Here's a way to spend an enjoyable lunchtime: watch Carl Malamud give his Keynote address "10 Rules for Radicals" to the WWW2010 Conference in Raleigh, NC on April 30, 2010 -- and if you've got more time, you can also watch all of the law.gov workshops over on Carl's Internet governance space at the Internet Archive! Certainly some great rules to live by!!
- Call everything "an experiment."
- When the authorities finally fire the starting gun, run as fast as you can.
- Eyeballs rule.
- When you achieve your objective, don't be afraid to turn on a dime and be nice.
- Keep asking, keep rephrasing the question until they *can* say yes.
- When you get the microphone, make sure you make your point clearly and succinctly.
- Get standing. one can criticize all one wants, but if you can document malfeasance and wrongdoing, they have to talk to you.
- Try to get the bureaucrats to threaten you (related to rule 7).
- Look for over-reaching.
- Don't be afraid to fail
As many of you know, the Government Printing Office is transcribing their historic paper shelflist into the Catalog of Government Publications (CGP). The paper shelflist was operated from 1880 to 1992. There are over 6,000 records transcribed so far.
While listening to the GPO Q&A from the Six State Virtual Conference, I learned that you can view records from the Historic Shelflist by searching the phrase "historic shelflist" in the CGP. Try it. It can be fun to specify a specific year, say 1930 or 1942.
Learn more about this project by viewing a webinar titled "The GPO Historic Shelflist Project" presented in May 2010 by Laurie Hall, that is available at the GPO OPAL Archive at http://www.opal-online.org/archivegpo.htm.
I’ve been heartened by a recent string of long-form journalism that’s been making a buzz, provoking change, and bringing attention and insight to important issues. As it happens, these pieces often draw heavily upon government information. Examples include the Washington Post’s series Top Secret America, outlining the growth of security and intelligence in a post-9/11 America; and The Runaway General, Rolling Stone’s profile of General Stanley McChrystal, which led to his firing for disparaging comments he and his aides made about the administration. In both cases, government information illuminates the exploration of current, pressing issues in the news.
I’ve often been frustrated with standard editorial practice of mentioning, but not completely citing, the particular documents referred to in newspaper articles. It masks the ubiquity of government information in our daily lives, and sets up a barrier to readers who might be interested in examining the original documents themselves (and can make it challenging for a librarian to track it down when the patron seeks assistance). For example, in The Transformer, Foreign Policy’s recent story on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, which fostered speculation that he might retire before the end of Obama’s first term, author Fred Kaplan refers to a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee early in Obama's presidency in which Gates testified. This would be findable enough, but would require more tenacity than a casual reader might muster.
The Washington Post’s recent piece, How the Minerals Management Service’s partnership with industry led to failure, is a great example of journalists harnessing the possibilities of the online environment to enhance the reading experience and access to related documents. In this long piece on the too-cozy relationship between regulators and industry, the journalists not only tell readers exactly which documents they used in their reporting, they link to highlighted, annotated full-text of primary sources used in the story, such as a memo from the Inspector General to the Secretary of the Interior on investigations of MMS employees. This supplements the story by giving the reader routes for further exploration, as well as a genealogy of the story that gives more transparency to the journalism itself.
Creating an annotated map, pointing back to the primary documents used to inform a journalist’s narrative, would be a great exercise for students studying government information, journalism, librarianship, indeed citizenship, to raise awareness of the life cycle of government information and what can happen when it is unleashed in the public square.
Tomorrow (August 28) is the anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was a defining and high-water moment for the civil rights movement and one of the greatest speeches in American history. Please take a few minutes to watch (and/or read) King's famous speech. It's a great reminder of the better angels in each of us.
As you might have noticed, I was inspired to register for a PACER account because of the presentation from the Six State Virtual Conference. Today I'd like to share my brief initial experience with PACER.
I received my password a few hours after applying for it. Today I logged into PACER and decided to look for documents related to Perry et al v. Schwarzenegger. I realize that some documents in this case are already publicly available, but I wanted something to search that I knew would be in the system.
First I clicked on the database link for the Northern District of California, since I knew the case was heard in San Francisco.
