Last night, Daniel Cornwall and James R. Jacobs were honored to be on hand to receive the 2015 GODORT “Documents to the People (DttP)” award for Free Government Information.
Free Government Information has been chosen as the recipient of the 2015 ProQuest/GODORT/ALA “Documents to the People” Award. This award is a tribute to an individual, library, institution, or other non-commercial group that has most effectively encouraged the use of government documents in support of library service. FGI epitomizes the spirit of the DttP Award by creating an open, public dialogue and building a diverse community. By moving the conversation to more social technologies, FGI has changed the way we think about preserving access to government information. As one letter of support noted, “FGI fills a gap between the specialized and frequently technical discussions taking place on the listserv and the more public conversations that are taking place with librarians of other specializations, professionals and advocates from other disciplines and backgrounds, and even the wider public.” The DttP Award recognizes the work of the many FGI volunteers who, for ten years, have dedicated themselves to advocating for permanent no-fee public access to government information.
FGI volunteers shown here (clockwise from upper left) Daniel Cornwall, Jim Jacobs, James Jacobs, Shinjoung Yeo, Rebecca Stockbridge, James Staub.
We were given the opportunity to say a few words, so thought we’d share our statement in its entirety below. We were so surprised and honored to receive this award. It’s a good feeling that 11 years of work with FGI have had some positive effect on the Documents community. Thanks!
11 years ago this october, Jim Jacobs, James Jacobs, Shinjoung Yeo and an unnamed person who wishes to remain anonymous were having dinner. We were discussing the future of govtinfo and brainstorming about how to change the conversation in the community. We had begun to notice some disturbing trends.
Under the pervasive myth that the new digital enviroment transcended and rendered moot the roles of libraries in access to govinfo, some libraries had begun questioning and dismantling the very fibers of the FDLP and public access to govt information by abandoning their traditional govinfo roles and repurposing their documents experts billets. To challenge the myth and to engage in a broader dialogue with both the wider library community as well as other stakeholder communities, the three of us had just written an article in Journal of Academic Librarianship about the once and future FDLP, in response to the trends we were seeing. We were really trying to push back against what we saw as libraries’ complicity in the erosion of the FDLP and public access to govt information.
I wish we could say that we’ve accomplished our goals and moved on to other projects. However, after 11 years, we’re still fighting for these same issues, dispelling the myths of what communication scholar Vincent mosco called the “digital sublime:” the almost religious fervor that technology would magically deliver democracy to the masses and that libraries no longer needed to work at collecting, describing, giving access to, and preserving govt info but could simply rely on GPO, commercial vendors and others besides libraries.
After that evening of discussion, FGI was born and the blog was started soon after. We quickly doubled our “staff” when Daniel Cornwall, Rebecca Troy Horton and James Staub joined us.
The bad news is that we are still facing tremendous challanges and tasks as the issues surrounding gov info become ever more complicated. The good news is that you all still have plenty of opportunities to participate to assure publicly controlled long-term access to govinfo.
We may have charred a few bridges over the years, but if this award is any testiment, we’ve also made a lot of friends and comrades to the cause of freegovinfo and for that we thank you!
Like James, I’m very grateful that GODORT has honored FGI on the past decade’s worth of work. This is a good time to look ahead to the next ten years. We believe that the work of maintaining a system of permanently accessible government information at no cost to the user will require an active partnership among libraries and other non-profit institutions of good will. Otherwise, only that which has tangible market value will be preserved, with access at a price.
What can you do to help ensure a positive future in government information? Some things we think are in the reach of libraries and other non profits are:
– Advocating for users. Being user centric is more than throwing a user icon on the center of a chart. How do your users look at government information? What are they missing if they’re not? Help put the right information in front of the right people.
- Participate in finding/reporting fugitive documents. Host the stuff you find on your own servers or through an archiving service.
- Think about joining the LOCKSS-USDOCS group that is currently the only archive of FDSys outside Federal hands.
- Build local digital collections under your administrative control. Pointing is not maintaining access. We learned this during the last government shutdown.
- Work with other librarians in your state to plan for how you’ll serve up federal information for when the next government shutdown happens. Let’s not be taken by surprise again.
If we’re willing to pull together and do what we can, the next ten years will look bright for government information. Thank you.