Month of December, 2008
If you have a question for President-Elect Obama on the subjects of transparency or government information, the next few days are your chance to ask him directly. Or support your favorite open-government organization.
Change.gov has opened Round Two of Open for Questions where registered users get to ask questions and/or rate the questions of others. The first round only lasted a few days and so might this round.
So get moving! And if you see good questions or ask some of your own on government information policy, please leave a comment so like-minded people can follow you.
The Diverse and Exploding Digital Universe: An Updated Forecast of Worldwide Information Growth Through 2011, An IDC White Paper - sponsored by EMC, John F. Gantz, Project Director, March 2008.
This report estimates the dimensions of the digital information explosion. With figures like 281 billion gigabytes (the size of the "digital universe" in 2007, which is a million times the amount of digital data hosted by the Library of Congress in 2008 -- see Berman, Francine. Got data?: a guide to data preservation in the information age. Commun. ACM 51, no. 12 (2008): 50-56) and estimates like "By 2011, the digital universe will be 10 times the size it was in 2006" the report has sobering implications for digital preservation. In fact, it notes that:
As forecast, the amount of information created, captured, or replicated exceeded available storage for the first time in 2007. Not all information created and transmitted gets stored, but by 2011, almost half of the digital universe will not have a permanent home.
Comparison of Legislative Resources on GPO Access and Selected Government and Non-Government Web SitesSubmitted by jajacobs on Sun, 2008-12-28 15:55.
GPO has a new version of its Comparison of Legislative Resources on GPO Access and Selected Government and Non-Government Web Sites (October 2008). It has separate files with tables showing the 34 GPO Access legislative
resources studied and the scope of each of eight Web sites examined. (Scope of GPO Access and Government Web Sites and Scope of GPO Access and Non-Government Web Sites.
The study finds that GPO Access contains a unique mix of online legislative resources not duplicated in total at other sites. ("No Government or Non- Government Web site, other than GPO Access, contains Economic Indicators, Independent Counsel Investigations, State of the Union, United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions (Plum Book), and the United States Government Printing Office Style Manual.")
But, "In terms of scope of the legislative resources it provides, GPO Access is behind the other Web sites evaluated. Many of the other sites either contain historical content on their service or link to external sites with historical information, whereas GPO Access possesses current information that generally begins in the mid-1990s."
The last study (2003) and previous studies are still available at http://fedbbs.access.gpo.gov/library/compare/.
The New York Times reports today on the problems the National Archives faces in acquiring, organizing, managing, preserving and making available the records of the Bush White House.
- Bush Data Threatens to Overload Archives, By Robert Pear And Scott Shane, New York Times, December 27, 2008.
The National Archives has put into effect an emergency plan to handle electronic records from the Bush White House amid growing doubts about whether its new $144 million computer system can cope with the vast quantities of digital data it will receive when President Bush leaves office on Jan. 20.
Among the problems NARA faces? Volume: NARA anticipates getting 100 terabytes of data 50 times the what they got from the Clinton White House. This is the equivalent of five times the contents of all 20 million catalogued books in the Library of Congress.
Cooperation: "Millions of White House e-mail messages created from 2003 to 2005 appear to be missing and may not be recoverable. And in September 2007, the top lawyer at the National Archives wrote in a memorandum that he had 'made almost zero progress' planning the transition because the White House had ignored repeated requests for information about the volume and formats of electronic records." In addition, Vice-President Cheney's lawyers claimed in a court filing that neither NARA nor the court "may supervise the vice president or his office" for compliance with the Presidential Records Act.
Formats: NARA says that there are a large numbers of White House records created with proprietary commercial software.
Access: Paul Brachfeld, the archives' inspector general, said "The electronic records archives system may be able to take in a tremendous amount of e-mail and other records.... But just because you ingest the data does not mean that people can locate, identify, recover and use the records they need."
In his continuing series about Government Information Liberation, John Shuler considers the role of collections in libraries. One particularly revealing moment in his discussion is his day 60 post in which he describes a series of questions that he poses to his graduate students to get at the "fundamental things we do."
The Question and Conclusions
Can doctor still be a doctor without a hospital? They usually answer -- of course. Can you be a lawyer with out a courthouse? Again -- affirmative. Now the money shot -- Can you be a librarian without a library? Dead silence.
