Month of August, 2010
Here's a way to spend an enjoyable lunchtime: watch Carl Malamud give his Keynote address "10 Rules for Radicals" to the WWW2010 Conference in Raleigh, NC on April 30, 2010 -- and if you've got more time, you can also watch all of the law.gov workshops over on Carl's Internet governance space at the Internet Archive! Certainly some great rules to live by!!
- Call everything "an experiment."
- When the authorities finally fire the starting gun, run as fast as you can.
- Eyeballs rule.
- When you achieve your objective, don't be afraid to turn on a dime and be nice.
- Keep asking, keep rephrasing the question until they *can* say yes.
- When you get the microphone, make sure you make your point clearly and succinctly.
- Get standing. one can criticize all one wants, but if you can document malfeasance and wrongdoing, they have to talk to you.
- Try to get the bureaucrats to threaten you (related to rule 7).
- Look for over-reaching.
- Don't be afraid to fail
As many of you know, the Government Printing Office is transcribing their historic paper shelflist into the Catalog of Government Publications (CGP). The paper shelflist was operated from 1880 to 1992. There are over 6,000 records transcribed so far.
While listening to the GPO Q&A from the Six State Virtual Conference, I learned that you can view records from the Historic Shelflist by searching the phrase "historic shelflist" in the CGP. Try it. It can be fun to specify a specific year, say 1930 or 1942.
Learn more about this project by viewing a webinar titled "The GPO Historic Shelflist Project" presented in May 2010 by Laurie Hall, that is available at the GPO OPAL Archive at http://www.opal-online.org/archivegpo.htm.
I’ve been heartened by a recent string of long-form journalism that’s been making a buzz, provoking change, and bringing attention and insight to important issues. As it happens, these pieces often draw heavily upon government information. Examples include the Washington Post’s series Top Secret America, outlining the growth of security and intelligence in a post-9/11 America; and The Runaway General, Rolling Stone’s profile of General Stanley McChrystal, which led to his firing for disparaging comments he and his aides made about the administration. In both cases, government information illuminates the exploration of current, pressing issues in the news.
I’ve often been frustrated with standard editorial practice of mentioning, but not completely citing, the particular documents referred to in newspaper articles. It masks the ubiquity of government information in our daily lives, and sets up a barrier to readers who might be interested in examining the original documents themselves (and can make it challenging for a librarian to track it down when the patron seeks assistance). For example, in The Transformer, Foreign Policy’s recent story on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, which fostered speculation that he might retire before the end of Obama’s first term, author Fred Kaplan refers to a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee early in Obama's presidency in which Gates testified. This would be findable enough, but would require more tenacity than a casual reader might muster.
The Washington Post’s recent piece, How the Minerals Management Service’s partnership with industry led to failure, is a great example of journalists harnessing the possibilities of the online environment to enhance the reading experience and access to related documents. In this long piece on the too-cozy relationship between regulators and industry, the journalists not only tell readers exactly which documents they used in their reporting, they link to highlighted, annotated full-text of primary sources used in the story, such as a memo from the Inspector General to the Secretary of the Interior on investigations of MMS employees. This supplements the story by giving the reader routes for further exploration, as well as a genealogy of the story that gives more transparency to the journalism itself.
Creating an annotated map, pointing back to the primary documents used to inform a journalist’s narrative, would be a great exercise for students studying government information, journalism, librarianship, indeed citizenship, to raise awareness of the life cycle of government information and what can happen when it is unleashed in the public square.
Tomorrow (August 28) is the anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was a defining and high-water moment for the civil rights movement and one of the greatest speeches in American history. Please take a few minutes to watch (and/or read) King's famous speech. It's a great reminder of the better angels in each of us.
As you might have noticed, I was inspired to register for a PACER account because of the presentation from the Six State Virtual Conference. Today I'd like to share my brief initial experience with PACER.
I received my password a few hours after applying for it. Today I logged into PACER and decided to look for documents related to Perry et al v. Schwarzenegger. I realize that some documents in this case are already publicly available, but I wanted something to search that I knew would be in the system.
First I clicked on the database link for the Northern District of California, since I knew the case was heard in San Francisco.
The resulting search screen offered my several choices, including searching by attorney name. I tried Theodore Olsen, knowing he was one of the attorneys. I got back two cases, but neither was Perry et al v. Schwarzenegger. I was charged $0.08. According to PACER documentation, I would have been charged $0.08 even if I had zero results.
