NASA took its Technical Report Server (http://ntrs.nasa.gov/) offline this week, saying :
The NASA technical reports server will be unavailable for public access while the agency conducts a review of the site's content to ensure that it does not contain technical information that is subject to U.S. export control laws and regulations and that the appropriate reviews were performed. The site will return to service when the review is complete. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
As Steven Aftergood reported at Secrecy News [emphasis added]:
In other words, all NASA technical documents, no matter how voluminous and valuable they are, should cease to be publicly available in order to prevent the continued disclosure of any restricted documents, no matter how limited or insignificant they may be.
"There is a HUGE amount of material on NTRS," said space policy analyst Dwayne Day. "If NASA is forced to review it all, it will never go back online."
-- "NASA Technical Reports Database Goes Dark" by Steven Aftergood (March 21st, 2013).
Michael L. Nelson of the Department of Computer Science at Old Dominion University investigated the availability of some of the NASA reports at other archives and reports his findings on his blog:
- NTRS, Web Archives, and Why We Should Build Collections, by Michael L. Nelson, Web Science and Digital Libraries (March 23, 2013).
Nelson found that some reports are available at http://naca.central.cranfield.ac.uk/ which is an archive of some NASA information that Nelson helped establish after NASA websites were taken down after September 11, 2001. He notes that the removal of information from NASA servers at that time "made it clear to me that NASA information was too important to be left on *.nasa.gov computers." He found more data at the Internet Archive's "NASA Technical Documents" collection: http://archive.org/details/nasa_techdocs and in Mark Phillips NACA collection at http://digital.library.unt.edu/explore/collections/NACA/ .
Nelson draws some conclusions from all this [emphasis added]:
...it is events like this that demonstrate the value of copying by-value and not just by-reference.
In other words, pointing to web sites is much less valuable and much more fragile than acquiring copies of digital information and building digital collections that you control. The OAIS reference model for long term preservation makes this a requirement, saying that an organization that intends to provide information to its user community for the long-term, must "Obtain sufficient control of the information provided to the level needed to ensure Long-Term Preservation." Pointing to a web page or PDF at nasa.gov is not obtaining any control.
He also makes a distinction between those things that are saved because of their popularity and things that will not be saved unless special care is taken to preserve them:
I'm not concerned about popular culture artifacts disappearing (e.g., see our TPDL 2011 paper about music redundancy in YouTube), but it is not clear that long tail content like NASA reports will enjoy that same level of uncoordinated refreshing and migration. The moral of the story: make copies of the content...
And he notes the importance of multiple copies:
...a 1994 NASA TM of mine is on at least six different hosts, none of which are *.nasa.gov.
...If NTRS was a LOCKSS participant then access would be uninterrupted...
And Aftergood concludes [emphasis added]:
The upshot is that the government is not an altogether reliable repository of official records. Members of the public who depend on access to such records should endeavor to make and preserve their own copies whenever possible.
Here at FGI, we have repeatedly argued that identifying important information that warrants explicit preservation is the age-old role of libraries in society and that it still is (or should be) the key value of libraries in the digital age. Many government agencies, including NASA and the Government Printing Office have good intentions and good programs for preservation and access, but those agencies cannot guarantee that they will always provide preservation and access. In the case of the NTRS web site, Aftergood and others speculate that the take down was a response to a demand by a single Congressman who said in a press conference on March 18 [emphasis added]:
NASA should immediately take down all publicly available technical data sources until all documents that have not been subjected to export control review have received such a review and all controlled documents are removed from the system.
The NTRS web site was taken offline on March 19.
Government agencies are subject to political activities like this and budgetary limitations. Very bad things can happen which, in cases like this can remove from access, "all NASA technical documents, no matter how voluminous and valuable they are" in a single moment.
Libraries should still be selecting, acquiring, organizing, and preserving information for their user-communities, and providing access to and services for those collections. Libraries do no one a long-term service by simply pointing to resources over which they have no control and which someone else can simply make unavailable literally at the flick of a switch.
FDLP libraries should demand digital deposit from GPO and should actively select and acquire that digital public government information that is of value to their user communities that GPO cannot deposit because it is outside the scope of Title 44.
Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks has responded to the letter by the group CASSANDRA about the recent report Rebooting the Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed in the Digital Age by the National Association of Public Administration (NAPA). .
The report recommends that GPO should consider "cost recovery" for access to FDsys (See NAPA releases report on GPO).
The Response from Vance-Cooks says that GPO has "no intention of charging public users a fee to access content available through FDsys. GPO remains committed to no-fee access to FDsys for the public as part of our mission of Keeping America Informed."
This is, of course, good news, but we have to temper our enthusiasm with the realization that GPO's ability to meet its intentions will inevitably be dictated by Congress and its budget.
