For Dr. Rabina’s Government Information Sources term paper that Johanna mentioned in her last post, I’ll be researching the Navy’s establishment on Vieques, an island part of Puerto Rico, for naval training and munitions testing, from 1941 until 2003. The purpose of the assignment is to use government information to thoroughly research a topic, so when I saw in the DLC Fall Meeting Conference Proceedings that Marianne Ryan from Northwestern University and Catherine Jervey Johnson from LexisNexis Academic presented “1960 at Fifty: An Historic Year in Hindsight - Using Government Information to Discover the Past”, it caught my eye. Through some whimsical and some serious comparisons, the slideshow demonstrates how some issues are ongoing throughout the lifecycle of government, and how drastically some change. (Of course, a lot of the resources in the slide show were understandably taken from LexisNexis collections, which makes it easy to view and use historical government documents!)
Since we’ll be doing all our research in materials freely available to the public, and since I know a lot of online material currently available from FDsys will only take me back so far in time, I thought I’d start with the Catalog of Government Publications, and use my term paper as a chance to critically review MetaLib, their new federated search tool. My training thus far at SILS has taught me to always click the “Advanced Search” screen, and I quickly found one small complaint. The interface gave me options to choose a “quick set”, resources bundled by subject area, but how great would it be to select two areas in the “quick sets”? For my search, I knew there would be material on Vieques in both Environment and Defense & Military, at least, but I had to search one at a time. But by starting with Defense & Military, I found a CRS Report from 2001, with background and information on the Vieques training operation (and CRS reports, we have learned, are like gold.) I also found a hearing from the Committee on Armed Services from 1980, which I bookmarked as interesting. So far, so good.
With 66 records in MoCAT for just this area, Defense & Military, my search results were also sortable by topic, date, and author. I found myself wishing there was a way to search by type of resource, and when I backed up a little, I noticed an “Expert” search setting. Expert allowed me select which resources within each “quick set” but also to switch to Agencies, where I could select and deselect which resources might be most relevant to a targeted search, which I think is pretty useful. For each resource, I could click the info icon for more details about the collection. Even more intriguingly, I had the option to add an individual collection to the clipboard, and then create my own research set, which I could name. Then (somewhat unintuitively) I could return to Advanced Search, and use my own research set as a basis for my search.
All these initial fumblings in MetaLib did feel like they were going to pay off - I was slowly building a familiarity with the resources I needed, and MoCAT, which had previously seemed like a catalog siloed by department or agency, was starting to feel more like a database. If nothing else, I have some titles that I know I can walk into my local Depository Library and someone can help me locate them on a shelf.
Even with MetaLib making MoCAT easier for me to navigate, and even with FDsys taking full rein online over GPO Access, researching a topic across many government agencies and years is bound to mean wading through a lot of unhelpful material before finding what I need, and what will help me speak authoritatively about the Navy presence in Vieques over a span of sixty years. I can only construct an incomplete picture from in front of my computer; FDsys and MoCAT are only the beginning. Which means I’ll be coming to a Federal Depository Library soon, research question in hand, hoping for some perspective and some guidance. And maybe if I’m lucky, a CRS report or two.
- Krissa Corbett Cavouras, Pratt SILS
One of the assignments in our government librarianship class is to write a term paper this semester. For me, this is a fantastic opportunity to finally figure out just what is happening in the world of corn growers’ lobbying, just how the Corn Refiners Association gained such a loud voice, and what defines the history of corn - the legislative history, that is.
As the hue and cry over the use and nutrition concerns of high fructose corn syrup led the Corn Refiners Association to apply to the FDA for a change in name to "corn sugar," the negative public opinion has pushed some food companies to switch formulas to include cane sugar or fruit juice sweeteners. But will that really impact the corn lobby or the government corn subsidies? Will the government lower the foreign sugar tariff? Political implications aside, just how the corn industry became such a power player will be a fascinating world to research.
My interest in such a topic stems from two things. First, when I was growing up during the 1980s, Coke changed their formula and the new version never tasted the same - and it was a marked difference to me. To this day, I have nostalgia for the original formula (which contained sugar). Second, I thoroughly enjoyed Twinkie, Deconstructed, a book about the common ingredients in food, and how these ingredients are grown, processed, and sometimes mined into becoming our food. The lengths to which high fructose corn syrup has been processed, and then utilized in the high number of food industry sectors, is alarming. Perhaps it is psychological, but I believe that the foods which contain sugar as opposed to high fructose corn syrup just taste better, and when I travel to Europe, where HFCS is not available, I enjoy my sugar-laden Coke.
My research is about to begin this week. I will visit different depository libraries in New York City and while poring through the Congressional Records, CRS reports, and other government documents. I will read the Corn Refiners Association webpages, and I anticipate looking at the FDA and DHHS sites well. I am curious just how corn has shaped our history, and how that is reflected in our government documents.
And yet…what is connection to the sugar import tariffs? According to a 2005 open letter from the Consumer Federation of America, the sugar import tariffs create an artificial demand. Naturally, the American Sugar Alliance disagrees. But have sugar import tariffs contributed to the search for alternative sweeteners? In preliminary research, it appears that the protection of the domestic sugar market artificially creates demand, such that the cost has increased dramatically. From what I understand, some confectioners, such as Brach’s, have moved their operations to Canada. If that is the case, then can it be argued that the sugar squeeze has essentially created a market for a product such as high fructose corn syrup? If so then maybe the Corn Refiners Association should bill the American Sugar Alliance for the cost of lobbying the FDA for a change in name for HFCS to “corn sugar.”
So my research begins…and regardless of what my research reveals through the journey from 1789 sugar tariffs to 2010 corn lobbies, I can write with confidence, that it would been wonderful to have been a fly on the wall for these historical Congressional hearings, with a cane sugar-infused Coke in one hand and HFCS-free cornbread in the other.
Johanna Blakely-Bourgeois, Pratt SILS
As the vast majority of government information goes digital, it becomes more accessible to many segments of the population that may otherwise not be willing or able to invest the time and energy to travel to a repository or track the documents down through other means. K-12 students working on projects for civics class or stay at home moms living in rural areas are now able to do research from exactly where they are on their computers. As physical documents and physical space become less restrictive we are seeing government information as it has always been intended, accessible, democratic and for the people. In the flurry of excitement surrounding this new level of transparency and access it is easy to forget what a large segment of the population has no access to the Internet whatsoever.
In a recent National Telecommunications and Information Survey conducted by the Census Bureau, Digital Nation: 21st Century America's Progress Toward Universal Broadband Internet Access 40% of Americans surveyed said they have no household high speed internet access, and 30% said they have none at all. While we can most likely assume they have some level of access via school, work or the public library. However, the vast majority of prison inmates have no access whatsoever. In a rapidly advancing and ever more digital world, inmates spending any length of time away from computers will certainly find themselves left in the dust upon re-entry into society. Some facilities recognize the value of increased access, as both an educational and community engagement, Matt Kelley wrote about the expansion of Internet in Kansas State prisons In most prisons around the country however, prison librarians serve as the main point of access to information for all inmates. For those seeking to better understand sentencing, that often means requests for copies of legislation and other government information. One of the most highly requested bills at a DC area prison of late has been the Fair Sentencing Act (S. 1789) which reduces the disparity in sentencing between crack and powdered cocaine. The flurry of press coverage following its signing this past summer led to high requests of the legislation itself by prisoners looking to understand its impact.
While the argument can be made that those who have broken the law deserve punishment, not the privilege of surfing the web, I firmly believe that if prisoners are expected to productively rejoin society and improve themselves direct access is essential. Hopefully, eventually more states will go the way of Kansas, but in the meantime, prison librarians must continue the difficult and commendable work of disseminating information.
A nice article about Garrison Nelson's work piecing together information from "committee records [that] were scattered and incomplete."
When he suggested that he might try to find and organize the documents back to 1789, the librarians said that would be impossible.
