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Information sharing and the National Plan

(Background here: http://freegovinfo.info/node/10285)

At the 2015 Depository Library Council meeting on October 20th, Mary Alice Baish, Superintendent of Documents, informed the depository library community that in July, GPO had formally requested permission from the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP) to allow Regionals to discard documents in tangible formats that have been retained for seven years when an authenticated, digitally signed version is available on FDsys. The response GPO received in early August approved this request, setting the additional condition that a minimum of four physical copies of each document be maintained within the FDLP, and suggesting the use of existing Census regions to ensure the geographic dispersal of these copies.

According to GPO’s presentation, the process for approving the withdrawal of tangible items at Regionals and identifying the geographically dispersed copies retained in tangible format will be conducted for the time being based on GPO’s ten existing print procurement regions. Six libraries have been identified to pilot the process, and GPO staff will work with these institutions to begin withdrawing materials in January 2016.

The presentation was webcast live and is available as a recording; the Regionals meeting later in the evening was also webcast live and is also available. Following the conference, GPO released the letter from GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks, and the reply from Congressman Gregg Harper, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Printing. No final version of the policy has been made available at this time.

It is clear that GPO has listened to the community to some extent: the presentation identifies specific GPO activities that address community concerns including seeking trusted repository certification for FDsys and prioritizing bibliographic control projects for the national collection. Still, the available documentation suggests that there has been very little information shared between GPO’s request for feedback and discussion in April 2014 and the announcement of the policy’s implementation in October 2015, other than a request for information regarding intent to discard from Regionals.

Setting aside the wisdom of identifying a minimum number of tangible copies, let alone such a low number, and also setting aside the question of how preservation and access copies will be identified and maintained, this project represents a pattern in how FDLP initiatives are discussed and documented.

At the same DLC meeting, the FIPNet update was a lively discussion of various collaborative projects undertaken by individual libraries and library consortia. The second part of the program featured a presentation from Dr. Katherine Skinner, Executive Director of the Educopia Institute, on the value of collective action, which is a key element motivating any project that must be carried out on a widely distributed basis. Both recordings are linked below.

While the variety of approaches to preserving government information is laudable, only the University of North Texas has signed a formal FIPNet partnership agreement. To the best of my knowledge, no other organization has formally announced its intent to join FIPNet yet. Anecdotally, it seems that at least some potential partners are waiting to see what a partnership would entail, prior to committing. There are two opposing forces at play: on the one hand, GPO has stated its intention to be flexible and open to partnership opportunities, which precludes providing structured articulations of what FIPNet participation entails. But the lack of documentation and specifics makes it more difficult for potential partners to identify the roles or responsibilities they wish to take. While I hope there are a substantial number of closed-door discussions between GPO and potential partners, we have no way to know.

Both FIPNet and the implementation of the Regionals discard policy are part of the National Plan. But the Plan itself is not a plan: instead, it is a strategy outlined in presentations, with a few key diagrams available in handouts and slides posted on the website. In my experience, community members are still asking each other “Where is the National Plan? What is FIPNet? Is it here yet?”

We’re all in uncharted waters here, but the community outside of the Depository Library Council (DLC) is at a particular disadvantage. It’s understandable that GPO leadership would be cautious in formal public commitment to specifics for programs that are under development, especially a program like FIPNet, which has few existing precedents. However, when the only detailed documentation for a project or initiative are recorded conference sessions, it is hard to both believe and persuade others that this is a fixed course of action for GPO.

It is vital for the depository library community to understand projects and initiatives to communicate about them with library administrations and those working outside of government documents. Still, many (and perhaps most) depository librarians are simply not sure how to explain the National Plan or FIPNet. Without a formal guiding document, anyone trying to understand these developments must wade through a maze of recorded presentations and handouts. Even clearly-labeled draft or discussion documents would be an improvement in access to this information.

I have an enormous amount of respect for all of the work that Library Services & Content Management (LSCM) does on behalf of the FDLP: this office has some of the hardest-working, most dedicated librarians I’ve had the fortune to meet, and asking for more documentation means more time spent writing, editing, approving, and publishing documents that will become outdated as the systems develop and progress. Still, it is the documentary trail that we need to rely on for our shared understanding of where the FDLP is, and where it is going. Otherwise, we are doing the best we can by word of mouth alone — and that may not be enough.

Selected Bibliography

Martin Halbert et al. “FIPNet and Stratigies for Utilizing the Collective Impact Model.”  http://login.icohere.com/public/topics.cfm?cseq=1328. Updated 19 October 2015.

Federal Depository Library Program. “Regional Meeting.” http://login.icohere.com/public/topics.cfm?cseq=1328. Updated October 20, 2015.

Library Services & Content Management. “Implementing the National Plan: Focusing on Users and Services.” http://login.icohere.com/public/topics.cfm?cseq=1328. Updated October 19, 2015.

Library Services & Content Management. “New Regional Depository Library Discard Policy.”  http://login.icohere.com/public/topics.cfm?cseq=1328. Updated October 20, 2015.

Library Services & Content Management. “JCP Approves Regional Discard Policy.” http://www.fdlp.gov/news-and-events/2403-jcp-approves-regional-discard-policy. Updated October 22, 2015.

Katherine Skinner. “From Collaborative Action to Collective Impact.”  http://login.icohere.com/public/topics.cfm?cseq=1328. Updated October 19, 2015.

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