The Morris library in the McLafferty Annex library at Southern Illinois University Carbondale celebrated 75 years as a Federal Depository Library this past week. The Southern Illinoisan newspaper celebrated this occaision with an article titled Morris Library Recognized for Participation in Federal Program. The article featured a photo of documents librarian Jian Anna Xiong.
What I liked was that Ms. Xiong was able to get the paper to mention a number of highlights of the collection:
There are correspondences from Abraham Lincoln, volumes from the U.S. Bureau of Entomology and CIA reports on the Cuban Missile Crisis. According to library officials, much of the history of the federal government from 1789 to present day is available for viewing.
Government Information Librarian Jian Anna Xiong said the depository offers information on almost every imaginable aspect of the federal government.
"There are 400,000 documents on paper and about 900,000 on microfiche," she said. "It's almost every area of American history: political science, race issues, slavery, taxes, health."
Happy Anniversary! And good work in getting your local media to notice the anniversary and to talk about your collection!
As a demonstration of things that can be done with ALA GODORT's 50-State Database Registry I have created a page listing sites of state prisoner locator tools at: http://wikis.ala.org/godort/index.php/Prisoner_Locator_Tools.
So far it looks like nine states have such sites. If you see a state that's missing, let me know or if you have patrons that need to find folks in state prisons, suggest this site to them.
Is there a subject focused page involving state databases you'd like to create? Register with the ALA GODORT Wiki and get started. Or drop me a line.
There was a great post to NGC4Lib list (ngc4lib = "Next Generation Catalogs for libraries") yesterday by Joe Lucia, the University Librarian
at Villanova, entitled a "thought experiment." In it, Lucia describes how to create next generation library systems via an open source collaborative commons. WOW!, a university librarian suggesting that a bunch of libraries get together to build an open source development system?! Thanks Joe Lucia for starting this conversation. I really hope it becomes more than simply a "thought experiment." Here's one of the juicier bits:
If we look beyond money to personnel, the option looks even better. Let me suggest some numbers. What if, in the U.S., 50 ARL libraries, 20 large public libraries, 20 medium-sized academic libraries, and 20 Oberlin group libraries anted up one full-time technology position for collaborative open source development. That's 110 developers working on library applications with robust, quickly-implemented current Web technology -- not legacy stuff. There is not a company in the industry that I know of which has put that much technical effort into product development. With such a cohort of developers working in libraries on library technology needs -- and in light of the creativity and thoughtfulness evident on forums like this one -- I think we would quickly see radical change in the library technology arena. Instead of being technology followers, I venture to say that libraries might once again become leaders. Let's add to the pool some talent from beyond the U.S. -- say 20 libraries in Canada, 10 in Australia, and 10 in the U.K. put staff into the pool. We've now got 150 developers in this little start-up. Then we begin pouring our current software support funds into regional collaboratives. Within a year or two, we could be re-directing 10s of millions of dollars into regional technology development partnerships sponsored by and housed within the regional consortia, supporting and extending the work of libraries. The potential for innovation and rapid deployment of new tools boggles the mind. The resources at our disposal in this scenario dwarf what any software vendor in our small application space is ever going to support. And, as is implicit in all I've said, the NGC is just the tip of the iceberg.
[Thanks OSS4lib list!]
None of us can keep track of everything by ourselves. It takes a community to maintain vigilence about creeping secrecy. So a HUGE tip of the FGI hat to Ian Campbell of The Gov Doc for bringing this item about an effort to gnaw at the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) via the federal farm bill, of all things:
If you toil in the fields of government information, you may be interested to know that an urgent campaign is underway to strike language from the Senate version of the Farm Bill which would create a substantial new FOIA exemption and severely restrict public access to important information about farm animal health under a National Animal Identification System (NAIS).
OpenTheGovernment.org has written a letter to Senators expressing opposition to the non-disclosure language in the Senate version of the bill, and the American Library Association, Special Libraries Association, and American Association of Law Libraries are among the 28 organizations to sign on. Please see the letter at:
As the letter states, Section 10305 of the Livestock Title of the Farm Bill approved October 25 by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee gives the Secretary of Agriculture broad authority to restrict and control disclosure of NAIS information, and imposes "disproportionately harsh penalties for press activities protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution." The letter seeks to strike Section 10305 from the bill.
Thanks for the heads up Ian!
This just came through "In other news...," the FGI news aggregator. Mike Wash on Federal News Radio - On October 25, Mike Wash, Chief Information Officer for the Government Printing Office (GPO), discussed FDsys and the information technology challenges facing GPO on Federal News Radio. To get a better understanding of FDsys listen to the program online. Let us know what you think.
Know a deserving government documents librarian doing good work to further the profession? Then you'll want nominate them for a Movers&Shakers award. Marylaine Block, writer and internet librarian, has asked me to forward this announcement far and wide regarding nominations for this year's Library Journal Movers&Shakers award. If you know someone deserving of this honor, please consider nominating them. And if you happen to have already submitted a nomination, please go back to the form (link below) and resubmit it because LJ had a little technical snafu and lost all submissions done before November 5. Marylaine tells me that the deadline has been extended to November 28.