- A Political Scientist's Trivial Pursuit, By Kevin Kiley, The Chronicle of Higher Education (October 24, 2010). [subscription required]
[Garrison Nelson, University of Vermont political scientist and a co-author Charles Stewart III, Massachusetts Institute of Technology] just completed Committees in the U.S. Congress 1993-2010 (CQ Press, 2010), a comprehensive account of who served where during the past 17 years. It is the latest book -- and maybe the last -- in a seven-volume history of U.S. Congressional committees. Thirty-five years in the making, Mr. Nelson's collection lists every committee assignment ever made—about 140,000 of them.
[Hi all. Barrett Jones from the Office of Strategic Initiatives at the Library of Congress asked that we post the following announcement. Please take a moment and take this survey so LC can develop course content for digital preservation education. Thanks! jrj]
The Library of Congress launched the Digital Preservation Outreach and Education (DPOE) initiative earlier this year. The mission of DPOE is to foster a national network of education programs for digital preservation. DPOE is conducting a survey of digital preservation training needs and would appreciate your input. The results of this survey will be used to develop course content and delivery options for digital preservation education.
My brother is a surgical resident. A few weeks ago he was complaining about the difficult Electronic Medical Record (EMR) software his hospital is using, particularly the unintuitive user interface. Then I read an article in the New York Times about the business opportunities that are growing in the world of electronic health records. According to this article, two brothers, who have already developed a software EMR package for small-practice doctors’ offices, are waiting for the Obama stimulus package to essentially kick in, as the medical community will eventually have to migrate to digital patient records, or pay the penalties for failure to do so.
To me, there are two primary issues: privacy and accuracy. In extolling the benefits of the EMR (Saves lives! Lowers costs! No more pesky paper!), what will prevent the doctors’ offices, hospitals, and health insurers from abdicating responsibility over the care and quality control of those records? I realize that the e-document movement is permeating all levels of our lives, from the personal to the professional, but I cannot help but feel that an attorney’s e-discovery litigation case papers are better protected than patient information in a hospital.
Further, not everyone knows that HIPAA entitles you to your entire medical record, doctor’s notes and all (which is why, from what I understand in talking to several medical residents, doctors are usually instructed to take care in how they write about the patient in the medical record, for subpoena purposes and patient record requests; it probably is not a good idea to write “this patient is an idiot”). But in the same DHHS website, HIPAA privacy rules seem to have a series of caveats. A Washington, DC public interest research center has the same concern: Apparently, the DHHS proposed rules required that privacy breaches need not be reported to patients unless the provider or insurer felt that there was a “significant risk” of harm. So then the discretion for the standard of “significant risk” is left to a large impersonal corporation or a doctor who does not have the time to return phone calls? Not good. DHHS is currently reconsidering that medical breach notification rule, but this caveat that the covered entities determine whether “significant risk” exists, does not appear on the DHHS’s website summary pages.
Accuracy is another issue, and I believe it will be a growing concern as records are increasingly kept in digital format. With the health care companies pushing the doctors and hospitals to get patients in and out of the hospitals as quickly as possible, the quality of time spent with the patient will inevitably be reflected in the patient EMR. Case in point: I visited the ophthalmologist a couple years ago for a routine check-up. I advised the technician that I had scar tissue on my left cornea from an old boxing injury. The technician then inserted the eye pressure gauge into my left eye and the instrument tore into my cornea. The doctor treated me for this second injury but my medical record has no indication of this new injury from the doctor’s office. How do I know? When I mentioned the injury to my GP in a routine checkup, he had no idea what I was talking about. I obtained the medical record myself and added notes for my own records, indicating the date and type of this new injury; I may need this information for future eye care.
Another example: my GP’s EMR for me does not include the list of drugs to which I am allergic (it also does not include any reference to the eye injury from above). I have called his office, but I have yet to see that information added to the EMR. This information is in his paper record on me (I know because I filled out the “patient information form” upon my first visit years ago), but the problem with the EMR is that it can be replicated to any doctor in the country with one phone call, and the information will be inaccurate – even though (or because?) it is digital.
So the government will monitor the transition to EMRs, a "cost-saving" and "patient care" measure, but just who benefits here?
Johanna Blakely-Bourgeois, Pratt SILS
If I’ve learned anything in nearly two years of studying government and legal information, it’s that there are two sides to the same coin. The first side is found in federal depository libraries, in endless rows of Serial Sets and Statutes-at-Large. It’s found at GPO Access and more recently at FDsys, and that’s if you’re lucky and your research requires federal materials, since state government information gets even murkier.
The second side of government information is under lock and key through online databases like Westlaw and Lexis, or in costly shelf sets like United States Code Annotated from West or the looseleaf services provided by CCH (now part of Wolters Kluwer).
Through my excellent legal research and legal database classes at Pratt SILS, I predominantly worked the way a law librarian, or law school librarian, would work to access government information. I cut my teeth on these powerful, consumer-driven products that prided themselves on presenting the most authoritative, comprehensive, editorially superior resources for the modern law librarian. That is, the modern law librarian that can afford the astronomical price tag.
I don’t regret my time inside this lock-and-key world. These resources, particularly the online tools from Westlaw and Lexis, taught me how to construct powerful and effective searches and how to separate the primary source content from their editorial embellishments.
But now I am studying the same materials from the perspective of a very different librarian - someone who is likely not going to be doing legal research, but rather providing services and managing collections of free government documents either procured through the FDL program or through the online portals managed by GPO.
This transition sometimes feels as though I’ve got the language and missed the dialect. I know the structure of government publications like the back of my hand, but finding it on the shelves can be an exercise in futility when these well-constructed publications are increasingly (and understandably) given up in exchange for online access. And finding it online through GPO Access, THOMAS or FDsys sometimes feels like I’m being asked to type with my hands tied behind my back. I have date restrictions that stop me from going further back than the mid-nineties, typically, and when I do find the legislation or regulation I’m looking for, I often have to go elsewhere to learn more about its current status. And the courts are a hodge-podge of accessibility on the web, particularly compared to the for-cost resources for federal district and appellate courts. Simply put, the materials available for free from the government aren’t as immediately accessible digitally as those made available by commercial vendors. But perhaps that’s not as dire as it sounds - perhaps I just did myself a disservice by starting with the commercial products, when in fact they serve two very different patrons.
The issues of access and answers are important ones for government documents librarians, I sense from my course work. Their patrons aren’t the lawyers who pay for commercial content from vendors like West. Their patrons are resolving personal issues, perhaps agency regulations that affect their business, or they are students doing coursework that requires a familiarity with a particular piece of legislation, or they’re researchers who need the statistical data that the government publishes. Do they need it the day after it’s published, or replete with annotations that explain its legislative history or precedent value? Not necessarily. I’m learning that it’s more important that those patrons have a free, reliable resource for the government materials they crucially need, serviced by librarians who understand the value of collection preservation and long-term access. For these patrons, it seems less important that the information is attractively packaged with sophisticated search capacities.
I’m glad I’ve been able to do my coursework from both sides of the government information coin - the side for the few, and the side for the many. I am perhaps hindered from time to time in my research strategies as I adjust to the world of depository government information, but I’m balancing this with an appreciation of just how important that makes the guardians and disseminators in the FDLP.
- Krissa Corbett Cavouras, Pratt SILS
[UPDATED: Seavey's article is attached below since it's not yet available online. It's only fair that readers should have the opportunity to read Seavey's words as well as our analysis. We do so to further academic discussion and debate.]
In his article in American Libraries,"GPO must go," Charles Seavey accurately highlights an important problem -- how to enable 100,000 non-Federal Depository Libraries to better use government information to inform and empower their patrons. We agree with his point that widespread access to government information is a worthwhile goal for all libraries. However, his proposed solution -- the abolition of the Government Printing Office (GPO) and the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) -- is many times worse than the problem it proposes to cure.