One would hope that the questions prompt a discussion and don't just end in "dead silence." Although John doesn't tell us what the discussion, if any, was, he does give us his conclusions: possession of "material" might have once been central to the purpose of libraries but, in the digital age, possession is much less important part of what libraries do.
Even though John qualifies his conclusions to allow for some limited role of collections for some libraries, he overwhelms his caveats with assertions that collections begin and end with the physical ownership of "material" and that "we will not own (possess) much of the material." He even coins the phrase "Gutenberg Librarians" to deprecate "possession and/or control" (66) of information by libraries.
So, John's essential, bottom-line conclusion, regardless of his caveats, comes across clearly: The net, John says, has brought on "the beginning of the end" of library collections (35).
I think his conclusion is wrong and the question he asks is misleading. You can see how misleading the question is by turning it around and realizing that the professions/institutions he uses are not parallel:
- Do doctors build hospitals? (No)
- Do lawyers build courthouses? (No)
- Do librarians build libraries? (Yes)
But the real problem is that the question implies a shared understanding of what a library is -- a shared understanding that I think we need to articulate explicitly. I think that, before one asks "Can you be a librarian without a library?" one should ask "What is the role of the library is in the digital age?" John has been outlining what he thinks the role of librarians should be and he apparently wants to separate the role of librarians from the role of libraries. Very well: let's examine the roles of both with some discussion, not dead silence.
I think John is implying is his series of posts that librarianship in the digital age will be about helping people navigate a complex, networked maze of shifting, changing information. Librarians will help users "connect the dots" and find connections that are not otherwise explicit (47). While there is nothing wrong with this view, and there is much to recommend it, it doesn't go far enough and it misses a key role for libraries.
As John portrays it, this view accepts that libraries will be less about selecting and preserving information and building digital collections and more about providing services for information over which librarians have no control. Librarians, in this view, are valuable precisely because they have no control over information.
This view accepts that information will be tightly controlled by producers and distributors. What is available, who can use it, under what conditions it may be used, and when it becomes no longer available will all be controlled by government agencies, publishers, individuals, organizations, and other "content" producers.
John also proposes that "librarianship" will be more important than "libraries." To me, this sounds like librarians will be analogous to travel agents who, because they deal every day with the complex, difficult, disparate, unconnected systems, are better able than the traveller to navigate these systems and find the best flight at the best price. So librarians, in this view, will help casual information users navigate a variety of complex, difficult, disparate, unconnected, public-freely-available and proprietary-and-licensed information systems. Just as travel agents have no control over what flights or trips are available or what they cost or what restrictions are placed on them, so librarians will have no control over what information is available or what it costs or what restrictions are placed on its use.
In this view, librarians will not manage collections but will license the right to read from those who control information. Whether the license comes in the form of payment of dollars to a commercial vendor and a written contract that licenses access, or an FDLP designation, or a contractual "partnership" with GPO, or the anointing of permission by Google Books legal department, the result is the same. As a recent article in Library Hi Tech says, "In future, librarians will no longer manage media, they will manage rights" (Böhner, Dörte. Digital rights description as part of digital rights management: a challenge for libraries. Library Hi Tech 26, no. 4 (2008): 598-605). This view reshapes the role of librarians from information providers to information gatekeepers; from information curators to business-officers who sign contracts and pay bills.
Who would want to go into that field?
John hasn't said much about the role of libraries except to assert that, for many people, the digital environment is now the "default library" [emphasis added] that supports broad access to a "collection" of government information (51).
But, shouldn't we be asking about the future, not just describing the present?
Shouldn't we be asking about the relationships between doctors and lawyers and information? Certainly doctors and lawyers need a body of literature to practice their professions. Instead of asserting that users have access today, shouldn't we be asking, "Who will build and manage and preserve those collections and ensure long-term, free access to them?"
Shouldn't we be asking what guarantees we have that the information we want today will be available if we want it tomorrow? Shouldn't we be asking who controls access to that information and what are their reasons for providing access? Shouldn't we be asking who will pay for long-term preservation and access?
Just because users who are not familiar with information policy, information economics, or information technologies are happy with current access to information does not mean that they will be happy with the access (or lack of it!) tomorrow or in ten years or a hundred years. Providing easy access at one point in time does not guarantee easy access at a future point in time and can actually mask problems of long-term access.