The complete response is attached below:
James and I are happy to announce that our new article appears in the current edition of D-Lib Magazine:
- The Digital-Surrogate Seal of Approval: a Consumer-oriented Standard. by James A. Jacobs and James R. Jacobs. D-Lib Magazine, 2013, 19(3/4). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1045/march2013-jacobs
In the last few years, there have been a series of articles, reports and proposals that rely on the promises of digitization to address issues of physical space, cost control, access, and collection management for FDLP libraries. One of the reasons we created this Seal of Approval standard is to provide a clear, consistent way to help evaluate some of these promises of digitization.
There are those who continue to insist that we have too many copies of federal documents, that preserving those copies is too expensive, that GPO is being unreasonable when it does not allow libraries to discard materials, and so forth. Although proposals to digitize FDLP collections are often couched in terms of enhancing access, libraries can digitize and enhance access without discarding paper copies. The underlying motivation of such proposals is often explicitly to weed the paper collections and, when not explicit, it is always implied. These proposals raise many questions in our minds. For example:
- Will digitizations include digital text as well as images and will the text be accurate and complete and (re)usable?
- Will the digitizations be readable and usable on modern e-book devices?
- Will digitizations create digital objects that are as good as the originals, or worse, or better?
- Will digitizations be deposited into Trusted Digital Repositories to ensure their long-term preservation and access?
- Will the library that contributes the original be in control of the digital copy, or will control be ceded to large mega-libraries?
- Will the digitizations include adequate metadata for management, preservation, and discovery?
- Will libraries develop and maintain discovery and delivery mechanisms that address the special requirements of federal documents?
- Will libraries provide adequate digital services for the digital collections?
- Will any cost savings be applied to collection management and services for these collections or will the cost savings be redirected to other collections and services?
- Will there actually be cost savings if we adequately address the above questions?
But there is one other question that is more important than all of the above. The question we must ask first is: Are the digitizations accurate and complete? If they are not, the other questions become moot or irrelevant. The DS-SOA is intended to help us answer that question. The DS-SOA denotes that a digitization accurately and completely replicates the content and presentation of the original.
The standard is designed to be easily understood and usable, not just by digitization-specialists, but also by library administrators, collection managers, service providers, preservation officers, business managers, and others who are responsible for library collections and services. It is also meant to help communicate clearly to end users the accuracy and completeness of the digitizations libraries provide to them.
We believe that libraries fulfill a unique role in society, one that is different from that of producers, agencies, publishers, authors, and vendors. We believe that the value of libraries is dependent upon the collections we select, acquire, preserve, and maintain and the services that we provide for those collections. The FDLP collections are unique; they provide a primary-source, historical record of our democracy. The FDLP print collections are not "legacy collections" as they are often called by those who wish to discard them; (the use of the word "legacy" as an adjective means "outdated" and "unwanted"). They are, however, our legacy. The use of the word "legacy" as a noun means bequest, heritage, endowment, gift, and birthright. The DS-SOA is a simple tool that libraries can use to ensure the value of their digital collections and communicate that value to library users. We believe that failure to ensure completeness and accuracy of our digital collections will reduce the value of libraries. We believe that replacing paper-and-ink books with digital copies without first ensuring and documenting that those copies are complete and accurate representations of the original would be tantamount to redacting the historical record of our democracy.
A bill in the Minnesota legislature would allow government agencies to post official notices on their web sites instead of in newspapers and would require a "permanent record" of publications to be "maintained." Included would be publication of transportation projects, proceedings, official notices, and summaries of meetings. The bill apparently does not designate who will preserve the information nor does it specify how to preserve the information except for the caveat that the records must be in "a form accessible by the public."
- H.F. No. 1286, as introduced - 88th Legislative Session (2013-2014) Posted on Mar 05, 2013.
Subd. 4. Record retention. A political subdivision that publishes notice on its Web site under this section must ensure that a permanent record of publication is maintained in a form accessible by the public.
We would, of course, like to see a bit more detail of the implementation, perhaps even including requirements for deposit of records in a Trusted Repository, provisions for discovery, access, use, and bulk download, and, ideally, a state-law-compliant deposit into libraries.
One section of the bill does specify that print copies of "documents" published on the web must be made available at all public libraries within the jurisdiction. This is not a bad requirement, but it does seem to us to be short-sighted to require deposit of paper copies and not require deposit of digital copies. Libraries could provide enhanced access and service over what the government could provide and could provide redundant digital preservation.
Subd. 5. Print copies. When a political subdivision publishes exclusively on the Web site, it must also make print copies of all published documents available at the main office of the political subdivision, any other government offices designated by the political subdivision, all public libraries within the jurisdiction, and by mail upon request.
Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks testified before the House Subcommittee on Legislative Branch Appropriations on Feb 26, 2013. She discussed the potential impact of the upcoming sequester scheduled for March 1, the results of the recent National Academy of Public Administration study of GPO, and GPO's appropriations request for FY 2014, which will be submitted to the House and Senate later this week. The GPO press release about the testimony does not mention the NAPA recommendation to charge fees for access to FDsys (see NAPA releases report on GPO).
