Next up on the BOTM podium for the month of February is Susanna Leers. Susanna is the E-research & Technology Services Librarian at Barco Law Library, University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Take it away Susanna.
Many thanks also to John Shuler, especially for starting the conversation about government documents instruction. If you haven't had a chance, please read that thread and weigh in on the conversation. Here are the threads of John's month as BOTM:
Note: This posting should not be construed as an endorsement of Barack Obama for President. - Daniel
Senator Barack Obama has made some intriguing proposals on government transparency that seemed worthy of sharing with our readers. The following proposals are taken from the 64 page pamphlet "Blueprint for Change", which is available at http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/ObamaBlueprintForChange.pdf:
(From page 4): Shine the Light on Federal Contracts, Tax Breaks and Earmarks
Create a Public “Contracts and Influence” Database: As president, Obama will create a “contracts and influence” database that will disclose how much federal contractors spend on lobbying, and what contracts they are getting and how well they complete them.
Expose Special Interest Tax Breaks to Public Scrutiny: Barack Obama will ensure that any tax breaks for corporate recipients – or tax earmarks – are also publicly available on the Internet in an easily searchable format.
End Abuse of No-Bid Contracts: Barack Obama will end abuse of no-bid contracts by requiring that nearly all contract orders over $25,000 be competitively awarded.
Sunlight Before Signing: Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them. As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.
Shine Light on Earmarks and Pork Barrel Spending: Obama’s Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act will shed light on all earmarks by disclosing the name of the legislator who asked for each earmark, along with a written justification, 72 hours before they can be approved by the full Senate.
Bring Americans Back into their Government
Hold 21st Century Fireside Chats: Obama will bring democracy and policy directly to the people by requiring his Cabinet officials to have periodic national broadband townhall meetings to discuss issues before their agencies.
Make White House Communications Public: Obama will amend executive orders to ensure that communications about regulatory policymaking between persons outside government and all White House staff are disclosed to the public.
Conduct Regulatory Agency Business in Public: Obama will require his appointees who lead the executive branch departments and rulemaking agencies to conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can watch these debates in person or on the Internet.
Release Presidential Records: Obama will nullify the Bush attempts to make the timely release of presidential records more difficult.
These all seem like worthy goals we hope that any eventual President will embrace.
Please share what you know about other candidate's stands on transparency issues. There is some information from an August 2007 Reason Magazine article suggesting that Obama and Ron Paul were two of the strongest candidate advocates for greater transparency, but perhaps more have made proposals by now.
The February 4, 2008 issue of Government Computer News carries an interesting interview:
Molly O'Neill | EPA the Web 2.0 way
GCN Interview By Joab Jackson
The article talks about some of the EPA's experiments with web 2.0 technologies including wikis. One of the wikis arose out of the Puget Sound Information Challenge:
So we decided to use the mashup camp as our staging area for the wiki. We had a form on the wiki site that you could download, fill out and send in. We also sent up an e-mail address and a phone number.
It was a little scary because we hadn’t told anyone about this beforehand. What if no one contributed? That wasn’t a problem — we had so many people interested and providing useful information.
We had people building applications. National librarians were culling data for library resources. We had people help organize it. The interesting thing was to watch how many hits we were getting through social networking. People took my e-mail and sent it to other people, who sent it off to even more people. We had a blog from Germany weigh in. We had over 17,000 page views and 175 good contributions.
We learned a lot, and we delivered something as well — in fact, several of us are going to Seattle to meet with the council to talk about these tools. They have to write a strategic plan, so maybe they could write a strategic plan with the wiki online. Instead of spending months trying to gather data, they could do it a lot faster using social networking.
Wikis are interesting animals as government documents. While they are very changable, wikis carry their own version control. Think about what implications that might have if you think a wiki is worth saving for preservation. Would you try to copy every version? Take a snapshot once a month? Or decide it was ephemera you didn't need? We'd like to know what you think. If you'd like to see EPA's Puget Sound wiki for yourself, please visit http://pugetsound.epageo.org/.
As a tool for quickly gathering community input, I think EPA is onto something. Especially if most contributers are identified. It would become easier to distinguish special interest group input from regular community input. Or at least the potential is there.