It is one of the roles of librarians to think beyond today and one of the roles of libraries to guarantee access for tomorrow. We need to think about the long-term. Using short-term convenience as a reason for avoiding that kind of thought is evading one of the key roles of librarianship. And assuming that producers and distributors will have the same values and ethics and practices as librarians is to confuse the role of producers with the role of currators.
Maybe the real questions we should be asking are:
- Can lawyers practice without libraries?
- Can doctors practice without libraries?
- Can libraries exist without librarians?
The word "library" does not mean "I have some information." If it did, bookstores would be libraries and publishers would be librarians. We need libraries in addition to publishers and bookstores (and government agencies that distribute information as a by-product of another, primary, mission).
It is all about control
Let's be clear, then. Even in the paper and ink world, libraries and their collections were about wresting control of information from producers and distributors and granting control to local communities and information users. A publisher could take a book out of print, but a library could keep it available. A user could purchase a book and pay for magazine subscriptions, but could use the information for free at the library. Libraries leveraged economies of scale for the benefit of the community, enabling every community member to have benefits of access to information that no individual could possibly afford.
The need for wresting control of information away from those who wish to control the access to and the use of information has not changed in the digital world. But the battle lines have shifted and we need librarians in the fight to keep free, open, usable access.
"Content providers" want to replace copyright with license agreements. Producers want to charge for every single use and dictate who can use information, under what conditions, and in what way. Governments want to be able to alter and even withdraw information after it has been released. And the proliferation of requirements to register to read or use information portends a world in which people will not have the right of privacy when reading.
It is ironic that, given technologies that enable almost unlimited use and re-use of information and that enable information to be distributed and used and re-used almost without cost, we face a horde of stakeholders who want to limit access, charge for every use, restrict re-use, and look over your shoulder to see what you're reading.
More inaccurate conclusions
As noted above, John hedges his conclusion a bit. His wording is that "possession is much less exclusive or destiny for any one institution" and preserving and organizing the information sources "will remain important -- but is no longer our exclusive responsibility" (66). He expands on that idea:
- [G]overnments are taking back their possession of information sources. (60)
- [M]any other web sites [are] capturing the lost or deleted pages. (60)
And from these, he draws conclusions:
- [Information will] remain with the producers or be delivered directly to the users by the producers. (50)
- [W]e will not own (possess) much of the material we mediate on behalf of our user communities. (51)
- Possession ... is no longer a social good that is dominated [by] the dominion of libraries. (60)
To me, these summarize one possible scenario out of many. And, IMHO, this scenario is not one librarians should be content to accept or embrace. Why? Because it almost certainly guarantees that a lot of bad things will happen: loss of access, loss of free access, licensing constraints, DRM constraints, loss of information, loss of usability of information, and more.
Different Questions, A Different Answers
In a separate post, I will examine those issues in more detail, but I'll close this post with some assumptions and a couple of final rhetorical questions as a way of addressing John's question, "Can you be a librarian without a library?" The assumptions:
Society needs: organizations that select that information that deserves preserving from the plethora of information that surrounds us; organizations that then acquire, organize, and preserve that information; organizations that provide trusted, free, private, secure access to and service for that information.
Society needs organizations that have the complete mix of all of these roles as their primary mission (not a secondary mission or a by-product of publishing, or dissemination, or making money). In the case of government information in a participatory democracy it is particularly important, even essential, that society has such organizations.
Reliance on those who have some, but not all, of these roles will ensure that some of these roles will go unfulfilled. Reliance on organizations that have some or all of these roles as a secondary mission or by-product of another mission will endanger free access to information, preservation and integrity of information, and the privacy of readers, and will increase the risk of the loss of information.
The rhetorical questions:
- What would you call an organization that fulfills all the roles listed above but "The Library"?
- Why would libraries want to abandon these roles to organizations that do not have these roles as their primary mission?
- If libraries do abandon these roles, what is the risk that society will lose free, open, access to its essential information?
I think those questions lead us to conclusions that are very different from the the ones John reaches. I will examine this in more detail in another post.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently identified Care for Service Members as one of 13 urgent issues facing the next President and Congress. The page on care for service members explains why this is an urgent issue:
As of October 2008, over 33,000 servicemembers have been wounded in action, resulting in serious injuries such as amputations, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We have identified a number of weaknesses with the health care returning servicemembers are receiving as well as the complex and cumbersome disability systems they must navigate.