We believe that Seavey conflates "printing" with "publishing" and "access" with "preservation" and in so doing diminishes the importance of GPO and the FDLP in the life-cycle of government information. But the biggest problem with Mr. Seavey's proposal is that, while accurately emphasizing the issue of access today, it completely ignores at least four key advantages that we would lose without the FDLP: 1) a more reliable preservation model that assures long term, free access; 2) a system that is tamper-resistant and tamper-evident; 3) a system that creates, uses and reuses metadata in a cost-effective fashion; and 4) multiple collections that combine Title-44 materials with non-Title 44 materials in collections that are user-focused and that provide user-centric services. The FDLP has been providing these advantages for printed publications for almost 200 years and, thanks to technological advances and initiatives like the LOCKSS-USDOCS project, it is increasingly capable of providing these advantages for digital information as well.
In the world proposed by Mr. Seavey, all government information would be made accessible by a new "Government Information Access Agency" (GIAA). End users and libraries assisting patrons would access the information directly from government-controlled web servers. This would be fine as long as we could rely on the wisdom, funding, and non-political benevolence of the federal government. But we already know we can't.
1. Relying on a single organization (the federal government) to preserve all government-produced information is risky at best. It puts the information at risk of loss due to changing budgets, changing missions, and government interpretation of what information should be available to the public.
By distributing digital files to Congressionally-mandated FDLP libraries, we will have multiple funding streams, multiple user-communities, multiple technologies, and multiple preservation-locations. Together, these eliminate the single-point-of-failure risk endemic to a single preservation system maintained by the federal government (This is not hypothetical; we all remember the nearly 1 month outage of the GPO purl server last summer right? http://freegovinfo.info/node/2704 ).
2. The federal government has a long history of attempting to recall or delete information that puts the government in an unflattering light or out of -- often misplaced -- fears about national security. With custody of government information in the hands of government alone, digital information can be deleted or altered at will without any public input. For example, see Steven Aftergood's 2005 Slate Article, "The Age of Missing Information" and OMB Watch's "Information removed from agency websites."
Distribution of digital information to FDLP libraries would provide the same guarantee of tamper-resistence that paper has in cases such as the attempted withholding of Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, vol. XVI, and in proving evidence of tampering such as that provided by the recent censorship of the Afghanistan war memoir Operation Dark Heart. (See the end of this post for other articles of interest on this topic.)
3. Seavey overlooks the importance of metadata in digital publishing, preservation, and access.
Adequate metadata that describes the provenance, authenticity, fixity, and usability of digital objects is essential. If anything, we need more standards -- and open standards -- to be enforced by government "publishers." Content creators rarely want to bother with this, nor are they equipped to do so. The role of a digital Government *Publishing* Office is essential. GPO is well-positioned to fulfill this role by establishing, enforcing, and using digital publishing standards for born digital content.
Metadata also plays an essential role in organizing information in collections and making it findable and discoverable. Just having an unknown subset of government information in volatile, commerical, full-text indexes in enormous search engines or relying on the often-primitive search engines of agencies is not adequate and should not be acceptable to government information professionals. See for example, the CTD/OMB-Watch study, Hiding in Plain Sight. Or try this yourself: Search Google for BP Oil Spill http://www.google.com/search?q=BP%20Oil%20Spill&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8 and notice that the first page of results doesn't list .gov sources at all, just news sources and the BP website. - Compare those results to the 17 reports and Congressional reports available via the same search in catalog.gpo.gov. Using Google to find government documents/information deletes the whole intellectual process of information organization from the government information lifecycle equation.
4. By eliminating the FDLP, Seavey would also destroy the strength of multiple collections that serve distinct user-communities, which, in the digital world, need no longer be geographically based. With a digital FDLP, libraries will be able to do what the government cannot do: build collections that include both government and non-government digital information combined in well-organized, easy-to-use collections that focus on topics, subjects, and disciplines rather than provenance. By distributing digital government information to FDLP libraries, GPO will facilitate many user-centric collections and services that it (or a GIAA) could never hope to provide or maintain.
While we at FGI greatly sympathize with the idea of spreading awareness of, knowledge of, and skill in government information use to the nation's libraries, we are deeply skeptical this can be done without a core network of libraries with deep government information knowledge, experience, and expertise.
Seavey may be right when he says that, traditionally, FDLP libraries have not much engaged non-depositories in dialog and training, but in the digital world, this is changing as more FDLs are reaching out to their communities. The explosion of Web 2.0 tools and greater bandwidth are creating opportunities to transfer knowledge and expertise through the GPO OPAL webinar program http://www.opal-online.org/archivegpo.htm, online conferences like the Six State Virtual Conference, the 21st Century Government Information course materials on WebJunction, and groups open to all libraries on ALA Connect and Facebook. The list goes on. If there was no FDLP, the expertise that is driving this outreach might evaporate and these materials would not have a government information focused community to create them and make them available. The documents community has started teaching and engaging users and libraries from all walks of life. The digital world is already empowering just the change Seavey suggests we need. We should encourage this, not thwart it.
The many issues surrounding access to and preservation of government information will not go away simply by playing semantics or changing the name of a government agency. The many people working within and serving the ideals of the FDLP maintain a critical role in the government information ecosystem. The FDLP shouldn't be tossed aside, it should be assisted and well-funded in its catalytic work of diffusing awareness and expertise in the use and stewardship of government information regardless of format.
Seavey, Charles. GPO Must Go. American Libraries, October 2010, p. 33
Aftergood, Steven. "The Age of Missing Information," Slate, March 17, 2005. Accessed at http://www.slate.com/id/2114963/ on October 11, 2010.
Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), OMB Watch. Hiding in Plain Sight: Why Important Government Information Cannot Be Found Through Commercial Search Engines (Dec. 11, 2007) http://www.ombwatch.org/files/info/searchability.pdf
Heanue, Anne. and the Washington Office of the American Library Association (ALA). Less Access to Less Information by and about the U.S. Government. (1981 - 1998). Accessed at http://freegovinfo.info/library/lessaccess on October 12, 2010.
Library Success Stories, IFC ALA Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, November 2004. Accessed at https://members.ala.org/nif/v53n6/success_stories.html on October 11, 2010
Nevelow Mart, Susan. "Let the People Know the Facts: Can Government Information Removed from the Internet Be Reclaimed?" llrx.com. June 6, 2006. Accessed at http://www.llrx.com/features/reclaimed.htm on October 12, 2010.
OMB Watch. "Information removed from agency websites." http://www.ombwatch.org/node/182#agency
Ruffilo, Nick. "Metadata, Not E-Books, Can Save Publishing. O'Reilly Radar July 29, 2010 Accessed at http://radar.oreilly.com/2010/07/metadata-not-e-books-can-save.html on October 13, 2010.
We'll be live blogging the Fall 2010 Depository Library Conference from Washington, DC. The agenda is chock full of interesting discussions and presentations. We hope to at least live blog all of the main council sessions, but all tweets with the hashtag #dlc10f will also show up in the live blog. We've also created a twapper archive for posterity.
National Archives to Put the Founders Online, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Press Release (October 12, 2010).
The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the grantmaking arm of the National Archives, is pleased to announce a cooperative agreement with The University of Virginia (UVA) Press to make freely available online the historical documents of the Founders of the United States of America.
The NHPRC and UVA Press will create a new web site which provides access to the fully annotated published papers of key figures in the nation’s Founding era. The project is designed to include the papers of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin.
A prototype web site including the contents of 154 volumes drawn from print editions of the papers of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison will be prepared by October 2011. The fully public version will be launched by June 2012.
Any student worth their salt at the Evergreen State College knows that it is a government documents repository. This is not just because of the orientation campus tour or the repository student employment postings, but because the head of the gov docs collection is an active, vocal advocate. If you happened to approach the reference desk while Carlos Diaz was on duty, it was likely he had a government publication to recommend to you, whatever the topic of your question may be. As I’ve begun to delve into the world of government information, I quickly discovered he is just as active with the larger gov docs community as he is at Evergreen. Carlos was a guest blogger here in November, 2007 (http://freegovinfo.info/library/diaz_bio) When my professor told me they were no longer a repository my first thought was, “What will happen to Carlos?!”
