GPO’s National Plan for Access to U.S. Government Information: an overview
Last month, the Government Publishing Office (GPO) released the National Plan for Access to U.S. Government Information: A Framework for a User-centric Service Approach to Permanent Public Access. The National Plan is the culmination of four years of study and planning activities conducted by GPO’s Library Services & Content Management (LSCM) in response to a range of factors that include directives from the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP) and the National Academy of Public Administration; seismic changes in government publishing and user information access practices; and the shifting mission of large academic research libraries.
For those interested in the background to the National Plan, I summarized some of the available information a few months ago. While a detailed development process is not included in the final document, GPO repeatedly solicited quantitative and qualitative data from depository libraries, most notably in its 2012 FDLP Forecast Study, as well as through the Biennial Survey process. GPO has already shared much of the information found in the National Plan in presentations to the community over the past year. As of this writing there is no public comment or feedback process; however, several of the sessions on the preliminary schedule for next month’s Depository Library Council virtual meeting pertain to the implementation of the National Plan, including presentations on public libraries, regional models, and the regional discard pilot project.
I recognize that there can be some hesitance in the depository librarian community in discussing a document like this in detail. After all, criticisms of the National Plan are functionally critiques of LSCM’s strategic direction, and by extension can be (mis)interpreted as criticisms of GPO and its leadership. In preemptive response, I agree with the FGI team: respectful, timely discourse makes our community stronger. I believe wholeheartedly that we all want a similar future: one in which government information is available for all to use and reuse, whenever and wherever it is needed. The vision and mission for the National Plan reflects this desire, as do the words and actions of the GPO staff who put the words into action. LSCM has been and continues to be uniquely positioned to coordinate and accomplish this work, and they have made commendable progress on many initiatives that will contribute to public access to government information for generations to come.
Like all FGI occasional contributors, I’m speaking only for myself, not my place of work, my library consortium, or the FGI team. But with that disclaimer out of the way, I think this document is an opportunity for depository librarians and others who care about future access to government information to identify where voices from the community can and should speak up to ensure that planned activities and initiatives are in alignment with the aspirational goals of sustaining permanent no-fee public access to government information. Our responsibility as a community to make sure that the promise of access is one that will be fully met through collaborative work with each other and engagement with GPO.
Structure and Format
GPO should be commended for producing a document that we can read, discuss, and share with others who care about government information. This is GPO’s plan for action and activities undertaken by LSCM: the National Plan contextualizes current priorities and initiatives, and provides a roadmap for where to expect LSCM’s focus to be going forward. It is also described as a ‘flexible framework,’ which suggests that the exact work to be conducted is yet to be determined, although several projects are underway and some are in the planning stages.
The core of the National Plan is the section of “Desired Outcomes and Actions,” which are based on a list of “Drivers of Change” that include the results of the 2012 FDLP Forecast Study, recommendations from the 2013 NAPA report on GPO commissioned by Congress, and a short but wide-ranging list of external influences. Each outcome is mapped to one of the “Principles of Government Information” adopted by GPO in 1996. Additional assumptions are also articulated that reflect the list of external influences.
The National Plan also presents three strategic priorities: lifecycle management of government information within LSCM to ensure permanent public access to digital government information; development of a sustainable structure for the FDLP; and the delivery of services that support depository libraries in providing accurate government information to the public in a timely fashion. While the strategic priorities relate to the “Drivers of Change,” they are not explicitly mapped to the vision and mission of the National Plan.
The language used throughout the National Plan is that of access rather than preservation. It is clear that enabling permanent public access to information is not the same as preserving information products, though the two go hand in hand. In general, the National Plan references concepts already in common usage in the community without further explanation. For example, there are no assumptions explicitly defining key terms like ‘access’ and ‘sustainability,’ but the concepts are used throughout the document.
To a certain extent, the National Plan is difficult to unpack and discuss because it is deeply non-specific. This lack of specificity has a particularly strong effect on action items pertaining to preservation. Of the six action items, three simply reference new programs (FIPNet, an LSCM Preservation Program, and a project to inventory “copies of record”), one pertains to access rather than preservation (working with partnerships to digitize the historical tangible collection), one relates to the development of guidelines, and one is to increase the profile of government information preservation at the national level. So although the reciprocal relationships between preservation and access are addressed in some ways, outcomes that reflect the government’s obligation to preserve its information are not fully articulated or supported.
Actions categorized as pertaining to right of access, dissemination of information, and authenticity are more specific, but the mapping of outcomes to principles is unclear. If this were to be the only public documentation guiding LSCM’s activities, then the community would have little insight into what GPO is trying to accomplish and why. As more detailed strategies and implementation plans are developed — I hope in consultation with the community at large — and disseminated, it should be possible to more confidently identify the extent to which a given action item will contribute to any given desired outcomes that can be mapped to shared goals and expectations.