Today on Guide of the Week, we'll talk about some librarian produced guides from the ALA GODORT Exchange Wiki that can help inform citizens, Congress and President-Elect Obama on this issue.
Although there is no guide currently on the wiki that focuses exclusively on Veterans Care, here are three guides that should provide helpful information to people studying this issue:
- Budget (Bert Chapman, Purdue University, 2001) Last updated 3/10/2008
- Government Documents on Military History (Bert Chapman, Purdue University, 1999) Last updated 3/10/2008.
- Chemical and Biological Disarmament (Grace York, University of Michigan, 2000) Last updated 1/9/2005
Bert Chapman's Budget guide provides a link to the Veterans Affairs budget page as well as to resources about the federal budget process. His guide on military history provides links and catalog information regarding the House and Senate veterans affairs committees.
Finally, Grace York's guide provides resources on Gulf War Syndrome, the now officially documented disease and example of how difficult it can be to get appropriate care for our veterans.
Next week I'll be dealing with librarian produced guides relating to "preparing for public health emergencies." So if you have any guides relating to that topic, please try and post them to the Handout Exchange this week.
I and I'm sure others would be grateful if you posted any current Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) guides you have laying about.
I joined FriendFeed on Christmas Day and I've already started wondering how it could be used to promote government resources.
One of the things that FriendFeed lets you do is to create "rooms" where items of interest can be shared in various ways, including imported RSS feeds.
So I have built a room I called Talk Back to Uncle Sam. The room takes feeds from Regulations.gov and gov't blogs that accept comments from citizens.
Please have a look at the room at http://friendfeed.com/rooms/talk-back-to-uncle-sam and share items that you find interesting. If you are a FriendFeed subscriber, please consider telling others about the room.
And if you're a fellow documents geek, please consider joining me at FriendFeed. I'm using the handle alaskanlibrarian there.
If you like Twitter, I think you'll enjoy FriendFeed.
Have you been puzzled by these three terms? Do you understand them, but need to explain them to non-technical colleagues? Here is a nice article that explains cloud computing, virtualization, and Torrents in easy to understand language. The article describes these as "Profound movements in computer and Internet use."
Trends for 2009: Cloud Computing, Virtualization and BitTorrent, by Jack Dunning, ComputorEdge Online, (12/26/08).
I particularly like the illustration of how BitTorrent works from Wikipedia.
Miller Center Offers Nixon/Deep Throat Tapes, Transcripts, Expert, NewsWise, University of Virginia, Press Release: Fri 19-Dec-2008.
The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia has a repository of presidential tapes and transcripts featuring Nixon and Haldeman discussing Mark Felt.
The Presidential Recordings Program (http://millercenter.org/academic/presidentialrecordings) at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs (http://www.millercenter.org) has a spectacular Watergate collection of Nixon tapes and transcripts online:
In particular, there's this Oct. 19, 1972 conversation between Nixon and Robert Haldeman, in which Haldeman reports that he's heard from a confidential source that Mark Felt is leaking information to the news media about the FBI's investigation into the Watergate break-in:
Nixon also mentions Felt in the June 23, 1972 "Smoking Gun" conversation with Haldeman:
PRP scholar Ken Hughes puts the Nixon tapes in perspective in an online essay, Why Didn't Nixon Burn the Tapes? -- which also includes tapes and transcripts of Nixon-Haldeman conversations.
Also feel free to use these tapes and transcripts in your stories and online exhibits, and to link to the transcripts....
Bush E-Mails May Be Secret a Bit Longer, by R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, December 21, 2008; A01.
Legal Battles, Technical Difficulties Delay Required Transfer to Archives...
The required transfer in four weeks of all of the Bush White House's electronic mail messages and documents to the National Archives has been imperiled by a combination of technical glitches, lawsuits and lagging computer forensic work, according to government officials, historians and lawyers.
...The risks that the transfer may be incomplete are also pointed up by a continuing legal battle between a coalition of historians and nonprofit groups over access to Vice President Cheney's records. The coalition is contesting the administration's assertion in federal court this month that he "alone may determine what constitutes vice presidential records or personal records" and "how his records will be created, maintained, managed, and disposed," without outside challenge or judicial review.
...The National Archives and Records Administration is supposed to help monitor the completeness of the historical record but has no enforcement powers over White House records management practices.