Armchair genealogists squawked last year when the administration, to cut the National Archives' budget, quit lending out microfilmed census records.
Now agency officials have come up with a solution that is becoming increasingly popular in this administration: let the private sector do it. Thus the Archives is looking for a private contractor who is interested in managing the 60,000 rolls of microfilm and renting them for a fee.
Since 1969, the public had been able to borrow microfilmed census records free from 11 regional archives libraries and, since 1980, from a clearinghouse in Fort Worth, Tex. But in its last year, this cost $500,000, including $200,000 for mailing.
"We realized that we'd have to cut back on this, since it was free and it was a cost to us," said Richard A. Jacobs, deputy assistant archivist.
But after the agency heard from the public and Rep. Glenn English (D-Okla.), who chairs a subcommittee that oversees the Archives, Jacobs said the agency "looked at that large inventory of film sitting there unused and determined that we had to do something, because the public wants this."
The microfilm covers all the censuses from 1790 to 1900, and the 1910 Census is expected to be added soon. The records include the names of household members, their birthplaces and -- depending on the census -- other information, such as whether the person was disabled.