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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Docs of the week: Ferguson Grand Jury, 100 years of INS annual reports, and the historic Moynihan Report

Hands Up Don't Shoot Ferguson protests

by Flickr user LightBrigading used w permission. Creative Commons BY-NC-2.0 license

Here at Stanford libraries, my colleague Kris Kasianovitz and I are busy putting context to the *massive* haystack that is the Internet — and we could use some help (want to be a lostdocs collector?!)! Below are just a few of the documents we’ve collected in the last week, stored in our Stanford Digital Repository and made accessible through our library catalog.

1)The Negro family, the case for national action AKA the Moynihan Report. This document came to me from a recent New Yorker article “Don’t Be Like That: Does black culture need to be reformed?” by Kelefa Sanneh. The article, a book review of a new anthology called “The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth,” contextualized the sociology and cultural history of being black in America, describing in detail the ground-breaking work of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, trained as a sociologist and well known later as the liberal Senator from NY. As Sanneh notes, the Moynihan Report — which was originally printed in a run of 100 with 99 of them locked in a vault — was leaked to the press causing the Johnson administration to release the entire document. Moynihan’s overarching theme was “the deterioration of the Negro family” and he called for a national program to “strengthen the Negro family.”

2) Annual Report of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. This one started out as a research consultation. A student wanted to analyze this report over the 100+ years that it’s been published. She found that the Immigration and Naturalization Service had digitized their historic run, but for some reason had taken the link down from their site and not restored it for over 2 weeks. I contacted INS and got the digitized documents restored, then downloaded them, deposited them in SDR and had the purl added to our bibliographic record. The added benefit to collecting this digital annual report is that it makes it easier for future users to access this important annual report chock full of important statistics — our paper collection is shelved in several different areas of the US documents collection as INS has shifted around over the years (causing its call# to change over time) among different agencies from Treasury (call# T21.1:) to Labor (call# L3.1: and L6.1:) to Justice (call# J21.1:) to Homeland Security (call# HS4.200).

3) Documents from the Ferguson Grand Jury. Ferguson has been in the news over the last year because of the fatal shooting of African American youth Michael brown by police officer Darren Wilson and the ensuing protests it sparked. This important historic series of 105 Missouri state documents from the Grand Jury were released via Freedom of Information requests from CNN. Some of our government information colleagues around the country wondered online how to collect and preserve these documents for posterity and future researchers. Luckily, SUL is one library able to collect and preserve historically important born-digital government documents.

The overwhelming majority of state, local, US and international government documents these days are born-digital. Here at Stanford libraries, we continue to look for ways to maintain and expand both our historic and born-digital documents collections. Self-deposit will no doubt be one strategy among several (including Web archiving, LOCKSS and future initiatives) as we look to serve the information needs of citizens, faculty, students and researchers.

“An alarmingly casual indifference to accuracy and authenticity.” What we know about digital surrogates

In a new article in Portal, Diana Kichuk examines the reliability and accuracy of digital text extracted from printed books in five digital libraries: the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg, the HathiTrust, Google Books, and the Digital Public Library of America. She focuses particularly on the accuracy and utility of the digital text for reading in e-book formats and on the accuracy of metadata derived from extracted text.

This study, along with a couple of others cited below, are very relevant to the repeated calls by some within the Federal Depository Library Program to digitize and discard the historic FDLP paper collections. These studies, even though they do not focus on government publications, provide examples, data, and standards that should be critical to review before the depository community implements discarding policies that will have irreversible effects.

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Kichuk’s article is well worth reading in its entirety as she identifies many problems with digital text created during digitization of paper books by OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technologies, and she gives specific examples. The two most important problems that she highlights are that digitized texts often fail to accurately represent the original, and that the metadata that is automatically created from such text is too often woefully inaccurate. These problems have real effects on libraries and library users. Readers will find it difficult to accurately identify and even find the books they are looking for in digital libraries and libraries will find it difficult to confidently attribute authenticity and provenance to digitized books.

Kichuk says that digitized text versions of print books are often unrecognizable as surrogates for the print book and it may be “misleading at best” to refer to them even as “equivalent” to the original. Although she only examined a small number of e-books (approximately seventy-five), she found “abundant evidence” of OCR problems that suggest to her the likelihood of widespread and endemic problems.

A 2012 report by the HathiTrust Research Center reinforces Kichuk’s findings. That study found that 84.9 percent of the volumes it examined had one or more OCR errors, 11% of the pages had one or more errors, and the average number of errors per volume was 156 (HathiTrust, Update on February 2012 Activities March 9, 2012).

* * *

Most of the examples we have of current-generation digitization projects, particularly mass-digitization projects, provide access to digital “page images” (essentially pictures of pages) of books in addition to OCR’d digital text. So, to get a more complete picture of the state of digitization it is instructive to compare Kichuk’s study of OCR’d text to a study by Paul Conway of page images in the HathiTrust.

Fully one-quarter of the 1000 volumes examined by Conway contained at least one page image whose content was “unreadable.” Only 64.9% of the volumes examined were considered accurate and complete enough to be considered “reliably intelligible surrogates.” Presumably, that means more than 35% of the volumes examined were not reliable surrogates.

