[UPDATE 6:45PM 7/17/2014: I've had 2 other examples of document loss or potential loss emailed to me this afternoon. I've added ERIC and USGS in the comments. Readers are encouraged to leave other examples in the comments. Thanks! JRJ]
In the govt information library community, the question of the value of being — or remaining — a federal depository library is a zombie meme. This question was again posted to GOVDOC-L a couple of days ago. We thought we’d share our response to this question. So here goes.
Hi _______ et al,
I think you are right: this question has come up more than once on this list and seemingly ad nauseam at depository library and ALA conferences. I don’t have a reference to the last time it did, but, if you don’t mind, I can give you my take on it. I apologize for this rather long response, but I think the question requires it.
I think that there are really two questions we should be asking ourselves; (and I think we need to have a ready answer on hand to both questions when our administrators ask us):
1) What is the value of the depository to my library’s users?
2) How does a library measure its value?
The same answers to these questions hold today as held in the print era. Because just “being a depository” (getting boxes of books) didn’t have any value (or prestige) in the print era. Right? Of course, just unpacking the boxes did increase the number of volumes in a library in the days when volume count was a major way that libraries measured their value. But most depository libraries did more than this. They selected items in order to build collections that were useful to their users, they cataloged the collections and provided finding aids, they hired and trained staff focused on govt information, they provided specialized services. The result of all this was that users got value from the work libraries did. Libraries added value.
(And, yes, volume count is less relied on today as a measure of a library’s value. But having actual digital content that the library selects and preserves and for which it provides services, is becoming increasingly a measure of the value of libraries. Look at any commercial information vendor and ask why users find them valuable: it is not because the vendors point to stuff they do not have (see “When we depend on pointing instead of collecting”); commercial vendors combine collections of digital information with services and users find that valuable. Libraries are beginning to understand that and do it.)
Let’s put this in perspective: even in the print era it cost money and resources to be a depository. Your users got value (and “convenience” too) from the collections and the services that those resources enabled and the library was valuable to users by providing those services and collections.
So what has changed in the digital age? Why do we keep hearing this question about the value of being a depository? I would guess that there is an implied assumption behind this question and it goes something like this: “In the digital age my users have access to govt information on the web without my doing anything” and that leads to the question, “What does my library gain by being a depository?”
But is that assumption really true? Let’s think it through. Let’s assume that a lot of good government information is on the web and freely available and even findable with commercial tools like google.
Do you — or more importantly your administrators — really believe that your users can find everything they need easily and use it just because it is on the web *today*? Do you add value to your library by doing nothing and pointing your users to the web? Does your library add value for its users if you do nothing?
Do your users know that the government has a wealth of information that touches on all aspects of our lives? Can they tell the difference between archives.gov and archive.org? Or between the FCC and the FTC? Or between a House Committee Report and a staff report of one party of a Committee? Now imagine what effect it would have on your users’ ability to find what they need if you select the information you know they need and put it into their collection for them? They would find valuable government information in the course of their searches for other topics if that information were in your collection and accessible via your library catalog — and through OCLC, GPO’s Catalog of Govt Publications (CGP), and other utilities, users’ access is amplified.
I know a lot of librarians like to say that “All govt information is accessible on the web!” But can we count on either short-term or long-term access?
We live in a time when Congress has shut down the government numerous times, resulting in a loss of access to most online government information. Congress has stopped creating important information (by shutting down the Office of Technology Assessment, defunding the Census Bureau’s Statistical Compendia unit and ceasing publication of the Statistical Abstract and several other critical statistical resources, etc.). It is trying to shut down the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) (because, you know, “just google it”!), and has turned off all access to NASA technical reports because there might be one that would be “dangerous.” We live in a time when anti-government sentiment is so strong that agencies are sometimes just so broke that they cannot reliably maintain their purl servers. These are real problems, not speculations. Bad things have happened just in the recent past. Does this give you confidence that you can tell your users — much less your administrators! — “everything is accessible on the web”? Can any of us rely on such a government really guaranteeing access to the information that your users need? The government does not know your users; you do.