So I did a quick Google search to learn that Perry's first name was Kristen and did a party search for Kristen Perry. I immediately got Case Number 3:09-ev-02292-VRW, better known as Perry et al v. Schwarzenegger. This also cost me $0.08, but since I got a useful result, I didn't mind.
I looked at the Case Summary ($0.08). I looked at the Case File Location ($0.08) and determined the case files might still be with Judge Walker. Then I looked at the Docket Report. There were 742 files associated with the case. PACER determined that this should be charged as 30 pages or $2.40.
Browsing through the list I decided to pull up a 10 page letter from "Voter X" which was sent to Judge Walker during the trial. This person said they feared retaliation from pro-same sex marriage forces and represented themselves as just one of the many voters who voted for Prop 8. The letter was written like a legal brief and I suspect the author was an attorney or paralegal. Viewing and downloading this letter cost me $0.80.
By now I had spent $3.52. PACER waives $10/quarter, so if I stop here, I won't be charged this quarter. But what if I wanted to look at multiple documents?. At $0.08 a page, I had 81 pages left. And if I reloaded the Docket Report a few times instead of remembering to open documents into a new browser tab, I could have only opened up a document or two before getting charged for real, because each refresh of the Docket Report would have been another $2.40/30 pages.
I started playing with PACER to see if it was worth recommending registration to those library patrons looking to retrieve federal court documents. I need to think about it some more, but at the moment my feeling is that $10.00 worth of free access doesn't go very far. And it would probably be used up quickest by the very patrons I would want to recommend it to. Folks who may want a lot of briefs and filings but who are not great searchers.
But I haven't totally made up my mind about this. What do you think? If you work in a non-court library, have you gotten patrons to register for PACER? What has been your experience?
I do suggest that librarians should register for PACER accounts and search around to see what's available. Then decide for yourselves whether to lobby Congress to free this resource so people can explore the law without watching the meter.
The Government Printing Office posted the following announcement to their FDLP-L list that seemed worth sharing:
From: Announcements from the Federal Depository Library Program On Behalf Of FDLP Listserv
Sent: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 8:50 AM
Subject: Training Sessions from the Six-State Virtual Conference Available
The six states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming recently held an online conference using the OPAL web conferencing software. Over 5 days, the Six-State Virtual Government Information Conference ran 17 different programs covering numerous topics of interest to Federal depository libraries and government information professionals.
GPO is proud to have provided technical support for this online conference and we invite the wider FDLP community to view 15 archived sessions of the conference in the OPAL Archives at their convenience at http://www.opal-online.org/archivegpo.htm.
The topics of the sessions vary greatly to cover both hot issues in depository libraries as well as training on Federal information products. Examples include: the Sunlight Foundation's address on open access, demographic and business information from the Census Bureau, tracking the usage of your online depository collection, moving to a more electronic collection, FDsys, and marketing depository collections and services, to name a few.
Be sure to visit the Web page the conference organizers developed to accompany the virtual conference. The page includes links to the PowerPoint presentations, audio clips from government information specialists, a Twitter feed, OPAL information, and more. See
In addition to the above, there is a program on using PACER, the federal courts documents system. I've got a lot to learn about PACER and this session seems like a great place to start.
We at FGI have often spoken of the need for GPO to partner with depository libraries to provide training to the wider community. We salute GPO, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming for making this conference a reality and for sharing it with the wider govinfo community.
If you attended the conference or watched the videos, we'd be interested in your impressions and comments.
On August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified giving women the right to vote and participate in the political process! Most states ratified right away; but 10 states held out. Georgia and Louisiana didn't get around to ratifying until 1970(!).
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
And in memory of that momentous occasion, don't forget to check out what libraries have to offer. You'll find lots of books, images and more at the sites below:
- Marching for the right to vote: remembering the woman suffrage parade of 1913> (part of the American Women collection at the Library of Congress)
- By Popular Demand: "Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920
- Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921
- Worldcat search for Women's suffrage (find library materials near you)
- National Archives Women's history collection
- Then and Now: Faces of Suffrage - International Museum of Women
[Thanks Debra Bowen (@CASOSvote)]
Mike Wash, CIO for the Government Printing Office, is Washington Post's Federal Player of the Week.