Carlos got into library work almost by accident. While completing his American History dregree at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Carlos took a work study job in the library. Upon completion of his degree, he was recruited for a position as a library assistant. It was while working the reference desk there that he began to learn about the government documents, as LSU is a repository. From there, he went on to the University of Mississippi’s government documents collection and finally Evergreen, where he took the position of head of collection.
Throughout his time at Evergreen, Carlos Diaz and his staff have created many “Hot Topic” pages to meet the needs of patrons. When he noticed students bringing their children to the library while they tried to study, he created a Coloring Books webpage as so many federal agencies offer great resources for kids. To fulfill the needs of the English as a Second Language Program, he created the Symbols of the United States page. As there is a large spirit of activism on the Evergreen campus and in Olympia in general, Carlos gets many questions on how to address government officials, for these inquiries he created a page dedicated to the
So, why is Evergreen giving up repository status, with such a dedicated captain at the helm? Ultimately, it was up to the librarians. The decision was made, like so many in our field are, as a cost cutting measure. And really, isn’t everything online anyway? Carlos, a huge Star Trek fan, is the first to agree that eventually all government information will be digital, “There are some advantages and disadvantages to that. Of course, one of the advantages is the accessibility of government information, but the drawback is finding this information. A lot of it is buried deep down and only someone with knowledge of government structure might be able to find it.” For now, we are in what he calls the adolescence of the information superhighway. As for the physical collection at Evergreen, some materials will remain in the Daniel J. Evans Library. Much of the extensive map collection will be retained, as well as those items requested by faculty. Carlos is now dedicated to the challenge of deaccessioning the collection. Though he no longer works the reference desk, Carlos says, “I will continue to help people with their government information needs now more than ever.”
Many thanks to Carlos Diaz, an inspiration to me from early in my library career. Thanks also to my investigative reporters on the scene, Holly Maxim and Ian Ruotsala.
- Sara Medlicott
Roger C. Schonfeld, the Ithaka S+R Manager of Research, asked us several questions in a comment to a post here last week (Who Do You Serve and What Do You Do?: Defining Your Role to Defining Your Role to Ensure the Future of Our FDLP). These were good questions and we welcome the opportunity to spell out some specific ideas we have here at FGI about the future of the digital FDLP.
Thanks for your comments and your questions. (And thanks for noticing that broken link! I fixed it.)
Here are few quick responses to your questions. (I'll answer the question about libraries holding overlapping or even identical digital collections separately.)
Q. Is your proposal that, as a condition of participation, every Federal Depository Library be required to hold locally at least some kind of sub-set of the digital/digitized collection?
A. No: No more than we require every depository to have fiche. I do think, though, that it is not too idealistic to imagine a future when every FDLP library (or most of them, or hopefully at least hundreds of them) will have digital collections that include FDLP content.
I think that digital deposit could become a standard part of depository status in a number of different ways, probably starting out slowly and building up over time. I think that the strength of the FDLP has been and will be its flexibility and a digital FDLP should have new kinds of digital flexibility.
The design of exactly how to achieve that should be a process, not an either/or choice today. I would like to see us use a process different from the one we used to get microfiche into the FDLP because that process took years to implement. I would prefer to see a phasing in of digital deposit that would allow FDLP as a whole to move faster even as individual libraries moved at their own speed. I am not a lawyer, but I think that a simple change to SOD 301 to allow for digital materials to be deposited and for depositories to select digital format would be an easy first step.
I would think that phasing in digital deposit would allow for the community as a whole to develop an infrastructure and skills and experience and a variety of models to accomodate different kinds of libraries and collections. Over time, I would guess, more libraries would develop the technical capacity to participate and would be eager to do so.
Q. Or, do you see a complementary role for “virtual depository libraries” (see for example http://govdocs.library.arizona.edu/policy.html) and similar models that would rely on GPO and/or other libraries as collections providers?
A. I would like to see a digital depository program that would be flexible enough to include all kinds and sizes of libraries. That will be its strength.
I think the key to digital deposit is that a depository library would have physical control (in the OAIS sense) of the material. I would think that a digital depository system would be flexible enough to allow partnerships between libraries as well, so that "physical control" might include partnerships among libraries. That might mean, for example, that two library partners (libraries "A" and "B") might share physical control though a shared data center or a data center at one of the partners. The "control" would consist of their shared administrative decisions over what was in the data center, how that material is organized and described and preserved, and the methods of access to that material. I can imagine a single library participating in several different partnerships as well. For example, a library might be part of a national digital law library and a regional water-shed library, both of which might include FDLP materials.
I do not think that any library can currently claim physical control over anything in FDsys or at any federal agency.
I do think that there is a place for libraries maintaining links to digital materials not in their physical control and that this can enrich their services. But, since a) anyone can do that without being a depository library and b) the library has no control over the materials they point to, I don't think that providing such a service by itself is an accurate or useful way to characterize or define what it means to be an FDLP library. It might be possible to design a digital FDLP in which maintaining links to materials in FDsys (for example) would be one of many characteristics or even requirements of a being an FDLP library. I can also imagine, using the example above, that an FDLP library "C" might point to materials in the possession of libraries A and B as well as having its own digital collection.
I can imagine a couple of things that GPO could do to make the just-pointing-to-FDsys "virtual depository" model a more reliable, more technologically sophisticated part of a fully functional twenty-first century FDLP: 1) GPO could make FDsys an "interoperable" archive (in the OAIS sense) that worked with FDLP digital repositories. 2) Once there are at least a few large FDLP repositories, the FDLP library community could become part of the GPO "succession plan" (in the TRAC sense of the term) so that materials that GPO could no longer keep or preserve or provide access for could be easily migrated to FDLP libraries for preservation and access. Individual FDLP libraries could also rely on GPO and, as we get more digital FDLP libraries, other FDLP libraries for their own succession plans. This would at least solve a bit of the problem of pointing to things not in one's control: you could be at least somewhat assured that they were in the possession of the FDLP library system and not at the mercy of a GPO budget cut or mandated mission change.
Finally, in an FDLP with digital deposit, we could have something similar to what is possible with DOIs that would allow maintenance of pointers to more than one copy of any particular item at more than one repository. (http://freegovinfo.info/node/2947)
Q. Now that GPO is making more of the digital content available for bulk download, I’m curious what success looks like from your perspective
A. Bulk download is a great thing to have, but it is merely a useful method of delivery, not a system of or replacement for digital deposit. Almost certainly it would be a useful tool for a digital depository system, but it is not synonymous with or, necessarily, a precursor of digital deposit.
The strength and importance and sustainability of a digital FDLP will be found in those things that FDLP libraries can do or guarantee that they will do that are not done or cannot be done by others. I would think that digital deposit would include more than the ability to download in bulk. For example, a digital deposit might involve the commitment by the FDLP library to maintain FDLP-specific metadata generated at the time of deposit. That might include identification of the materials deposited as officially depository items, when they were deposited, version information, original source url, fixity information, provenance, and so forth. It might involved participation in a shared DOI-pointer system as noted above. It might include shared, reliable union catalogs and inventories and full-text indexes that could be built and maintained across depositories because of the commitments made by the participants.
Success of a digital FDLP would have to include:
- Digital deposit of digital materials into the physical control of participating FDLP libraries.
- Agreements between GPO and FDLP libraries, and, probably, among FDLP libraries, for preservation and access.
- Accountability of FDLP libraries for preservation and access.
- When fully implemented, a digital FDLP would, in the aggregate (across all participating libraries), guarantee that every Title-44 digital object would be in the physical control of the FDLP community in addition to or instead of the control of GPO.