And what about long-term preservation of information and free access to it? Do you believe that a government that won’t repair bridges or provide adequate funding for education, or even keep our water and air and food clean and safe will keep everything “free on the web” for your users forever? Read the US Code for your favorite agency some time and hunt for the terms “preservation” or “long-term” and you will not find them. But hunt for the terms “fees” “cost recovery” and “self-supporting” and you’ll find that most agencies are specifically authorized by Congress to charge for the information they provide you. “Free on the web”? Do not count on it! If we make decisions assuming that everything our users need will always be there for them, easily findable and free, we will be making decisions that, in the long run, will hurt our users. They will not thank us for it. They will ask us why we did nothing when we could have done so much.
But wait! A key aspect — if not The Key Aspect! — of the FDLP is that 1200+ libraries together do provide a preservation safety net of historic govt publications distributed around the country that is needed for long-term preservation and access — and ought to do the same for born-digital govt information. There is a huge value to the public in that, whether or not the public knows it. My advice is: do not be part of the erosion of that safety net. Do not wait until the safety net is gone to find that your assumptions were wrong.
Turn the “value of a depository” question around and ask the same question of any of your other collections. Is there a value in your collecting materials in political science or engineering or biology or YA fiction? Of course there is! So why should we have to ask this about government information? Is it because government information is “free”? But the initial cost of acquiring a book is probably the smallest cost in the lifetime of that book. The organization, shelving, cataloging, preservation, management, and service is where the real costs come. Is government information less valuable to your users? Easier to find and use and understand? Can we really honestly say that it is worth adding value to our YA lit or political science collections and not worth adding value to govt information?
As a government information librarian, you know how much useful information is available from government agencies. If there’s a chance that your users will want or need current or historical statistical resources or reports from an agency which directly impacts their lives, or access to government regulations, or if they want to write a report for a class on topics from A to Z, you know they can find some of what they need in the govt information collection, but your users will find value in your library if and only if you have government information in your collection — regardless of whether the information is in paper or digital format. There’s a symbiotic relationship between your library’s collections and its services to its community. And since all of these things will no doubt be necessary at one time or another, then it behooves every library to have at the very least some govt information in their collections AND cataloged in their opacs — and the easiest/cheapest/most effective way to do that is to be a depository library! — and have someone on staff who knows how to find and use govt information. Your library is a springboard to the world of govt information. Simple as that.
Being a depository in the digital age costs resources and takes time and effort and thoughtful application of your skills. “Value” is not free. But your users will find value in your library if it contains govt information.
Wow, just … wow. Check out TSA’s instagram feed to see what people try to carry on airplanes these days!
The feed is essentially a gallery of some of the craziest items people try to get past security checkpoints. There’s no shortage of material—the TSA claims an average of 40 firearms often loaded are seized at checkpoints every week. Nine-bladed super knife? Grenade? Everything you need to assemble a bomb? Yes, all that and more. Everything that’s seized is photographed for posterity, if not the spectacle, and then shared on social media to show people what’s what.“We’re just using a new mechanism to reach an audience with Instagram,” says TSA Press Secretary Ross Feinstein. “We’re not trying to make a statement that people are trying to do anything nefarious with these items. We’re just trying to alert people that these are still prohibited items.”
In the old days, NASA fed its astronauts plenty of military-grade MREs, or meals ready to eat. But over time, the agency determined that the MREs were geared toward young servicemembers who needed a lot of salt in their diet. Astronauts, however, found the meals were too high in salt and fat, so in 1998, NASA began developing its own thermo-stabilized products Today, Kloeris said, NASA produces 65 different thermo-stabilized meals, all of which would be unfit for public consumption by U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards, since they are officially considered “experimental foods.”
Despite moving the astronauts away from military MREs, NASA flight surgeons began recognizing an alarming trend around 2009 or 2010, Kloeris said. By that time, there had been astronauts aboard the ISS continuously since 2000, and the surgeons began noticing that some of the returning crew members were suffering from a permanent loss of visual acuity, she said, that was pinned on increased intercranial pressure — a pressure on the optic nerve.