Also interesting, this article was jointly prepared by the Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, which strives to improve federal government performance and recognize the good, hard work of our public servants. In an environment replete with knee-jerk anti-government sentiment, such work seems especially important for enhancing the public's understanding of government professionals' work and impact. Another similar organization I follow is Understanding Government, which supports excellence in reporting of the executive branch. Of course, we need our watchdogs and gadflies to push back against government secrecy, but we also need to know when people at all levels of government are doing things well.
Several of us here at Stanford library who deal with data and/or govt information have recently received emails asking if we'd be interested in a free trial of the Pro level of subscription to the Govistics Government Spending Database built by the Center for Governmental Research (CGR). I'm a sucker for free trials, so took them up on their offer. Here's what I found -- and please take it with an FGI grain of salt ;-)
The interface is easy for quick results and high-level comparisons, but I found it lacking for any kind of in-depth scholarly pursuits -- the researchers and students I work with would most likely be interested in historic data for all counties or all municipalities in a state or region or ALL states; and they'd probably want the data exportable so they could do further analysis with a statistical package (SPSS etc) or GIS software. I also didn't find the maps or charts particularly compelling. $50/year for an individual subscription (I didn't ask about an institutional subscription) seems like too steep a price to pay when there are other *free* tools out there -- my personal favorite is Many Eyes (also check out their new project Many Bills visual bill explorer!). Many Eyes allows a person to upload datasets, share them, run a variety of visualizations (charts, graphs, maps, clouds etc), and most importantly embed those visualizations in other Web pages. Govistics doesn't do any of that.
And what about the underlying data you say? Govistics is basically US census of govts which is available for free on factfinder.census.gov (although only in PDF with no data export :-|). Many of the same variables are also available via the Census' County and City Data Book (again only PDF :-|). Govistics only offers data export with the pro version and the data only goes back to 2007.
I don't begrudge the govistics folks trying to make a quick buck on public domain data that's already available online for free (well maybe a little). Perhaps for the casual user, this service will work well. But what I'd love to see is libraries creating interfaces like this *for free*. There needs to be free tools that include access + visualization + preservation. UVA has done gotten a great start with their historical county and city data books 1944-2000(!). This is especially cool because it not only gives access to historical data back to 1944 (no visualization yet, but users can use Many Eyes!) and allows for export of data for reuse, but it provides a preservation model as well. And THAT'S why I'd love to see more libraries doing this sort of thing. This is an increasingly data driven world and it would behoove libraries to combine these kind of access/visualization services with libraries' traditional strength in long-term preservation.
--that is all.
I've been fascinated by the struggles with, and now the apparent embrace of, social media by the U.S. Armed Forces. When I first saw that the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs was tweeting, it signaled the military's shift towards strategically harnessing new media to advance the Armed Forces public affairs goals and "compete in an evolving global messaging space". And lest you assume that Admiral Mullen just tweets what he had for lunch, his social media strategy clearly outlines his goals to engage and expand audiences. (Incidentally, in addition to following who you'd expect, such as his wife and President Obama, Admiral Mullen also follows The Economist, Oprah, Thomas Friedman, Katie Couric, George Stephanopoulus, and UNHCR).
Below are a couple of examples of the military's web presence in the 21st C. network. Of course, while providing useful information for servicemembers, their families, researchers, students, and the general public, they are also public relations outlets. But in our rich information landscape, that's true of many "authoritative sources" (all the more reason for teaching critical thinking about information):
Department of Defense Social Media Hub
"Designed to help the DoD community use social media and other internet-based capabilities to share responsibly and effectively, both in official and unofficial capacities." See especially their "How To" guides, which explain the basics of various 2.0 tools, and highlights examples of how servicemembers are using social media.
Head over the the 'shows' section to browse the wide range of video and audio broadcasting available online, including "This Week in the Pentagon" and the American Forces Press service weekly podcast for military news; "Battleground", featuring historic films from past wars; and "Downrange", a newscast from Iraq and Afghanistan. On the lighter side, check out "The Grill Sergeants", a cooking show featuring top chefs in the military, and "Fit for Duty: Pilates" for a good workout.
Information as Power, U.S. Army War College
To learn more about these practices in the context of security issues, check out this electronic library of academic work by and for the U.S. Army related to information as an element of national power. You'll find publications such as "Bullets and Blogs: New Media and the Warfighter", "Information Operations as a Deterrent to Armed Conflict", and "War in the Information Age".