Once again I am the primary writer for Library Journal's Movers and Shakers issue, and we are now soliciting nominations for this honor. Could you help spread the word to both govdocs librarians and radical librarians? Here's the announcement:
It's time once again for nominations for Library Journal's Movers and Shakers issue. This supplement to the March 15, 2008 issue will profile "50-plus up-and-coming individuals from across the United States and Canada who are innovative, creative, and making a difference" in the profession.
If you've ever wondered, "Why aren't they profiling more [fill in the blank: sci-tech librarians, archivists, library consortium staff, independent information professionals, library marketing staff, local history librarians, library consultants or vendors, library program directors, or whatever your own specialization is"], keep in mind that we can only write about people who get nominated in the first place!
As most of you that work in academia may know, the Fall quarter/semester is often the busiest of the academic year. The incoming freshmen need lots of help getting their way around campus and the library. They are often overwhelmed by everything they see around them. Then there are the requests to do a workshop for their program/course, the training of new students workers and welcoming back the returning student workers. All of a sudden the library is alive again with smiling faces ending the slowness and boredom of the summer.
All the activity spurred by the first few weeks of school makes you feel like your mind is zooming at the speed of light. Usually that means setting aside certain things in order to get other things done. I tend to put things in piles (this is a trait that I have noticed in others who have been trained as historians). For some reason, I just have to put things in a pile. Of course, at some point that pile is going to topple. A while back someone gave me a copy of an article called In Praise of Cluttered Desks which made me feel much better about my unique style. I have it taped to the door of my office.
Evergreen has a unique way of doing things. Instead of separate courses, you have interdisciplinary programs where several topics are merged to create a unit. For example, a program on Mt. Rainier could possibly tackle geography, geology, anthropology, and art. You will have 2 - 3 faculty teaching the program and most programs last 2 quarters. You stay with the same students throughout those quarters. On the administrative level, the consensus form is the one that is encouraged the most. Faculty and staff meet together and everyone is included in the decision-making. Everyone has the opportunity to voice their opinions and, hopefully, come up wth solutions.
Since I am the only permanent staff in GovDocs/Maps, I depend heavily on my five student workers to help me maintain the colletion. We just had a meeting yesterday where I reminded them of some tasks that needed to be done but I also asked them if there were any challenges. Nothing of major consequence was brought up which is good but I did have to alert them to a couple of things that are quirks to our collection and due to the success of the use of a couple of webpages on our website.
The first quirk is our Coloring Books hot topics page. When the idea of this page was created a couple of years ago, I never imagined how popular it was going to be. The page has managed to find itself linked to a number of freebie message boards, homeschooling sites, and, of course, library sites. It is the number one page on our site according to our StatsCounter account. I really never imagined how popular this page would be. Well, as a result, we get phone calls from all over the country asking us to provide them with a 1,000 coloring books or 2,500 coloring books. Of course, I have to explain to them that we are not the publishers of the coloring books but that they can download them since they are already on .pdf and print them out themselves. Of course, that means, they would have to spend a lot of money to do so. Then I refer them to the agency that published the coloring book and hopefully they will receive tangible editions of the coloring books. Who would've thought it?
The second quirk has to do with our webpage on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. When the law was passed pertaining to the creation of this new cabinet-level department, I immediately created page that would trace the transfers from other departments. Not long after this page was created, we began receiving calls asking us if we were the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Mostly, they were calls for the department's phone number since at the time of their creation they didn't include a phone number on their website only an email form. I also received some calls and letters from people who wanted to report someone to DHS who may have illegal aliens hiding. Well, I managed to find the phone number by using the U.S. Government Manual. I also had to redesign the page in order to add a disclaimer at the top of the page so folks would know that we weren't DHS. Since then, the number of calls have gone down some but every once in a while we still get calls from people who think we are DHS. I have to warn my student workers of this so they don't hang up on them thinking they are crank calls. I always tell them to be attentive and find out what they really need to see if we can find the information they need.
Of course, these sort of things bring a smile to your face and makes the work environment a lot more fun. It balances out all the meetings you have to attend and figuring out what needs to get done, where to put what and a ton of other decisions that come our way.
I am really appreciative of my student workers. I don't know what I would do without them. In the almost nine years I have been working at the library, there have only been a couple that didn't quite workout well. Most of them manage to stay two or three years...until they finally graduate. So, to them, I would like to say "Thank You" (of course I make sure to tell them as often as possible). I really value their input and their hard work. Without them, I don't think I could've gotten the space arrangement of our collection for the library remodel, or gotten one of them to coordinate the shift of the collection, or have another one help create a gov. docs. display that was on a window at the college's student union.
We can learn so much from each other. Our varied experiences gives us an opportunity to learn from each other and, hopefully, in the process create better service fo our patrons and an opportunity to grow professionally. I would consider myself a failure if my student workers left my tutelage without learning anything new in the process. My wish for them is they leave me with more than what they came in.
Copyrights -- Do They Have a Future in the Internet Age?