Aside from the wiki, the interview has a great insight from Ms. O'Neill that I think has relevancy to the library community. She is asked "Why do you think federal agencies have such a hard time disseminating information on the Web? " and the last part of her answer is:
But the third reason is that we tend to organize data in a way that it makes sense to us. Although this is changing a little bit now, at EPA we still primarily organize our data by how we are organized as an agency. People outside the agency don’t think of things that way. They get frustrated because they want all the information about a subject, like climate change or environmental indicators. So where do they go? We’re doing a lot to improve search on our site. When you do a search on the main page, it will give you folder options. When you type in “waste water,” it will organize by folder topics like stormwater or industrial effluent.
This is both warning and opportunity for libraries. The warning is that we also tend to organize data in a way that makes sense to us in databases (catalogs) that make sense to us but not to users. But the good news is that one of the ways we organize materials is by subject. And documents librarians are very good about searching across agency boundaries for materials. It's one of the many ways we add value to government information.
Here's some great news for those of you who have not heard: the UN Treaty Series Collection online can now be accessed without subscription! That's right ... "Every treaty and every international agreement entered into by any Member of the United Nations" is now available for free.
The United Nations Treaty Series is a collection of treaties and international agreements that have been registered (or filed and recorded) with and published by the Secretariat of the United Nations since 1946, pursuant to Article 102 of the Charter. The UNTS includes the texts of treaties in their authentic language(s), along with translations into English and French, as appropriate.
The collection currently contains over 158,000 treaties and related subsequent actions which have been published in hard copy in over 2,200 volumes. Currently, the UNTS is being enhanced to include the latest desktop published volumes.
- There is a good article in Searcher Magazine that documents specialists and other interested in public domain materials should read:
- Title: 'Copyfraud' and Public Domain Works.
- Author: Ebbinghouse, Carol
- Source: Searcher; Jan2008, Vol. 16 Issue 1, p40-52, 9p
- Ms. Ebbinghouse does a good job of explaining how some try to usurp the public domain through fraudulent notices and/or slight alterations of materials. Her opening gives a good flavor of what's to come:
You find a PDF version of the Federalist Papers on the internet that is just what you need, but it carries a copyright date of 2001. Now that's odd, considering that the last Federalist paper was written and published in 1788. Cautious, you find an ASCII text version, but it has a copyright date of 1999. Can you download this one? Does the fact that one is an image and the other plain text make any difference? And how the heck does anything written in the 18th century end up with post-1923 copyright dates?
Can someone legitimately move public domain text into copyright? What about when you go to an archive, only to find open source and nonpublic domain titles mixed in with public domain items, but the archive seems to put restrictions on your subsequent use of everything (no copying without permission; no commercial re-use, etc.)?
- What leads some vendors to attempt to convince people that public domain materials are really under copyright? In part, because there's little legal cost to doing so, According to Ms. Ebbinghouse:
- As Jason Mazzone points out, "Copyright law suffers from a basic defect: The law's strong protections for copyrights are not balanced by explicit protections for the public domain. Accordingly, copyright law itself creates strong incentives for copyfraud. The limited penalties for copyfraud under the Copyright Act, coupled with weak enforcement … give publishers an incentive to claim ownership, however spurious, in everything. Although falsely claiming copyright is technically a criminal offense under the Act [17 U.S.C. §506(c)] prosecutions are extremely rare. Moreover, the Copyright Act provides no civil penalty for claiming copyrights in public domain materials. … [and] no federal agency is specially charged with safeguarding the public domain."
- Reading this paragraph gives rise to an interesting idea. What if there were substantial fines for removing works from the public domain and the fines were used to run an orphan copyright registry that people could use without fear of prosecution. What if the American Library Association could get together with large foundations and start suing corporations for violations of the public domain? Would it lead to a world where if you weren't certain of a work's, you presumed it was public domain for fear of the consequences of an illegal claim of copyright? We could live with that.
- Waking up from that daydream, I want edto point out this articles to readers of FGI because so much government information is both public domain and often repackaged as being in copyright. And occaisionally like the first edition of the Iraq Study Group report, government documents have copyrighted materials embeded into them. Ms. Ebbinghouse's article can help you navigate these difficult issues and help you deal with the copyfrauds out there.
Some of you may remember that we've been interested in visualization tools like tag cloud generating services (i.e., Tag Crowd). We haven't done one of these for a while, but watching tonight's State of the Union address, I thought it'd be interesting to visualize that text (courtesy of the NY Times). Let us know what you think.