Success could also be measure by other benefits that would, I think, also accrue (to GPO, to the public, to participating libraries) once such a system was in place. For example, it would be easier to develop and enforce new publication and metadata standards that would make preservation and long-term usability easier. It would be easier to create publication processes to identify and distribute instantiations of content (an obvious example: Census summary files) rather than trying to scrape dynamic web sites (which is almost always incomplete and unsatisfactory). It would be easier for the public to find and rely on government information they needed. It would be easier for libraries to build and maintain complete collections of information for their designated communities. It would be easier to keep track of and preserve "fugitive" government information and non-Title-44 information.
I don't want to minimize the tasks at hand to do what I am proposing. But I also urge you not to be overwhelmed by libraries and librarians and, particularly, library managers who think this is an impossible or never ending task. This isn't a unique situation. I saw a similar situation in when the "impossible/never-ending" problems were overcome and libraries embraced what they once did not: A couple of decades ago, there were very few numeric data collections in libraries, but today almost every ICPSR member is a library and there are many data libraries in libraries.
The software for building digital libraries and trustworthy repositories exists and is being improved all the time. To mention just one specific example, the LOCKSS-USDOCS project is already working toward the model of a successful digital FDLP library that I describe here.
Other events outside of libraries and overlapping with libraries (e.g. the open data movement, citizen mashup and tagging, new forms of scholarly publishing and open access publishing, institutional repositories, print on demand, mandated deposit of publicly funded data collections, the so-called data deluge, etc.) are beginning to affect libraries and their roles. Libraries already are embracing and building digital collections. While digital deposit might have seemed far-out and impossible in 1993, it is now within our reach.
At FGI, we see digital government information as the canary in the library coal mine. If government information librarians work on and solve the digital ingest/preservation/access issues for government information, their libraries will be able to generalize those solutions to other digital library collections. That would be a HUGE benefit to libraries in general and a big incentive for libraries to continuing to participate in the FDLP. Everyone wins.
The 2010 midterm elections are just a couple of weeks away (November 2, 2010 across the country!). So I thought I'd highlight some cool Web resources to help voters separate the wheat from the chaff of our political candidates.
- Project Vote Smart is a non-partisan volunteer organization that tracks voting records, biographical & contact Information, candidate issue positions, interest group ratings, public statements, and campaign finances. And this election cycle, they've put together a nifty little tool called VoteEasy where you can quickly see candidates from your state and Congressional districts and explore their positions on 12 different issues from abortion, Afghanistan and education to environment, social security and taxes. One word of warning, the site has a soundtrack so turn your speakers down or click on the audio control on the lower right of the site. You've been warned :-)
- MAPLight is a site that tracks Money And Politics (MAP). They've also recently released some California-centered tools like MAPLight California which tracks campaign contributions to Assembly members and Senators in the California State Legislature and MAPLight Prop 23 which tracks donations for/against the hot button issue of Prop. 23 (which suspends Air Pollution Control Laws Requiring Major Polluters to Report and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions That Cause Global Warming Until Unemployment Drops Below Specified Level for Full Year).
- Also centered on California, the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, in collaboration with the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, and the Center for California Studies at CSU Sacramento has created the California Choices Website with guides to the nine ballot measures on the November 2 California General Election ballot. The site also features a View Endorsements and Share Your Vote page where you can compare endorsements from political parties, unions, newspapers, and other organizations, and share how you are voting with friends and family via email or Facebook.
Please leave us links to other voter resources in the comments. And DON'T FORGET TO REGISTER TO VOTE WITH YOUR STATE SECRETARY OF STATE!
The AFL-CIO has a mashup that makes use of data from Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Notices, Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Certifications, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Case Activity Tracking System (CATS) maintained by the National Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Department of Labor Enforcement Data website, the Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, CNN's Exporting America List, information from Local and National Newspapers, a database of news articles that report on companies exporting jobs maintained by The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, and others.
- Job Tracker. Find out which companies in your area are exporting jobs, laying off workers, endangering workers' health or involved in cases of violations of workers' rights. The database contains information on more than 400,000 companies nationwide. Enter your ZIP code to see the detailed information.
Several years ago, I wrote a legal brief with a retired Navy officer who was a private attorney in a small law firm in Pennsylvania. As an active retired officer, this particular attorney frequently accepted pro bono U.S. Navy cases representing veterans in Federal District Court against the Bureau of Veteran’s Affairs (BVA).
One summer day, the attorney admitted that he was frustrated with a new case in which a Korean War veteran had been denied retroactive health benefits by the BVA. The veteran had evidently failed to understand the legal forms that the BVA had provided him and so his request for an appeal of the BVA’s decision denying those retroactive benefits had been deemed untimely; the appeal period had passed. I was deeply interested in this case, and I offered to help him with the research and writing the brief to be submitted in federal court.
In researching the law, I realized that the legal administrative tests, cases, and terminology all took a back seat to one particularly glaring issue which I noticed on the forms. Just how was a veteran, who at this point was over 65 years of age, supposed to understand the legal difference between “shall” and “may?” In other words, how was he expected to understand that “shall” was not a word signifying that something was optional, but was actually one which signified something mandatory?
In this instance, if he did not read, understand, or respond to the “notice of right to appeal” section of the benefits form (which, by the way, was at the very bottom of the form), then his rights to appeal the BVA’s decision “shall” expire, which meant that his non-response ultimately closed out his case. But in other portions of the form, the permissive word “may” had been used in various paragraphs. So, he had interpreted the notice section to also mean the optional “may” and his request to appeal was therefore untimely, according to the BVA. Thus began my entry into the world of obscure government forms with conflicting language and even more obscure government personnel.
Times have changed since then, and I am now a library student learning about the current changes in government documents as I prepare to enter the world of document librarianship. Government agencies are moving towards the “e-government” trend, whereby, among other things, the online accessibility to forms and assistance are, ostensibly, much greater. But I am left to wonder whether the agencies’ forms, in these times of “googling” and “tweeting” and “friending” and mobile, on-the-go information access, have changed in substance.
Even if the delivery method has changed, will the user, many of whom are also library patrons, be able to navigate these forms and their implications? Or will the “plain English” movement, which permeated some aspects of the real estate (including various state broker contract forms), bankruptcy (see here and here), and securities industries, finally cause changes in more and more of the various government agencies’ forms as well?
Incidentally, we won the BVA case, whereby the BVA opted to settle in lieu of changing their forms, and our client received his retroactive benefits – in full.
Johanna Blakely-Bourgeois, Pratt SILS
In September 2010, we posted 31 "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. How many reports did GPO receive? Only they know, but the more people who send their fugitive docs e-mail receipts to firstname.lastname@example.org, the more accurate our count will be.
Of the 31 reported items that were posted to the blog in September, seven 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 September 2010 dates. We are appreciative of these new records.
Actually, if you view the list of "found" documents, you'll notice 12 entries, five of which are also marked "fugitive." In these five instances, we have been provided a note that GPO intends to catalog these items. However there was no publicly available record in the Catalog of Government Publications (CGP) when we searched those titles.
We will take the "fugitive" tag off those records if we're made aware of a CGP record
In our view, eight of the items reported to GPO and posted to the blog in January were either out of scope for the Catalog of Government Publications (CGP) or were already in the catalog. You can view these items by visiting lostdocs.freegovinfo.info/category/false/ and looking for items with March 2010 dates.
Most of these "false positive" items relate to the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill and may reflect proactive activity on GPO's part to get any oil spill related documents. If so, we commend them.
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.
The Defining Moment
As noted here recently, the depository community is into yet another round of trying to redefine the Federal Depository Library Program. (See: GPO contracts Ithaka S+R to develop sustainable FDLP models.)
This new project will question and evaluate the role that FDLP libraries will play in the lifecycle of government information. The definition of this role will determine whether or not FDLP libraries will deserve or get support from their constituencies. If they serve a useful function, they will get support; if they do not, they will not.
