The National Archives [UK] has made details of 11m records available through an application interface it published today as part of an ongoing programme to get more official records online.
The API allows anyone to search for and retrieve the metadata that describes records in the archive in XML format. The data can then be used without restriction or charge. But the archive, which is simultaneously an executive agency of the Department of Justice and a government department in its own right, continues to charge £3.50 per document to retrieve actual records online.
The National Archives is also working an e-commerce system. The API may further boost the market in genealogical services. Private companies have paid the National Archives £52m since 2002 for the digitisation of paper records they could then resell through websites. Findmypast.co.uk paid for the National Archives to digitise the 1911 census last year and pays a share of its profits on resale of the data back to the National Archives.
A spokesman for the National Archives was unable to say how much money it made from such deals or what it cost to digitise the 80 million pages of the archive it has already put online. He said the 1911 census comprised 16.2 million images. Most of the National Archives’ 11 million records are still on paper, each containing pages that can number in the thousands. It contains collections unlikely to be digitised for lack of public interest. Access to paper records is still free of charge at the archive’s site in Kew.