Federal technical reports are a critical piece of the nation’s scientific literature. But technical reports are in danger. We’ve been tracking on S.2206 the “Let me google that for you” Act which seeks to shut down the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) (here’s the Bill text sponsored by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn with 5 cosponsors Claire McCaskill [D-MO], Deb Fischer [R-NE], Jeff Flake [R-AZ], John Walsh [D-MT], and Ron Johnson [R-WI]). As we’ve noted, this bill “fundamentally misunderstands the Internet and misrepresents the case by stating that finding Federal technical reports “elsewhere” is google and usa.gov, *internet search engines*!
At the last American Library Association (ALA) conference held 2 weeks ago, the Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) passed a resolution in support of the NTIS — public disclosure: I’m a member of the Legislation Committee which drafted the resolution. The text of the resolution is below. While the resolution passed GODORT, it has been sent back to ALA’s Committee on Legislation (COL) to work on some wording before being sent to ALA Council.
However, we’re sharing the text of the resolution now in the hopes that our readers — especially those in OK, MO, NE, AZ, MT and WI — will contact their representatives to tell them to SAVE THE NTIS!
RESOLUTION ON PRESERVING PUBLIC ACCESS TO SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL REPORTS AVAILABLE THROUGH THE NATIONAL TECHNICAL INFORMATION SERVICE
Whereas some three million scientific and technical reports are held by the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), thereby promoting research, innovation, and business;
Whereas since 1940, NTIS has been co-operating with federal agencies to collect, preserve, catalog, and provide their reports in paper, microform, and digital formats;
Whereas many federal agencies choose not to maintain collections of their own reports and to depend upon NTIS to provide these reports;
Whereas many federal agencies do not have statutory responsibility or the resources to provide permanent access to these reports and depend upon NTIS to provide them to other government agencies and the public;
Whereas the process of federal agencies entrusting their reports to NTIS ensures permanent access to the public, eliminates duplication of effort, and saves tax dollars;
Whereas since many of the federal agencies that published these reports no longer exist, many of their reports are only available through NTIS;
Whereas over two million of these reports are held only in paper or microform by NTIS and are not available in digital form from any source;
Whereas NTIS has the statutory authority to provide information management services to other federal agencies, including such programs as the Social Security Administration Death Master File used by insurance and annuity companies and the Drug Enforcement Agency Controlled Substances Registrants Data Base, which enables members of the medical community to prescribe and handle controlled substances, and the Federal Science Repository Service which supports the preservation and long-term access of participating agencies content;
Whereas the “Let Me Google That For You Act” ( S. 2206 and H. R. 4382) would abolish NTIS, and the “Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act” (H. R. 4186), as amended in the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, would repeal the law that authorizes NTIS;
Whereas these bills make no provision for the preservation of the reports and their cataloging data;
Whereas these bills do not provide libraries such as the Library of Congress, the national libraries, and libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program an opportunity to help “determine if any functions of NTIS are critical to the economy of the United States”;
Whereas the American Library Association has long supported the provision of all federal government reports and publications, at no charge, to the public through libraries and other services;
now, therefore be it
Resolved, that the American Library Association (ALA)
1. urges the United States Congress to appropriate funds to ensure that the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) continues to act as a central repository for scientific and technical reports;
2. urges United States Congress to fund the provision of these reports to the federal agencies and the public at no charge;
3. urges the United States Congress to consult with librarians at the Library of Congress, the national libraries, corporate libraries, and the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) in determining “if any functions of NTIS are critical to the economy of the United States”;
4. urges the United States Congress to put NTIS under the umbrella of the Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP) directive, “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research” (February 22, 2013); and
5. urges the United States Congress to fund a digital preservation plan for scientific and technical reports, which would be developed by NTIS, CENDI (formerly Commerce, Energy, NASA, Defense Information Managers Group), the Government Printing Office, the National Archives, federal publishing agencies, and the library community.
We’ve been following Edward Snowden since his first leaks of NSA documents. But wow, this is quite the chart that ProPublica has put together. It’s really something to see all of the leaks in this visual format. Thanks ProPublica!
This is a plot of the NSA programs revealed in the past year according to whether they are bulk or targeted, and whether the targets of surveillance are foreign or domestic. Most of the programs fall squarely into the agency’s stated mission of foreign surveillance, but some – particularly those that are both domestic and broad – sweeping – are more controversial.