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ALA: public libraries critical to delivery of E-government

Yesterday, ALA submitted a statement to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing, “E-Government 2.0: Improving Innovation, Collaboration, and Access”, addressing the critical yet unacknowledged role public libraries play in delivering E-government services to the American people. Witnesses included:

All of the witnesses had interesting things to say, and Schwartz’s testimony included mention of a just-released report from the CDT and OMB Watch called, “Hiding in Plain Sight: Why Important Government Information Cannot Be Found Through Commercial Search Engines.”

I really hope that the committee members hear both the great advantages that e-government can have for citizens AND the great need for much more financial support to public libraries and other organizations on the front line of e-government services. The great fallacy of new Web technologies and social media is that these tools will allow governments, libraries and other public service organizations to save money and cut physical service points. YES, e-government helps get services into citizens’ hands, BUT these new technologies also necessitate MORE spending on public service points. What agencies (and libraries) seem to think is that if they have a Web service, then they don’t need a physical service. But, like IM in libraries, you can’t just cut hours of your service point. Instead, you need MORE staff to be able to handle the Web service and the inevitable increase in service requests (both in-person and online).

ALA statement on e-government (PDF)

“Libraries strongly support the E-government Act, since it has enhanced access to government information. However, since its enactment, public libraries are often the only organizations that can help individuals interact with government agencies and access E-government services…

Libraries have a critical role in E-Government not only as portals to access, but also organizing and categorizing information and providing the necessary tools and expertise to provide community service. Librarians provide the front line reference service that informs the public how to access and evaluate government information through both physical and virtual collections and how to train people in the use of electronic resources. Libraries help the public become information literate…

Public libraries are open to taking on the challenge of E-government initiatives, yet the library community has seen little collaboration or support from federal agencies for the significant increase in services public libraries provide on their behalf…

— Lynne Bradley, Director of ALA’s Office of Government Relations

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