Seeing two news reports so close together got me thinking about the eternal connections (perhaps affinities is a better word) between government information and urban development. It strikes me that the myriad issues of information haves and have nots extends not only in terms of economics, but also in terms of population density. In other words, for the great many of the poor around the world live in essentially dense urban wastelands with little access to services or facilities that are quite commonplace in most developed cities. In America, this discussion often plays out along rural versus city lines, but even in most cities, there are still tens of thousands of people equally isolated from much of the broadbend and robust aspects of the web many middle-income families take for granted at home, work, and in school.
A recent UN report shows that the issue of housing and the poor is only going to become more difficult. World’s Cities Report 2006/7 points out that it --
"...comes at a time when the world is entering a historic urban transition; in 2007, for the first time in history, the world’s urban population will exceed the rural population. Most of the world’s urban growth – 95 per cent – in the next two decades will be absorbed by cities of the developing world, which are least equipped to deal with rapid urbanization. The majority of migrants will be moving to small towns and cities of less than one million inhabitants. Already, more than half of the world’s urban population lives in cities of fewer than 500,000 inhabitants, and almost one-fifth lives in cities of between 1 and 5 million inhabitants."
At the same, from another source, zdnet, is mention of an initiative called the Open Architecture Network (http://www.openarchitecturenetwork.org) a program designed to use open source software to facilitate more affordable housing.
Strikes me that these reports are just further indication that the importance of other kinds of public information (state, local, international, regional, non-profit) will likely dominate in our near futures.
A good overview of the need for open availability of government information and the current status of making Thomas more open:
- Lawmakers Favor Outside Access To Legislative Data, by Aliya Sternstein, National Journal's Technology Daily, January 23, 2008 PM edition [subscription required] [The article is available without a subcription here and here ]
The legislative process could become a lot more exciting if lawmakers get their way in freeing the data inside the Library of Congress' legislative Internet database so that independent Web sites can repackage the information....
The data is important because no single view into the workings of Congress is best for everyone...
But the change likely would affect paid-subscription sites that charge for legislative updates. Their "business model will need to evolve to compete with citizen technologists," Sunlight Foundation Program Director John Wonderlich said.
There also may be resistance from congressional administrators, who "are often wary of taking on new departmental responsibilities if they are not accompanied by statutory justification or appropriations," Wonderlich said.
US censors Arctic scientists' findings as it prepares for oil and gas auction, By Daniel Howden, The Independent, January 22, 2008.
The United States has blocked the release of a landmark assessment of oil and gas activity in the Arctic as it prepares to sell off exploration licences for the frozen Chukchi Sea off Alaska, one of the last intact habitats of the polar bear.
Scientists at the release of the censored report in Norway said there was "huge frustration" that the US had derailed a science-based effort to manage the race for the vast energy reserves of the Arctic.
The long-awaited assessment was meant to bring together work by scientists in all eight Arctic nations to give an up-to-date picture of oil and gas exploitation in the high north. In addition to that it was supposed to give policy makers a clear set of recommendations on how to extract safely what are thought to be up to one quarter of the world's energy reserves.
Speaking yesterday from Tromso, one of the report's lead authors, who asked not to be named, said: "They [the US] have blocked it. We have no executive summary and no plain language conclusions."...
This seems to be a week of stories about the need for better broadband access in the United States. Yesterday, we noted the new report from the state of California. Today, we find a story in The Economist and a new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
- Open up those highways, From The Economist print edition, Jan 17th 2008.
- Municipal Broadband: Demystifying Wireless and Fiber-Optic Options, by Christopher Mitchell. (See also: press release.)
From The Economist:
What accounts for the differences among rich countries? Two or three years ago demography was often cited: small, densely populated countries were easier to wire up than big, sparsely inhabited ones. But the leaders in broadband usage include Canada, where a tiny population is spread over a vast area. The best explanation, in fact, is that broadband thrives on a mix of competition and active regulation, to ensure an open contest.
From the ILSR press release:
The United States, creator of the Internet, increasingly lags in high-speed access to it. In the absence of a national broadband strategy, hundreds of communities have invested in broadband infrastructure to solve their problem locally. A new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) explores this essential infrastructure and the options now available to communities.
The ILSR Report contends that DSL and cable networks fail to offer the speeds and capacity necessary for the digital future.
"As broadband has gone from convenience to necessity, communities can no longer rely on private providers to satisfy their broadband needs," explains Christopher Mitchell, author of the study and Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative for ILSR.