The National Plan continues to frame depository libraries as supporters of public access rather than participants in the long-term management of government information, reflecting a broad and ongoing shift of framing libraries as service providers rather than collectors and organizers. Because the Regional discard policy has been approved and is currently in the implementation phase, we know that publications with authenticated digital versions in FDsys (and its successor, govinfo.gov) are eligible for Regional depository libraries to withdraw and discard under the oversight of the Superintendent of Documents. Other action items in the National Plan will lead to the ingest of more content into FDsys from depository libraries and third parties, and the authentication of this digital content, which makes more collections digitally accessible but also eligible for discard in print, a shift that could have a substantially negative effect on long-term access. An additional action item investigates the possibility that Regionals could decline to select certain materials in print/microformat altogether, and another identifies the development of requirements to facilitate pushing or depositing digital content to libraries.
While increased access to authenticated digital surrogates is a laudable measure for public access, taken as a whole the actions identified in the National Plan are framed by a continued shift of the responsibility for collection-building and preservation away from FDLP libraries, without introducing a clearly defined and workable alternative for the long-term preservation of print collections, and without adding the expectation of a meaningful role in digital preservation for these same institutions. (FIPNet is intended to fill this role, but as of this writing, this program is still mostly undefined.) The only action item directly addressing print collections in depository libraries is the development of collection care training for depository staff, and it is categorized as an action related to authenticity and integrity rather than preservation.
In general, changes to the FDLP are incorporated in the National Plan under the principle of disseminating government information, with a specified outcome of forming a sustainable network structure and governance process for the efficient management of depository collections and services. Depository libraries are only a small segment out of many potential public access channels, albeit a segment best poised to serve both marginalized and specialized users, and the National Plan identifies the need for LSCM to play a greater part in lifecycle management of information dissemination products within the federal government. However, under the National Plan, the alternatives for preservation outside of the depository library system are, at present, unclear.
Because the document is describing the role LSCM will adopt and the work it will accomplish, rather than a revised strategy for the FDLP as a program, the National Plan is not GPO’s definitive statement on the future of the FDLP. Based on this document, however, it seems reasonable to predict that GPO’s articulation of its vision for the future FDLP will reflect the priorities established in this document. With that understanding, presenting the National Plan as a document is in itself a significant step in the right direction because it gives the government information community a shared frame of reference in discussing GPO’s priorities and evaluating its accomplishments, and provides us with the opportunity to determine how our libraries and organizations, as well as the community as a whole, can respond to and engage with GPO initiatives as they move forward.
James A. Jacobs. “NAPA Releases Report on GPO.” http://freegovinfo.info/node/3862. Updated February 6, 2013.
James A. Jacobs and James R. Jacobs. “What You Need to Know About the New Discard Policy.” http://freegovinfo.info/node/10525. Updated November 30, 2015.
James R. Jacobs. “DLC Responds to Open Letter Regarding the New Regional Discard Policy” http://freegovinfo.info/node/10736. Updated January 18, 2016
Library Services & Content Management. “FDLP Forecast Study.” http://www.fdlp.gov/377-projects-active/1686-fdlp-forecast-study. Updated August 12, 2015.
—. “Federal Information Preservation Network.” http://www.fdlp.gov/project-list/federal-information-preservation-network. Updated April 13, 2015.
—. “Federal Information Preservation Network (FIPNet) – Answering Your Questions.” http://www.fdlp.gov/all-newsletters/featured-articles/2349-federal-information-preservation-network-fipnet-answering-your-questions. Updated December 21, 2015.
—. “JCP Approves Regional Discard Policy.” http://www.fdlp.gov/news-and-events/2403-jcp-approves-regional-discard-policy. Updated October 22, 2015.
National Academy of Public Administration. Rebooting the Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed in the Digital Age. https://www.gpo.gov/pdfs/about/GPO_NAPA_Report_FINAL.pdf. January 2013.
Office of the Superintendent of Documents. National Plan for Access to U.S. Government Information: A Framework for a User-Centric Service Approach to Permanent Public Access. http://www.fdlp.gov/file-repository/about-the-fdlp/gpo-projects/national-plan-for-access-to-u-s-government-information/2700-national-plan-for-access-to-u-s-government-information-a-framework-for-a-user-centric-service-approach-to-permanent-public-access. February 2016.
Shari Laster. “Information Sharing and the National Plan.” http://freegovinfo.info/node/10569. Updated November 12, 2015.
—. “One Year Later…What’s Happening with Regionals and Discards?” http://freegovinfo.info/node/10285. Updated September 8, 2015.