The resulting search screen offered my several choices, including searching by attorney name. I tried Theodore Olsen, knowing he was one of the attorneys. I got back two cases, but neither was Perry et al v. Schwarzenegger. I was charged $0.08. According to PACER documentation, I would have been charged $0.08 even if I had zero results.
So I did a quick Google search to learn that Perry's first name was Kristen and did a party search for Kristen Perry. I immediately got Case Number 3:09-ev-02292-VRW, better known as Perry et al v. Schwarzenegger. This also cost me $0.08, but since I got a useful result, I didn't mind.
I looked at the Case Summary ($0.08). I looked at the Case File Location ($0.08) and determined the case files might still be with Judge Walker. Then I looked at the Docket Report. There were 742 files associated with the case. PACER determined that this should be charged as 30 pages or $2.40.
Browsing through the list I decided to pull up a 10 page letter from "Voter X" which was sent to Judge Walker during the trial. This person said they feared retaliation from pro-same sex marriage forces and represented themselves as just one of the many voters who voted for Prop 8. The letter was written like a legal brief and I suspect the author was an attorney or paralegal. Viewing and downloading this letter cost me $0.80.
By now I had spent $3.52. PACER waives $10/quarter, so if I stop here, I won't be charged this quarter. But what if I wanted to look at multiple documents?. At $0.08 a page, I had 81 pages left. And if I reloaded the Docket Report a few times instead of remembering to open documents into a new browser tab, I could have only opened up a document or two before getting charged for real, because each refresh of the Docket Report would have been another $2.40/30 pages.
I started playing with PACER to see if it was worth recommending registration to those library patrons looking to retrieve federal court documents. I need to think about it some more, but at the moment my feeling is that $10.00 worth of free access doesn't go very far. And it would probably be used up quickest by the very patrons I would want to recommend it to. Folks who may want a lot of briefs and filings but who are not great searchers.
But I haven't totally made up my mind about this. What do you think? If you work in a non-court library, have you gotten patrons to register for PACER? What has been your experience?
I do suggest that librarians should register for PACER accounts and search around to see what's available. Then decide for yourselves whether to lobby Congress to free this resource so people can explore the law without watching the meter.
The Government Printing Office posted the following announcement to their FDLP-L list that seemed worth sharing:
From: Announcements from the Federal Depository Library Program On Behalf Of FDLP Listserv
Sent: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 8:50 AM
Subject: Training Sessions from the Six-State Virtual Conference Available
The six states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming recently held an online conference using the OPAL web conferencing software. Over 5 days, the Six-State Virtual Government Information Conference ran 17 different programs covering numerous topics of interest to Federal depository libraries and government information professionals.
GPO is proud to have provided technical support for this online conference and we invite the wider FDLP community to view 15 archived sessions of the conference in the OPAL Archives at their convenience at http://www.opal-online.org/archivegpo.htm.
The topics of the sessions vary greatly to cover both hot issues in depository libraries as well as training on Federal information products. Examples include: the Sunlight Foundation's address on open access, demographic and business information from the Census Bureau, tracking the usage of your online depository collection, moving to a more electronic collection, FDsys, and marketing depository collections and services, to name a few.
Be sure to visit the Web page the conference organizers developed to accompany the virtual conference. The page includes links to the PowerPoint presentations, audio clips from government information specialists, a Twitter feed, OPAL information, and more. See
In addition to the above, there is a program on using PACER, the federal courts documents system. I've got a lot to learn about PACER and this session seems like a great place to start.
We at FGI have often spoken of the need for GPO to partner with depository libraries to provide training to the wider community. We salute GPO, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming for making this conference a reality and for sharing it with the wider govinfo community.
If you attended the conference or watched the videos, we'd be interested in your impressions and comments.
On August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified giving women the right to vote and participate in the political process! Most states ratified right away; but 10 states held out. Georgia and Louisiana didn't get around to ratifying until 1970(!).