This is a defining moment. Libraries will not flourish or even survive because librarians like them, or because older people have fond memories of them, or even because we have a vague belief that they "should" survive. They will survive only if they fulfill a role in society that no one else fulfills as well -- or at all -- and if society recognizes and values that role.
Make no mistake about it: what is at stake is the survival of FDLP libraries. By defining the role of FDLP libraries, this project will determine whether or not there will be Federal Depository Libraries at all.
Defining the role of libraries
Typically, the roles of libraries are defined either in general terms of who the library serves or by enumerating specific tasks. You could call these the "who you serve" approach and the "what you do" approach. Each has advantages because each one can help focus our thinking and give us criteria against which we can evaluate our actions.
Since 1993, GPO has effectively defined a limited -- and shrinking -- role for FDLP libraries. The FDLP has always been a cooperative venture in which different partners (GPO, regional depositories, selective depositories) played different roles. But, since 1993, when The Government Printing Office Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act (Public Law 103-40) was passed, GPO has arrogated to itself the role of permanent preservation of government information and essentially prevented FDLP libraries from undertaking that role by refusing to deposit digital materials with depository libraries.
But that is changing. Recent developments (for example, GPO collaborating with LOCKSS in the LOCKSS-USDOCS project) have demonstrated that GPO is open to sharing responsibility, is no longer committed to preventing libraries from participating in digital preservation, is open to "digital deposit," and is, in general, open to new roles for FDLP libraries. These "new" roles could look a lot more like the traditional roles of FDLP libraries. Yes, we need to change the FDLP for the digital age, but these should not be changes in our traditional roles (what we do: build collections and provide services for and stewardship of those collections) but changes in procedures (how we do these things using digital tools instead of paper tools). It is in those traditional roles that libraries have a unique value in society. The Ithaka/GPO project will define the role of FDLP libraries either in a way that will expand this new openness, allowing libraries to have the flexibility to participate actively, or in a limited and passive way in the mode of the 1993-2009 model.
1. Who do you serve?
In defining the general role of libraries (who a library serves), there is a popular tendency to focus on the parent institution. This is an easy role to justify and explain and it even lends itself to some degree of quantification and accountability. The recent report from the Association of College and Research Libraries, The value of academic libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report (by Megan Oakleaf, 2010) is a prime example of this view.
An alternative view is that libraries fulfill a larger role in society as a whole and thus serve more than their parent institution. The Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians (by John Blyberg, Kathryn Greenhill, and Cindi Trainor, 2009) is one recent example of this broader view of the role of libraries in society. Barbara Fister, a librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College, has written eloquently about this. New initiatives such as the NSF's rules for sharing of data and creating explicit plans for managing data for the long-term are driving libraries to anticipate a larger role for libraries in fulfilling the societal need for long-term stewardship and curation of information of all kinds across the life-cycle of information. We can anticipate this as a coming major shift in focus and priorities from the local to the global role of libraries.
While these two different views need not exclude each other, in practice they sometimes do. It would be wiser to view these two ideas as complementary rather than incompatible. I would argue, in fact, that any definition of the role of libraries that excludes one or the other of these views will almost certainly be incomplete and fatally flawed.
The role of FDLP as a whole vs. the role of individual FDLP libraries
I would expect that most people in the depository community would assume that the role of FDLP must, by its very nature and purpose, reflect a society-as-a-whole mission and go beyond the missions of individual participants in the program. It will be hard for Ithaka S+R to suggest a model that avoids the big, societal role of the FDLP. But the details of how to fulfill that societal role is the issue. What specific tasks will Ithaka S+R define for depository libraries, on the one hand, and GPO and other (unspecified) "partners" (RFQ, page 5), on the other hand? These definitions will either open up the options for libraries or explicitly limit them.
Despite broad statements of the role of the FDLP as a whole, such as "create an informed citizenry and an improved quality of life" (RFQ, page 4), I think we may see considerable pressure to use a narrow definition of the role of the individual depository libraries. One reason for this is the recent history of GPO and the FDLP in which GPO took over complete control of long-term preservation and access to all digital information in the program and relegated libraries to a role of only providing customer service. Some will see this split of roles as a de facto standard that should be continued. I would argue that, while that split may have seemed appropriate 17 years ago, much has changed and libraries are now more tech-savvy and better equipped to take on digital challenges. Those who argue for the 1993 status quo are the true luddites. It is a time for change.
The pressure to limit the role of libraries will come, I think, from librarians who view the role of their own library as limited to fulfilling the mission of their own institution -- those who would like someone else to take on the big, societal mission. It will come from those who support the Oakleaf ACRL report and its institution-focus and emphasis on "return-on-investment, commodity production, [and] impact." It will come from library directors who, for legitimate but parochial reasons, want to weed depository materials from their collections and do not wish to invest in digital depository collections. It may come from Ithaka S+R itself whose Manager of Research, Roger Schonfeld, has already praised the ACRL report because it "clearly frames the purpose and value of the academic library in the context of the parent organization." And, it may even come from some at GPO, since it matches the model GPO developed in 1993.
But there are those who will be advocating a broader, more active role for FDLP libraries. Those of us who believe that a network of Congressionally-mandated libraries can provide a better, more secure, more robust, more flexible, more responsive system than GPO or GPO and a few commercial "partners" could provide by themselves. One way to do this is to focus on the specific tasks that those libraries might undertake.
2. What do you do? The specific tasks.
There are a number of options for the tasks and roles of libraries. Many of these have been been well articulated and tried with varying degrees of success. For example:
- Libraries as "service centers." You might call this the "libraries without collections" or the "librarians without libraries" model. This is the model designed by GPO in 1993. It is the model that ITHAKA, the parent organization of Ithaka S+R, has used as its own business model for Portico and JSTOR. This model is favored by the Association of Research Libraries, by many library administrators who apparently believe that it would be better if someone else took the responsibility of preserving government information and ensuring its long-term accessibility and usability, and by many depository librarians who do not have the support of their institutions to build and manage digital collections.
- Libraries as "business centers." This model is an extension or complement to the above model because it, too, envisions libraries without collections. It sees the library as the agent that manages leases and licensing agreements with publishers and other producers (including government agencies). This model is advocated by ITHAKA, by commercial data providers who make a profit by limiting access to information to those who pay for it, by government agencies that have accepted that they must be self-supporting and thus sell their information, and by the information industry, which would like the role of libraries to be enforcers of rights-management. In addition, most libraries have already accepted this model for many classes of digital information by leasing access to databases or electronic journals instead of demanding their own digital copies.
- Libraries that provide both collections and services. This is the traditional library model in the paper world and it is increasingly the new model in the digital world. Examples of libraries doing this include libraries and projects of all shapes and sizes: The California Digital Library, the Hathi Trust, the Scholars Portal of the Ontario Council of University Libraries, the Legal Information Archive of the Chesapeake Project, the North Carolina Digital Repository, the Stanford University Freedom of Information and CRS and FRUS collections at Archive-It, the University of North Texas digital government collections, the LOCKSS-USDOCS Network, the Historical Publications of the United States Commission on Civil Rights at the Thurgood Marshall Law Library at the University of Maryland, the many U.S. Government Publication Digitization Projects, and many more. This is also the model that private sector government information service providers use when they obtain copies of digital information so that they can provide services for that information rather than trying to provide services for collections that they do not hold. This model also fits the OAIS preservation model which requires that an archive "obtain sufficient control" of information in order ensure long-term preservation.
Defining our own future
Over the past two decades GPO has redefined the role that FDLP libraries play in the lifecycle of government information by reducing that role to one of providing service for collections held by GPO and others. FDLP Libraries have largely accepted this de facto redefinition of their role. Why? Because they have been caught in a perfect storm of inadequate budgets and staffing and training, demands from library administrators to reduce the size and footprint of paper collections, users who were quick to accept online access without demanding -- or even being cognizant of -- long-term preservation, and a GPO that promised it would single-handedly take on the pesky problem of managing and preserving a single digital collection for everyone while simultaneously providing "access."