There was a talk recently about the future of copyright (ok, October 24, 2007, 12:15 - 1:45 pm) from an economist and a writer. Click on the link above to access the audio of this panel. Their perspectives inform the overall copyright debate currently being hashed out in lots of different communities.
Copyrights have been one of the main mechanisms for financing creative and artistic work for centuries. However, the development of digital technology and the Internet has brought about growing legal and practical challenges to copyrights. This debate answered the following question: "Are copyrights still useful or should we look to alternative mechanisms to support creative and artistic work?"
With Gerard Colby, President of National Writers Union, and Dean Baker, Co-director of Center for Economic and Policy Research. Moderated by Jo Freeman, of UAW Local 1981/ AFL-CIO and Washington, DC chapter of the National Writers Union.
The White House released a "National Strategy for Information Sharing" at the end of October. It sets up "fusion centers" to share information. No, not share government information with citizens, but "terrorism data" with all levels of government and the private sector. It's mission: to "facilitate the production of Federally-coordinated terrorism information products intended for dissemination to State, local, tribal, and private sector partners." But the strategy evidently does not define "terrorism" and thus endangers civil liberties:
- Strategy refines fusion centers' role, by Ben Bain, Federal Computer Week, November 5, 2007. "An expanded scope for the centers alarms privacy groups who fear misuse of data"
A recent CRS report notes that "less than 15% of the fusion centers interviewed for this report described their mission as solely counterterrorism" and also says:
There are several risks to the fusion center concept -- including potential privacy and civil liberties violations, and the possible inability of fusion centers to demonstrate utility in the absence of future terrorist attacks, particularly during periods of relative state fiscal austerity. Fusion centers are state-created entities largely financed and staffed by the states, and there is no one "model" for how a center should be structured. State and local law enforcement and criminal intelligence seem to be at the core of many of the centers. Although many of the centers initially had purely counterterrorism goals, for numerous reasons, they have increasingly gravitated toward an all-crimes and even broader all-hazards approach. While many of the centers have prevention of attacks as a high priority, little "true fusion," or analysis of disparate data sources, identification of intelligence gaps, and pro-active collection of intelligence against those gaps which could contribute to prevention is occurring.
To me, this seems like more of what we have seen lately: a proclivity by government to want to cast a net over everyone hoping to find terrorists while labeling these surveillance activities as "terrorist surveillance" or, in this case, the sharing of "terrorism-related information." The fact is that, even if the term "terrorism" was well defined, the design of this program is to share all kinds of information -- not just "terrorism-related" information -- on all kinds of people -- not just "terrorists." This is further complicated by the government getting information that it is not permitted to collect by getting it from the private sector and possibly sharing information that the private sector would normally have no legal method of obtaining with the private sector.
In a related story, the government is continuing to fight for the right to get personal telephone, e-mail and financial records without a judge's approval (Feds fight ruling on information requests, by Larry Neumeister, Associated Press / USA TODAY,November 5, 2007).
Background On Fusion Centers
- Fact Sheet: National Strategy for Information Sharing, White House, Office of the Press Secretary, October 31, 2007. "New Strategy Builds On Progress To Establish Integrated National Capability For Terrorism-Related Information Sharing Among Federal, State, Local, And Tribal Officials, Private Sector, And Foreign Partners"
- NATIONAL STRATEGY FOR INFORMATION SHARING: Successes and Challenges In Improving Terrorism-Related Information Sharing (PDF) National Security Council October 2007
- Fusion Centers: Issues and Options for Congress, by Todd Masse, Siobhan O'Neil, and John Rollins, Congressional Research Service, Order Code RL34070, July 06, 2007
- A Summary of Fusion Centers: Core Issues and Options for Congress, by Todd Masse and John Rollins, Congressional Research Service, Order Code RL34177, September 19, 2007. "Summarizes the main points of CRS Report RL34070, Fusion Centers: Issues and Options for Congress."
A story in the Intelligencer, Wheeling News Register, Public Shut Out of Records, published November 4, 2007, details how West Virginia's public records law has not aged very well:
West Virginia’s FOIA law originally only contained eight reasons why a government agency could withhold information from the public. These exemptions mirrored several in the open meetings law, and also covered such areas as trade secrets, internal documents and “test questions, scoring keys and other examination data” used by schools and licensing agencies.
But the number of exemptions doubled in 2003 as lawmakers sought to protect “information that could be used in a terrorist act that would have a detrimental effect on public safety or public health.”
“The reaction to 9/11, and perhaps the reaction to identity theft, seem to be more of a knee-jerk reaction,” said Patrick McGinley, a West Virginia University law professor who has helped state residents pursue FOIA requests in court. “The question in those cases really ought to be, is there a compelling reason to make these things secret.”
One of the original eight exemptions shields “information specifically exempted from disclosure by statute.”
Armed with that provision, legislators have peppered other sections of state code with 68 additional exemptions, the AP’s review shows.
This commentary on West Virginia was part of a 50-state study conducted in part by the National Freedom of Information Coalition. They found sad results nationwide:
Better Government Association and National Freedom of Information Coalition give 38 out of 50 states "F" grade in overall responses to FOI requests. Read more here.
America deserves better.