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GPO, LOCKSS, IP Authentication, and the future of FDLP — more clarification needed

If you have not had a chance to read the message from Joseph P. Paskoski (Clarification on GPO LOCKSS report), I encourage you to do so. It does indeed help clarify GPO’s intentions in ways that, I believe, seriously endanger long-term, free, public access to government information.

For those confused by the recent thread about GPO, LOCKSS, and IP authentication, allow me to try to summarize what we now know:

GPO is not “advocating” use of IP authentication for LOCKSS.

On the other hand, GPO is considering “an exclusive service for depository libraries” and is recommending exploring “other user authentication options” to implement such a system.

Further, GPO is only willing to “consider” (not guarantee) making content available without user authentication. This is evidently true of FDsys as well as any use of LOCKSS.

To me, this means that GPO is, indeed, planning a two-tier system of digital distribution: one exclusively for depository libraries (and, presumably, free) and, by implication, a second system presumably for the general public and based on cost recovery.

For this to work, GPO would have to do two things. First, it would have to restrict what FDLP libraries can do with the content they receive, either through technological locks or limitations, or licensing restrictions (including restrictions on re-distribution). Second, if GPO offered any content to the general public for free, it would have to offer similarly technologically dumbed-down, less-than-fully-functional, non-reusable content — much the way Amazon offers one-page-at-a-time viewing of books as a teaser to get you to purchase the entire book. (For more on this see Why does GPO want to use IP Authentication?)

This model seems clear: distribution to depository libraries for free, but with limitations on use, location, and so forth; and distribution to the general public for a fee.

This sounds like an implementation of what GPO’s strategic vision promised: a commitment to “free and ready public access to” government information “in partnership with Federal Depository libraries” while maintaining a separate, fee-based channel to meet its commitment to “distribute, on a cost recovery basis, copies of printed and electronic documents and other government information products to the general public,” [emphasis added] (A strategic vision for the 21st century).

Why is this a threat to long-term, free, public access to government information? Imagine what such a system would look like to your users: They could use the net to get what they need, but they may have to pay or use a dumbed-down version. Or they could go offline, go to their library and use a “free” version, which would also have DRM or licensing restrictions, or both.

This is a far cry from DLC’s underlying assumption that “much of the access to federal information resources is available 24/7 on the Internet” (Knowledge Will Forever Govern” A Vision Statement For Federal Depository Libraries In The 21st Century).

What this sounds like to me is a revival of the GPO bookstore concept for the digital age with the (fee-based) bookstore as the primary means of access to most government information and the go-to-the-library-building FDLP as the “free” path. This puts libraries and free access as second-tiers, non-networked alternatives for users. It would mean that libraries would be unable to participate in the open and free flow and re-use of government information (Web 2.0, Semantic Web, etc.). It is a vision of government information closer to Jack Valenti’s vision of movie distribution than to Jefferson or Madison’s visions of government information.

Imagine what this would mean to FDLP libraries and their ability to preserve access to information. Would systems like LOCKSS even be permitted? Or would locked-down-with-DRM or technologically-dumbed-down free versions made available to libraries be technically (or by license) un-preseravable?

I may be misinterpreting GPO’s statements and I hope I am. I would welcome hearing further clarifications from GPO including that it does not intend to use DRM and that it does not intend to restrict what FDLP libraries or others can do with free content. I would welcome hearing from GPO that it does not intend to provide dumbed-down or technologically locked or functionally-disabled content for free while providing fully-functional content for a fee. I invite GPO to commit itself to open, free, reusable, preservable, distributable, unencumbered, fully-functional government information. I urge DLC to insist on digital distribution so that FDLP libraries can be fully functional online partners in the organization and preservation of government information and not by-standers who hope GPO will get funding to do so.

GPO could also show its good faith by continuing to study LOCKSS as one (not the exclusive) method of preservation and not just a method for distribution. The project could be expanded to include more than just e-journals. GPO could evaluate automated harvesting using tools that automatically create new directory structures and actively seek ways to help other depository libraries participate (e.g., reviewing automated harvesting).

Perhaps there can be some discussion of these issues at DLC.

Until we get further clarification, we’ll all be left wondering.


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