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
And in memory of that momentous occasion, don't forget to check out what libraries have to offer. You'll find lots of books, images and more at the sites below:
- Marching for the right to vote: remembering the woman suffrage parade of 1913> (part of the American Women collection at the Library of Congress)
- By Popular Demand: "Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920
- Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921
- Worldcat search for Women's suffrage (find library materials near you)
- National Archives Women's history collection
- Then and Now: Faces of Suffrage - International Museum of Women
[Thanks Debra Bowen (@CASOSvote)]
Mike Wash, CIO for the Government Printing Office, is Washington Post's Federal Player of the Week.
Also interesting, this article was jointly prepared by the Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, which strives to improve federal government performance and recognize the good, hard work of our public servants. In an environment replete with knee-jerk anti-government sentiment, such work seems especially important for enhancing the public's understanding of government professionals' work and impact. Another similar organization I follow is Understanding Government, which supports excellence in reporting of the executive branch. Of course, we need our watchdogs and gadflies to push back against government secrecy, but we also need to know when people at all levels of government are doing things well.
Several of us here at Stanford library who deal with data and/or govt information have recently received emails asking if we'd be interested in a free trial of the Pro level of subscription to the Govistics Government Spending Database built by the Center for Governmental Research (CGR). I'm a sucker for free trials, so took them up on their offer. Here's what I found -- and please take it with an FGI grain of salt ;-)
The interface is easy for quick results and high-level comparisons, but I found it lacking for any kind of in-depth scholarly pursuits -- the researchers and students I work with would most likely be interested in historic data for all counties or all municipalities in a state or region or ALL states; and they'd probably want the data exportable so they could do further analysis with a statistical package (SPSS etc) or GIS software. I also didn't find the maps or charts particularly compelling. $50/year for an individual subscription (I didn't ask about an institutional subscription) seems like too steep a price to pay when there are other *free* tools out there -- my personal favorite is Many Eyes (also check out their new project Many Bills visual bill explorer!). Many Eyes allows a person to upload datasets, share them, run a variety of visualizations (charts, graphs, maps, clouds etc), and most importantly embed those visualizations in other Web pages. Govistics doesn't do any of that.
And what about the underlying data you say? Govistics is basically US census of govts which is available for free on factfinder.census.gov (although only in PDF with no data export :-|). Many of the same variables are also available via the Census' County and City Data Book (again only PDF :-|). Govistics only offers data export with the pro version and the data only goes back to 2007.
I don't begrudge the govistics folks trying to make a quick buck on public domain data that's already available online for free (well maybe a little). Perhaps for the casual user, this service will work well. But what I'd love to see is libraries creating interfaces like this *for free*. There needs to be free tools that include access + visualization + preservation. UVA has done gotten a great start with their historical county and city data books 1944-2000(!). This is especially cool because it not only gives access to historical data back to 1944 (no visualization yet, but users can use Many Eyes!) and allows for export of data for reuse, but it provides a preservation model as well. And THAT'S why I'd love to see more libraries doing this sort of thing. This is an increasingly data driven world and it would behoove libraries to combine these kind of access/visualization services with libraries' traditional strength in long-term preservation.
--that is all.
I've been fascinated by the struggles with, and now the apparent embrace of, social media by the U.S. Armed Forces. When I first saw that the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs was tweeting, it signaled the military's shift towards strategically harnessing new media to advance the Armed Forces public affairs goals and "compete in an evolving global messaging space". And lest you assume that Admiral Mullen just tweets what he had for lunch, his social media strategy clearly outlines his goals to engage and expand audiences. (Incidentally, in addition to following who you'd expect, such as his wife and President Obama, Admiral Mullen also follows The Economist, Oprah, Thomas Friedman, Katie Couric, George Stephanopoulus, and UNHCR).
Below are a couple of examples of the military's web presence in the 21st C. network. Of course, while providing useful information for servicemembers, their families, researchers, students, and the general public, they are also public relations outlets. But in our rich information landscape, that's true of many "authoritative sources" (all the more reason for teaching critical thinking about information):
Department of Defense Social Media Hub
"Designed to help the DoD community use social media and other internet-based capabilities to share responsibly and effectively, both in official and unofficial capacities." See especially their "How To" guides, which explain the basics of various 2.0 tools, and highlights examples of how servicemembers are using social media.