That model is failing and GPO is now open to a new model that involves depository libraries as active participants again. We have an opportunity with the Ithaka/GPO project to take the lead in defining the future of our own libraries. In the last two decades, depository libraries have followed the lead of GPO and accepted a diminished role of providing services without collections. We have followed the lead of technologists and digital-pundits who like to call the Google Books project a "library" while simultaneously diminishing the importance of actual libraries that are accountable to their communities. In a chicken-and-egg situation, our diminished activities have made depository activities easy targets for budget cuts that further diminished our ability to provide adequate digital services. As the private sector steps into this gap, our services begin to pale in comparison. We have not adequately differentiated ourselves from the private sector and government digital services, preferring to piggy back on what they do, enforce their rights-restrictions and their privacy-encroaching policies. But that strategy has endangered the principles of the FDLP and reduced our ability to do what the private sector will not and the government cannot do alone. Now we have an opportunity to change all that.
Where GPO must have a one-size-fits all collection and service model, FDLP libraries can each focus on their own communities of interest. Where private sector companies limit access to those who pay and GPO is specifically authorized in the 1993 law to "charge reasonable fees," FDLP libraries are dedicated to providing information without charging. While the private sector, by definition, provides only those services that generate a profit, FDLP libraries are funded to provide services for their communities by leveraging the resources of the community for the benefit of all. A GPO-centered model of preservation is fragile because it has only a single budgetary authority and a single, monolithic "community." In contrast, a preservation model based on FDLP libraries has as many as 1000 budgets, 1000 communities, 1000 locations, 1000 systems, and 1000 reasons to survive and flourish. It is 1000 times more secure.
FDLP libraries can build new digital collections that combine Title-44-materials with non-Title-44 materials. GPO cannot do that. We can support our own communities-of-interest that need no longer be geographically based. GPO has to serve everyone and does not have the resources to focus on every potential community of interest. We can build services and functionalities for our collections that focus on our communities of interest. GPO must provide generic services and generic APIs. We can guarantee that we will preserve the information in our collections for as long as those materials are of interest to our communities. GPO cannot guarantee that Congress will continue to fund preservation for everything forever. In fact, the RFQ does not contain the words "preservation" or "long-term." We can assure our communities that we will preserve their privacy and provide information that is usable and without fees. GPO cannot make those guarantees. We can, collectively, do a better, more secure job of preserving government information for the long-term and assuring that it will be available and usable without fees than any single institution or agency can. Together, we can build a twenty-first century FDLP that will do for digital materials what the FDLP has always done: ensure long-term, free, public access to government information.
It should be clear to us that returning to a model in which FDLP libraries take an active role in building and preserving collections and providing services will provide clear benefits to users of government information. But the benefits go beyond providing access and services. A strong FDLP also benefits the participating libraries, and other non-participating libraries. GPO and the Depository Library Council are working to create a comprehensive list of benefits for libraries participating in the FDLP and benefits afforded to the public by having access to these libraries.
While the Ithaka/GPO project provides an opportunity to turn the FDLP around and make it viable and useful in the twenty-first century, it is not at all certain that this will happen. As noted above, there are those who will argue for the status quo that limits the role of FDLP libraries to an unsustainable, unjustifiable service-without-collections model.
Ithaka S+R has already written a report with a model for the FDLP (Documents for a Digital Democracy: A Model for the Federal Depository Library Program in the 21st Century). In that report, it recommended that "GPO should develop formal partnerships with a small number of dedicated preservation entities -- such as organizations like HathiTrust or Portico or individual libraries -- to preserve a copy of its materials" (page 44, emphasis added). As noted above, Ithaka S+R is affiliated with Portico through their parent organization, ITHAKA. (For another take on a related Ithaka S+R study, see: Nyquist, Corinne(2010) 'An Academic Librarian's Response to the “ITHAKA Faculty Survey 2009: Key Strategic Insights for Libraries, Publishers, and Societies”', Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Electronic Reserve, 20: 4, 275 -- 280.) Although Roger Schonfeld has assured us that this time Ithaka S+R recommendations "will not focus on specific brands, services, or products, including those provided by any part of our organization," it appears that we will have to convince him and Ithaka S+R that FDLP libraries, not just a "small number of dedicated preservation entities" like Portico, must play a significant role in the preservation of FDLP library materials.
Ithaka S+R has pledged that their work will include broad, vigorous community engagement and that their work will will rely on community input and advice to guide their research and define their recommendations. It is time for us to speak up. Here are some things you can do today:
- Participate in the discussion on the project web site.
- Participate in FDLP's work to create a comprehensive list of benefits for libraries participating in the FDLP.
- Work with your colleagues to create a list of benefits to your own library of being an FDLP library. Share this with your library management.
- Identify your own library's user-communities. Do you have subject collections that are used by people beyond your local geographic community? Would those collections be enhanced if they included government-produced information? Make the case to your communities and your library management.
- Do you already have digital collections? Do you have digital collection tools that you could apply to government information? Or would you like to develop digital collections and services with copyright-free, DRM-free digital materials? Develop a plan that will enhance your library's digital future by utilizing free government information content.
- Add your comments and ideas here to this post on FGI.
Tony Robins, a New York City author and architecture tour guide, recently posed an interesting question on the SLA-NY listserv: could anyone help him ascertain what had happened to the Port Authority Library’s contents, once housed on the 55th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower, but which had certainly been closed before the buildings were destroyed in September 2001?
A few weeks later, Robins got back to the listserv with his fascinating results. A few dozen librarians had replied to him, either with their own anecdotal evidence, or links to articles that mention the loss of the archives (like this one from Archeology online, in 2002), or with information on who might answer the question more thoroughly. The library, according to his aggregated research, contained over 75,000 volumes and was staffed by three full-time reference librarians. Someone who had worked at the Port Authority Library before it closed described the collection as having “held most of the original blueprints and other materials related to the building of the New York-New Jersey bridges and tunnels, and the [T]rade [C]enter itself.” The Port Authority was formed in 1921 by compact between the two states, and the library’s existence dates back to at least 1928, as evidenced by an article in the November 1928 SLA newsletter (PDF). Robins also heard from another librarian who shared that the Port Authority had been in discussion with a number of area universities and libraries to find homes for the contents of the library, at one point, going so far as to supply a CD with metadata on the library’s holdings. The talks were ongoing during 2001, however, and nothing concrete had been transferred. Robins even got an answer from the Port Authority’s press department, confirming that the library was closed in 1995 due to budgetary restraints and although some of the more valuable material was removed, most of the archives were being stored in a sub-basement of the towers, and thus lost during the 9/11 attacks.
It’s a telling, and slightly chilling, story. On the one hand, the obvious tragedy is that original archives across seventy years were destroyed. But perhaps more subtle is the fact that the library had been out of use for six years and had not been relocated. Of course, the collection most likely contained a vast array of print reference materials for various departments within the Port Authority that, although useful for their patrons, could hardly be called unique. However, I was struck, in reading Robin’s results, that there was acknowledgment from various sources that some of the material was unique and irreplaceable. Their permanent loss was, of course, unforeseeable - but what’s also interesting is the six years they were simply out of use, in a basement. Was this a question of importance or relevance? Who would be served by these documents? Was it a matter of bureaucracy, of space, or of budget, that the unique elements of the collection weren’t transferred somewhere where they could be used?
So often in our coursework at SILS, we hear about LOCKSS - “lots of copies, keep stuff safe”. We hear about the importance of conservation and preservation, and how libraries can and should build consortia so that their patrons can access the breadth of resources from not just one, but many libraries. And in our Government Information Sources class, we learn about the challenges in making government information available and accessible to the people. We are learning that government document librarianship isn’t just about providing service to online materials, because it’s not all online - it’s about recognizing and advocating for the value of your collection, whether print or digital. This story reminded me that not all libraries survive budget cuts (much less catastrophic events), and not all information is infinitely replicated or repeated in digital formats.