Excerpt from press release, emphasis added:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 26, 2013
ACTING PUBLIC PRINTER TESTIFIES BEFORE HOUSE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE
WASHINGTON - Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks testified before the House Subcommittee on Legislative Branch Appropriations today, discussing the potential impact of the upcoming sequester scheduled for March 1, the results of the recent National Academy of Public Administration study of GPO, and GPO's appropriations request for FY 2014, which will be submitted to the House and Senate later this week.
Under the sequester, GPO will see its appropriations cut by 5.3%, or approximately $6.7 million, which will affect the agency's statutory and essential functions. To offset the cut, GPO's plan is to freeze hiring, overtime, performance awards, outside training, administrative travel, and nonessential maintenance and repairs. GPO may also face a decrease in revenue from Federal agency customers who order less printing and other information services due to the impact of sequester on their budget. The extent of this revenue impact is unknown at this time. To offset it, GPO will cut back on technology and other investments, which would delay the development of digital products and services, such as mobile apps for Congress and Federal agencies, as well as other technology upgrades and projects to improve public access to Government information. If necessary, a furlough of GPO's workforce may also be implemented.
The recent study of GPO by the National Academy of Public Administration underscores the value of GPO's products and services in Keeping America Informed, and makes useful recommendations to better position the Federal Government in the digital era, strengthen GPO's business model, and build the GPO of the future. Vance-Cooks voiced support for the recommendations and said the agency is already at work on them. For FY 2014, GPO plans to request $128.5 million, a 1.2% increase over the funding currently provided for FY 2013. The request includes a decrease of $11.5 million in congressional printing costs and an increase of $12.4 million in investments for continued growth for GPO's digital systems and investments.
"Regardless of budget constraints, GPO is committed to serving as the digital information platform and provider of secure credentials for the Federal Government," said Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks. "GPO is prepared to make the necessary cutbacks in order to continue to carry out its mission of Keeping America Informed."
Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation has a must-read post about the Government Printing Office, the Joint Committee on Printing, and The Statutes at Large:
GPO is Closing Gap on Public Access to Law at JCP's Direction, But Much Work Remains, by Daniel Schuman, The Sunlight Foundation (Feb. 19, 2013).
The GPO's recent electronic publication of all legislation enacted by Congress from 1951-2009 is noteworthy for several reasons. It makes available nearly 40 years of lawmaking that wasn't previously available online from any official source, narrowing part of a much larger information gap. It meets one of three long-standing directives from Congress's Joint Committee on Printing regarding public access to important legislative information. And it has published the information in a way that provides a platform for third-party providers to cleverly make use of the information. While more work is still needed to make important legislative information available to the public, this online release is a useful step in the right direction.
From a press release from GPO:
President Obama’s State Of The Union Address Available On Gpo’s Federal Digital System
The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) makes President Barack Obama's State of the Union address available on GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys). The public can access the President’s address in the Congressional Record, which is the official publication of the U.S. Congress.
Direct link to address: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2013-02-12/html/CREC-2013-02-12-pt1-Pg...
This site is a centralized federal resource for Smart Disclosure. Here you will find hundreds of government datasets that can help enable consumer choice; apps that demonstrate the power of Smart Disclosure; challenges for app developers; and resources to learn more about Smart Disclosure.
- Consumer.Data.Gov is Live!, by Sophie Raseman and Nick Sinai, whitehouse.gov (February 11, 2013).
The Community announced today is a first-of-its-kind centralized platform containing over 400 smart disclosure data sets and resources from dozens of agencies across government. Using the Community, entrepreneurs and innovators can access free Federal data to create the consumer applications, products, and services of the future -- all in one convenient location.
The Government Printing Office has joined the social networking site Pinterest that "lets you organize and share all the beautiful things."
The GPO press release says:
The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) expands its social media presence by joining Pinterest. Connecting people through 'things' they find interesting is the founding principle of Pinterest and a natural fit with GPO's core mission of Keeping America Informed on the three branches of the Federal Government. GPO will use Pinterest to share historic photos, videos, products, and Government publications with the public. Pinterest joins GPO's other social media platforms of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Government Book Talk blog.
Link to GPO's Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/usgpo/
"GPO is constantly evolving and keeping up-to-date on public trends and the popular ways to access and share information," said Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks. "GPO's expansion of social media supports our mission of Keeping America Informed. Joining Pinterest is one more way GPO can engage the public and continue to serve as the official link between the Federal Government and public."
Gregorio Sablan (D), rep of the Northern Mariana Islands has introduced into the House H.R.429, Northern Mariana Islands Federal Depository Library Act of 2013 which would amend Section 1905 of title 44 to permit the Delegate from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to designate Federal depository libraries.