peter Hirtle, an archivist and senior policy advisor in the Cornell University Library, highlights the exciting new business model behind the upcoming public release of the 1940 Census, which will provide one of the most intimate glimpses into American lives during the Great Depression.

He says:

“The 1940 Decennial Census is an incredibly rich resource for family historians and biographers. When it is released to the public on April 2, about 72 years after it was taken, it will provide a snapshot of the lives of almost all Americans. “There are, however, two big changes from previous years. First, the National Archives and Records Administration is making the census freely available online. Previous censuses could only be consulted in microfilm or through commercial databases. The 1940 Census will be accessible to everyone for free. This is radically different than the existing practices in places like England, Scotland, and Ireland, where access to online census data is only available on a fee basis from the respective archives. “Second, there is no name index to the census; one needs to know the enumeration district in which someone lived in order to manually scan for their entry. Commercial entities, however, are busy indexing the data and will soon be adding a ‘value-added’ version of the census to their subscribers that includes name indexing. “The combination of free access to the basic data and value-added services available for a fee from commercial partners is an exciting new model that could be adopted by all cultural heritage institutions.”

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