- Krissa Corbett Cavouras, Pratt SILS
Digital Library of the Week: Homeland Security Digital Library, American Library Association (October 7th, 2010).
For the first time in its seven-year history, the Homeland Security Digital Library has opened a portion of its unique and unrivaled collection to the public. The HSDL is the nation’s premier collection of documents related to homeland security policy, strategy, and organizational management. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Preparedness Directorate (under FEMA) and the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security, the HSDL is composed of homeland security–related documents collected from a wide variety of sources. These include federal, state, tribal, and local government agencies, professional organizations, think tanks, academic institutions, and international governing bodies. . Although largely comprised of reports, this specialized library also provides homeland security subject matter in other formats including videos, slide presentations, maps, databases, and statistics....
First I’d like to express my gratitude to James Jacobs and Debbie Rabina for providing us with this opportunity. I’m looking forward to guest blogging this month.
This past summer, I lived and worked at Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala City, Guatemala. I didn’t work closely with government info sources during my time there, so for this post, I spent some time with the presidential website looking at the availability of digital publications and what kinds of e-gov tools are on offer. I also checked in with coordinator of access to collections, circulation and technical processes at Biblioteca Ludwig Von Mises, Regina De La Vega, to get her perspective on government resources in Guatemala.
The presidential site of Guatemala, The Government of Alvaro Colom, serves, in some ways as a publicity site for the first family. There is a slide show of news items relevant to presidential goals, photo albums of the first lady and presidential activities, videos describing various initiatives and biographies of the president and first lady. While top navigation features a tab entitled “press room” in some ways, the whole site feels like a press site. Almost at the very bottom of the page are links to presidential programs many of which are entirely accessible online and provide useful tools and services for Guatemalans. Sites such as “Governing with the People” (a compilation of governmental decisions from all departments and states) and the Public Information Office (a mix of everything from contact information to leases to audits) provide a high level of access to government information.
So how do actual librarians make use of these tools and resources? I was fascinated to hear my opinions about the publicity elements of the site echoed in Mrs. De La Vegas assessment “In Guatemala I think (a very personal opinion) the government publications are more oriented to advertise the work of the current government” She finds the most useful items to be those published by the ministry of education. They produce materials primarily in print but some are available online and are indispensable for distance education particularly in rural areas of the country. Mrs. De La Vega tells me that, at the reference desk students do not often request information the government releases and that typically they approach the institutions that publish them directly. Biblioteca Ludwig Von Mises does collect and catalogue some governmental publications, however. Mrs. De La Vega said the most commonly requested governmental materials are various statistical resources, as Economics is a huge department at UFM.
So, however free the government information may be, perhaps the real trick for librarians is getting students to actually use them!
Thanks for reading, and keep an eye out for a post from one of my classmates on Thursday.
Scientific American has an excellent editorial that ties together the strands of FCC regulation, the lousy broadband speed we get in the U.S., and Network Neutrality.
- Why Broadband Service in the U.S. Is So Awful And one step that could change it, The Editors, Scientific America (October 4, 2010)
A decade ago the U.S. ranked at or near the top of most studies of broadband price and performance. But that was before the FCC made a terrible mistake. In 2002 it reclassified broadband Internet service as an "information service" rather than a "telecommunications service." In theory, this step implied that broadband was equivalent to a content provider (such as AOL or Yahoo!) and was not a means to communicate, such as a telephone line.
Hat tip to Kevin Taglang!
Close on the heals of this recent Radio Lab story about CIA experiments at Harvard in the 1950s that may have had a dire impact on the Ted Kaczynski aka the Unabomber, and the recent news report that the US govt conducted Syphilis tests in Guatemala in the 1940s (not to mention the long-known about Tuskegee syphilis experiments), tonight on the National Geographic channel is an in-depth look at "CIA Secret Experiments" during the Cold War.
And for all you govt docs library geeks out there, you can read the Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities within the United States, June 1975 (aka the "Rockefeller Commission Report") available in libraries throughout the country -- find a nearby library here and here. It's also available online.
From National Geographic Channel:
- In the wake of World War II, the U.S. government was engaged in a large number of confidential medical experiments designed to help win the Cold War. During these elicit experiments they exposed unknowing members of the public to biological and chemical agents, developed techniques for mind control, and even planned assassinations on powerful leaders of developing nations.
- Some methods that were considered for the distribution of these chemicals were to poison cigars, toothpaste, and ink.
- The CIA embarked upon a multimillion dollar, highly classified research program into the covert use of biological and chemical materials such as bacteria to infect the enemy, poisons for assassinations, and truth drugs for interrogations.
- Included in the medicine chest used for these experiments would have been anthrax, the plague, and brucellosis.
- A U.S. army experiment on New York City in 1966 exposed over a million people to the bacterium bacillus subtilis variant niger. Scientists used light bulbs filled with a combination of bacteria and charcoal particles, which they then dropped through vents onto the subway tracks.
- During this experiment, trillions of germs were released into the transit system during peak travel hours. The trials were conducted without the knowledge or cooperation of the NYC Transit Authority or Police Department.
- During this period, the CIA was also looking into the use of chemical substances for ways to manipulate and control human behavior; one such chemical that caught their attention was lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD.
- The CIA recruited prisoner volunteers to be administered LSD as part of their experimentation. The prisoners who cooperated were sometimes given heroin as a reward. In one experiment, prisoners were kept on increasing doses of LSD for 77 consecutive days.
I just got back from Best Practices Exchange 2010 (check out the growing list of available presentations and the twitter back channel!). It was a really solid conference -- a healthy mix of archivists, documents and other librarians, and technologists having project-oriented presentations with a healthy dose of discussion. The cherry on top was the engaging keynote by the David Ferriero, the Archivist of the US (AOTUS) (here's a good summary of AOTUS' talk).
I was on a panel with Arlene Weible from OR State Library (Arlene gave a great talk on RAT, OSL's tool for collecting state documents -- I hope she posts her slides soon!) and presented about LOCKSS-USDOCS, the distributed documents preservation project. Take a look at the slides. We're looking for other participant libraries so email me if your library is interested (jrjacobs AT stanford DOT edu).
We've got a special treat for you this month. Several Pratt Library School students have volunteered to be FGI guest bloggers for the month of October. So welcome Johanna Blakely-Bourgeois, Krissa Corbett Cavouras, and Sara Medlicott to the FGI podium. Johanna, Kriss and Sara have agreed to take turns and put their names at the end of their posts so readers will be able to tell the difference between them. Take it away! And thanks also to SILS faculty member Debbie Rabina for helping to put this opportunity together for her students.
Many thanks also goes to Nathan Yang, our guest blogger for September!
Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science (SILS)
FGI Guest Blogging Biographies
Johanna Blakely-Bourgeois started her career as an attorney, having worked in the real estate industry for 8 years in New York City and having litigated bankruptcy and foreclosure cases for 2 years in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey prior to that. She is currently a full-time graduate student at Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science, navigating the world of librarianship technology and terminology. Currently studying French and a former student of German, she seeks one day to steer her librarianship career into international waters.
Krissa Corbett Cavouras worked as a writer and editor before beginning her master's degree in Information and Library Science at Pratt SILS. Her focus is on issues of copyright and open access, and her concentration at Pratt has been in legal research and government documents. She has worked at the Bar Association of the City of New York in their Library, and for the Copyright Advisory Office at Columbia University Libraries. She currently serves as Dr. Pattuelli's Graduate Assistant at Pratt SILS.
Sara Medlicott is a Masters Candidate at the Pratt School of Information and Library Science. She is currently working on a digitization project at the Pratt Center for Community Development and volunteering with Correctional Services at New York Public Library. This past summer, Sara served as visiting library faculty at Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala City, where she taught a course on digital research.