Head over the the 'shows' section to browse the wide range of video and audio broadcasting available online, including "This Week in the Pentagon" and the American Forces Press service weekly podcast for military news; "Battleground", featuring historic films from past wars; and "Downrange", a newscast from Iraq and Afghanistan. On the lighter side, check out "The Grill Sergeants", a cooking show featuring top chefs in the military, and "Fit for Duty: Pilates" for a good workout.
Information as Power, U.S. Army War College
To learn more about these practices in the context of security issues, check out this electronic library of academic work by and for the U.S. Army related to information as an element of national power. You'll find publications such as "Bullets and Blogs: New Media and the Warfighter", "Information Operations as a Deterrent to Armed Conflict", and "War in the Information Age".
This just in: GPO is gearing up to facilitate cooperative cataloging projects in FDLP libraries. This is great news for all those uncataloged-bound-with-unanalyzed series that every agency seems to have (yeah I'm talking to you Department of Agriculture Bulletin!). This push to catalog will make depository collections much more findable and usable!
Many libraries in the FDLP have voiced interest in establishing cooperative cataloging partnerships with GPO to exchange cataloging records, work together to catalog older materials, or enhance existing cataloging records to meet current cataloging standards. GPO has created guidelines for the establishment of partnerships that have a cataloging component. Federal depository libraries that are interested in possible cataloging partnerships are encouraged to review the guidelines and contact the partnership coordinator.
A few days ago, the Washington Post interviewed David Walls, GPO's new -- and first! -- preservation librarian. We're really excited to work with GPO and Mr Walls on building our public digital govt information preservation architecture.
David Walls is overseeing the transition at the GPO to digital archiving
By Lisa Rein. Friday, July 30, 2010; B03
The U.S. Government Printing Office provides Americans with permanent access to government information, printing about 2 billion pages every year.
As it celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, it has hired its first preservation librarian to oversee, among other things, the transition to digital archiving. David Walls comes to Washington from Yale University, where he worked as a preservation librarian for 12 years.
Walls, 47, just finished his fourth month on the job.
Q.How did you get interested in library preservation?
I volunteered years ago in the rare-books collection at the Baylor University library in Texas. I got bitten by the bug then. It's a very small field and a young one. You could probably put every preservation person in the U.S. in one large hotel ballroom. Most people who do this work are in academic settings or private libraries, but there are government libraries, too, beyond the Library of Congress. You've got the National Library of Medicine, for example.
Why did the office create a position for a preservationist?
We're in an era of digital publications being produced all over government. We're continuing to supply printed copies of the Federal Register and other publications, but most every federal agency is producing things with only digital content. If you get on almost every federal Web site you'll click on things that, in a previous age, would have been produced in a report or a book.
The GPO is updating a digital system we rolled out last year to disseminate and authenticate all of this government information. If you go to http://www.fdsys.gov, you'll see the Federal Register, the new health-care law, the financial reform law, congressional bills, the president's budget on there. And a lot more, of course. We're designing a new server that's more robust. The federal digital system is part of our mission.
Where were government documents such as legislation and the federal budget preserved in the paper-only days?
This is an organization that for 150 years has been distributing publications to various libraries across the country. It's called the Federal Depository Library Program. There are 1,220 of these libraries in the U.S. and Guam, usually departments or units within other libraries. Georgetown Law Library is one. They may specialize in saving Supreme Court briefs or statutes at large. A library in Missouri might preserve Small Business Administration publications or Fish and Wildlife documents.
Some libraries accept everything the government puts out and keep it forever. Others select which stuff to keep. Right now, we're reaching out to this community to do a basic review of our operational plan, to look at our content and develop a set of preservation services to offer the libraries, digitally as well as on paper.
Some publications the libraries carry are old enough to become brittle. If we're about permanent access to government information, what is our plan for reaching out to these libraries to make sure that happens? My job is to provide some leadership and act as a facilitator.
What is digital security, and why is it important?
We need to make sure the information that the printing office disseminates is secure. So right now, we're doing an internal audit project to make sure our digital repository is trusted. It'll be preserved according to modern standards. Think of it as a bank audit. A bank has to go through an audit to make sure it's a trusted repository of money. The same is true for us.
