As we move closer to the launch of our new website and the Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library later this year, we’re extremely busy reviewing everything we’ve cataloged so far. The review process has two steps.
The first step is to review the metadata. This entails going back through every record and making sure every descriptive field that should be filled in is completed and that it meets all of the project standards. Some of these rules might be considered “nit-picky,” such as where periods should go, when to use a person’s title and when not to, and when a controlled vocabulary needs to be used and when it doesn’t. These standards ensure we present as useful and uniform a final product as we can. With more than thirty people cataloging so far, ensuring accuracy and uniformity is probably our greatest challenge as we review.
After the metadata is as complete and flawless as we can make it, the records are then up for copyright review. This, depending on the item, can be very easy or very difficult. Thankfully, many of the photographs and newspapers in the collection were published before 1923, so they are already in the public domain and can be included in the digital library without concern.
When it comes to Roosevelt’s letters, we need to determine whether each letter has been published in a collection of his letters, when the collection was published, and whether we need to correspond with the publishers about what rights they hold over the letters.
The letters received by Roosevelt require the most work and present the most challenges. The majority of the letters are from people history has forgotten, people who wrote to their president once to commend his work, criticize a decision, or ask for an autograph. I have featured some of these letters on the blog before, letters from people we simply cannot identify except perhaps in a phone directory listing in 1896 or a mention in the 1910 census. We have no way of knowing whether the person died before 1941, the current copyright cut-off for unpublished materials. Holding back such “questionable” items would mean holding back a large portion of our collections.
After a careful risk assessment with the help of legal counsel, we have determined that these materials will be included when the digital library is launched. We believe the benefit of presenting these materials outweighs the risk associated with them. Should a copyright holder assert their rights to any given item, we will respect their wishes and take appropriate action, including withdrawing the item from the public portal. I sincerely hope, however, that people will come forward and say, “This was my great-great grandfather; I never knew he wrote this letter!” Not only will this benefit the person and family involved, but it will add to our understanding of the collection.