Conway’s study reinforces the findings of the Center for Research Libraries when it certified HathiTrust as a Trusted Digital Repository in 2011. (Full disclosure: I was part of the team that audited HT.) CRL said explicitly that, although some libraries will want to discard print copies of books that are in HT, “the quality assurance measures for HathiTrust digital content do not yet support this goal.”

Currently, and despite significant efforts to identify and correct systemic problems in digitization, HathiTrust only attests to the integrity of the transferred file, and not to the completeness of the original digitization effort. This may impact institutions’ workflow for print archiving and divestiture. (Certification Report on the HathiTrust Digital Repository).

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Together, these reports provide some solid (if preliminary) data which should help libraries make informed decisions. Specifically, all these studies show that it would be risky to use digitized copies of FDLP historic collections as reliable surrogates for the original paper copies. That means it would be risky to discard original paper copies of documents simply because they had been digitized.

Although Conway suggests, as others have, that libraries (and users) may have to accept incomplete, inaccurate page images as a “new norm” and accept that they are not faithful copies, he also realizes that “questions remain about the advisability of withdrawing from libraries the hard-copy original volumes that are the sources of the surrogates.”

Kichuk goes further in her conclusions. She wisely envisions that the “uncorrected, often unreadable, raw OCR text” that most mass-digitization projects produce today, will be inadequate for future, more sophisticated uses. She looks specifically to a future when users will want and expect ebooks created from digitized text. She warns that current digitization standards, coupled with insufficient funding, are not creating text that is accurate or complete enough to meet the needs of users in the near future. And she recognizes that librarians are not stepping up to correct this situation. She describes “an alarmingly casual indifference to accuracy and authenticity” of OCR’d text and says that this “willful blindness” to the OCR problem is suppressing any sense of urgency to remedy the problem.

She concludes from her small sample that there should be a more systematic review by the digital repository community prior to the development of a new digitized e-book standard, especially for metadata and text file formats.

I agree with Kichuk and Conway and CRL that more work needs to be done before libraries discard their paper collections. Librarians and their communities need to have a better understanding of the quality of page images and digitized text that digitization projects produce. With that in mind, James R. Jacobs and I addressed this very problem in 2013 and suggested a new standard for the quality of page images — which we call the “digital Surrogate Seal of Approval” (DSSOA)) in 2013:

Libraries that are concerned about their future and their role in the information ecosystem should look to the future needs of users when evaluating digitization projects.

FDLP libraries have a special obligation to the country to preserve the historic collections in their charge. It would be irresponsible to discard the complete, original record of our democracy and preserve only an incomplete, inaccurate record it.

Beyond the Numbers

Document of the day: Beyond the Numbers at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The wonderful Scout Report a the University of Wisconsin-Madison, highlighted this gem in its most recent newsletter. The Scout’s description says it all:

For readers who love stats and facts, Beyond the Numbers, which is published biweekly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, will provide hours of fresh insights on a range of topics. The home page always features the latest update, as well as three recent articles (available in PDF format), such as “Understanding health plan types: What’s in a name?” However, the real meat of the site can be found by browsing the Archive, which takes readers to topics dating all the way back to 1996 when the feature was first published. The archives can be browsed in chronological order. They can also be searched utilizing seven distinct themes, including employment & unemployment, global economy, regional economics, and others.

You can subscribe to the Scout Report here.

Data, Data, Data.

As a data librarian since the mid-1980s, I have watched the field expand and bourgeon with a sense of giddy delight. A good friend who has been a data librarian longer than I have once said he would retire when children started saying that wanted to grow up to be data librarians. Well, that time may have come. As a documents librarian since the late 1970s, watching the merger of “data” and government information in the minds of government officials as well as librarians is like a dream come true.

Reading this piece from “The First-Ever U.S. Chief Data Scientist” on the White House web site shows just how important government data has become.

Patil says, “my role as the U.S. CDS will be to responsibly source, process, and leverage data in a timely fashion to enable transparency, provide security, and foster innovation for the benefit of the American public, in order to maximize the nation’s return on its investment in data.”

See also: The White House Names Dr. DJ Patil as the First U.S. Chief Data Scientist.

Introducing the Federal Web Archiving Working Group

Interesting and informative post by our friend, Michael Neubert, a Supervisory Digital Projects Specialist at the Library of Congress:

Michael comments on the huge amount of born-digital federal government information that is being lost every day:

Today most information that federal government agencies produce is created in electronic format and disseminated over the World Wide Web. Few federal agencies have any legal obligation to preserve web content that they produce long-term and few deposit such content with the Government Publishing Office or the National Archives and Records Administration–such materials are vulnerable to being lost.

He goes on to describe how staff of the GPO, NARA, and the Library of Congress are now meeting monthly to discuss their web harvesting projects.

Managers and staff involved in web archiving from these three agencies have now met five times and have plans to continue meeting on a monthly basis during the remainder of 2015. At the most recent meeting we added a representative from the National Library of Medicine. So far we have been learning about what each of the agencies is doing with harvesting and providing access to federal web sites and why–whether it is the result of a legal mandate or because of other collection development policies. We expect to involve representatives of other federal agencies as seems appropriate over time.

They hope to develop “a shared collective development strategy, if only informally.”

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