What are the challenges of carrying out the agency's mission without paper?
The paper publication had a physical form, so there was some intellectual control over what it was and where you could find it. You could sit there for quite a long time without worrying about it becoming obsolete. You weren't going to go into the library one day and find out that a publication was inaccessible because it was in a different file format.
With digital, you have the whole issue of how do you know it's authentic? That all the information is there? The digital publication requires almost constant vigilance.
Our friends at Sunlight Labs have done it again! They just released a tool called PoliGraft. Paste the url of a news story or blog post into the tool (or better yet, install their handy bookmarklet in your browser's tool bar!) and the tool analyzes the story, mines it for names, corporations etc and quickly spits out the interconnections between the people, organizations and relationships contributions associated with the story. The data mined by the tool is provided by the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute for Money in State Politics.
For example, here's a NY Times article about Elena Kagan's confirmation to the US Supreme Court and here's the PoliGraft results including the original text and the report on aggregated contributions and points of influence of the many politicians named in the NYT story. A very cool tool indeed!
This is pretty ridiculous. The FBI recently sent a letter to Wikipedia (PDF) demanding that Wikipedia take down the FBI seal shown on the wikipedia article on the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Does the FBI have nothing better to do than hassle Wikipedia (who's written a thorough and informative description of the FBI)?! As one Redditor named TheCid mused: "Somehow, I think a shit-for-brains lawyer at the FBI thinks Wikipedia and Wikileaks are the same organization, and decided to try to get at the latter via the former."
The problem, those at Wikipedia say, is that the law cited in the F.B.I.’s letter is largely about keeping people from flashing fake badges or profiting from the use of the seal, and not about posting images on noncommercial Web sites. Many sites, including the online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, display the seal.
Other organizations might simply back down. But Wikipedia sent back a politely feisty response, stating that the bureau’s lawyers had misquoted the law. “While we appreciate your desire to revise the statute to reflect your expansive vision of it, the fact is that we must work with the actual language of the statute, not the aspirational version” that the F.B.I. had provided.
F.B.I., Challenging Use of Seal, Gets Back a Primer on the Law
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
Published: August 2, 2010
As a reference and instruction librarian, I always have my eyes open for sources that make government information accessible and relevant for general reference questions and instruction sessions. I especially like websites that provide a wide range of information, make that information browsable by topic, and that don't require the user to navigate the administrative or publication cycle to get to the meat of these materials. I'm also partial to sources that include media, such as podcasts and video, which helps me sell these sources to undergrads at the reference desk and through online class guides. The good news is, it's getting tough to keep track of them all! A couple of my favorites:
U.S. Department of State
Wide topical range of publications and background information, browsable by policy issues, countries & regions, and more.
An online archive of the Supreme Court, Oyez allows users to browse for cases by issue, such as due process, federalism, civil rights, etc. Also includes some audio of oral arguments.
More reporting on the hearing this week on Public Access to Federally-Funded Research:
In his testimony to the House Committee On Oversight and Government Reform, Alan Adler of the Association of American Publishers, said:
Publishers strongly believe that American taxpayers are entitled to the research they've paid for.... But taxpayers have not paid for the private sector, peer-reviewed journal articles reporting on that research.
...Peer-reviewed articles published in scholarly journals are not research, federally-funded or otherwise. They describe and explain the process, findings and significance of research. They require substantial amounts of the publisher's resources to ensure that their content is accurate, new, and important.
Or, as Barbara Fister comments at Inside Higher Education,
Sure, taxpayers are entitled to federally funded research, but "peer-reviewed articles published in scholarly articles are not research." No, they are the intellectual property of publishers, because they're the ones who spend all kinds of money to make sure the science in them is accurate.
I'm not kidding. He actually said that. It's publishers who make sure the research is "accurate, new, and important." That peer review you do for free? They have to spend millions to make sure you do it right.
So we have no problem, and taxpayers have to right to this stuff because it's not research.
Publisher argues free access to research violates administration's transparency initiative, By Aliya Sternstein, NextGov (07/30/2010).
...But a mother of two children diagnosed with a rare disease, who also testified at the hearing, said access to such articles has been critical to treating their illness....
Emily Keller is the Political Science and Public Affairs Librarian at the University of Washington Libraries. Her primary focus is on reference and instruction, but she is also a self-described govpubs groupie with an interest in gov/mil 2.0 and integrating government information into general reference and instruction. You can find her on twitter too.
Happy birthday United State Census! It was on this day in 1790(!) that the counting of the first US census was begun. Title 13 of the US Code defines the census and the collection and publication of the census and other statistics required to make the federal govt run. So happy birthday census! You don't look a day over 200 :-)
The first enumeration began on Monday, August 2,1790, little more than a year after the inauguration of President Washington and shortly before the second session of the first Congress ended. The Congress assigned responsibility for the 1790 census to the marshals of the U.S. judicial districts under an act that, with minor modifications and extensions, governed census-taking through 1840. The law required that every household be visited and that completed census schedules be posted in ‘‘two of the most public places within [each jurisdiction], there to remain for the inspection of all concerned...’’ and that‘ ‘the aggregate amount of each description of persons’’ for every district be transmitted to the President. The six inquiries in 1790 called for the name of the head of the family and the number of persons in each household of the following descriptions: Free White males of 16 years and upward (to assess the country’s industrial and military potential), free White males under 16 years, free White females, all other free persons (by sex and color), and slaves.
Note: There was no report for June 2010 owing to scheduling difficulties. Reports sent to us in late May through July were posted in July.
In July 2010, we posted 32 "lost docs" e-mail receipts sent by GPO to the librarians who reported these missing documents. These civic minded librarians in turn e-mailed us their receipts.
Of the 32 reported items that were posted to the blog in July, two items have been cataloged by GPO since the initial report. You can view this list by visiting lostdocs.freegovinfo.info/category/found/ and looking at the postings with July 2010 dates. We are appreciative of these new records.
This month we reluctantly concluded that two of the items reported to GPO and posted to the blog in July were already in the Catalog of Government Publications. You can view these items by visiting lostdocs.freegovinfo.info/category/false/ and looking for items with July 2010 dates.
We say "reluctantly concluded" because of two factors. First, the people who made these particular reports have a reputation for checking the catalog before submitting their reports. Second, both of these reports were for electronic documents and it appears from the 005 Marc fields that the records were worked on after the date of the fugitive document report. This almost sounds like URLs were added to a preexisting record. Were this the case, then we'd class these two e-docs as "found" rather than "false positive". But since the most recently published GPO cataloging policy we're aware of says they create new records for every format, we can't say for certain that adding a URL to an existing print record is what happened.
If you have a good explanation for these records or are aware of a change in GPO cataloging policy, please let us know.
If you like the concept of a public listing of fugitive documents reported to GPO, there are a number of easy ways to help us:
- If you report a fugitive document to GPO, send your e-mailed receipt to email@example.com. We welcome any item reported to GPO in the past month. It is best if you can send us the receipt the same day you get it from GPO. Some e-mail programs will support auto-forwarding. If so, please consider autoforwarding items where the subject contains "lostdocs submission."
- Visit the blog at lostdocs.freegovinfo.info and comment on the listed items. Comments can include -- Did your library receive the item? Did you find it in the CGP? Do you think the item is out of scope for the CGP? Did you report the item as well and so on.
- Post the blog link to your website or share it on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media.
- Subscribe to the blog feed at lostdocs.freegovinfo.info/feed/
or better yet incorporate the feed into your website or blog.
A number of documents reported to GPO in May/Jun/July and posted by us to the Lost Documents Blog in July 2010 were related to oil spills. Mostly to the current spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but some reported documents went as far back as 2002.
For a full list of what we know about, visit http://lostdocs.freegovinfo.info/tag/oil-spills/.
This is being posted without judgment as to why these documents have not been cataloged yet. We are not asserting ill will or a coverup on part of any part of the government just because these documents have not made it into the Catalog of Government Publications.
Having said that, we at Free Government Information urge GPO to catalog these documents as soon as possible so they'll be easier to find in literature searches about oil spills and government response.
For those looking for it, the full July 2010 Lost Documents Report and Appeal will be published later today.