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Changing Title 44: Please Not Yet

I’ve been following the discussion on the GPO regionals report and especially the back and forth on whether to push for revising Title 44. I posted a response to the godort list that I’d like to share here:

I really didn’t want to write about the Regionals Report until I had a chance to actually read through the 100 plus pages. But with the recent GODORT discussion about changing Title 44, I feel like I need to chip in on this one issue.

I am in total agreement with Stephen Hayes, who said, “DO NOT GO THERE. DON’T OPEN THAT PANDORA’S BOX. DO NOT TRY AND REVISE TITLE 44 UNLESS YOU WANT TO LOSE WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE.”

This is not the time to press for changes to Title 44. I say this as someone who feels that Title 44 could use some major changes — starting off with eliminating the Sales program and creating a permanent endowment fund for GPO operations, especially cataloging, documents distribution and building on FDSys to create geographically dispersed, local electronic collections.

But I think we have a lot of educational work ahead of us AND a political culture to change. Both parties in Congress have shown themselves (as a group) to be:

– Largely ignorant about technological/internet issues.
– Lukewarm to hostile about Net Neutrality. – If we don’t have Net Neutrality, any all e-docs program will die an inglorious death.
– Sympathetic to privatization of government information products.
– Too eager to support copyright absolutists by passing perpetual copyright on the installment plan.
– Believe that libraries are on their way out because “Everything is on the Internet”
– Unwilling to free their own stuff (CRS reports, etc)

While there are individual Members of Congress who don’t fit the stereotypes above, I think the above statements are a pretty fair characterization of Congress as a whole, no matter which party has power. In this climate, I think that reopening Title 44 will likely lead to more privatization, more wholesale going digital regardless of supporting infrastructure and possible cost-recovery mandates.

One thing I think it is important to do is for GODORT and individual depository libraries to ramp up education and outreach to Congress and the general public. We need to get awareness of the uniqueness of our collections, free government databases and librarian expertise into the thinking of policymakers and constitutents alike. We should try running with GPO’s “Easy as FDL” campaign for awhile. Then when we’ve helped people to understand that society benefits from free, unrestricted (mostly) access to information and from having experts in using that information, then it may be time to teach them about how much better it could be if we could have some changes to Title 44.

Trying to make changes to Title 44 before we’ve established our importance in the public mind and in the minds of policymakers seems like a mistake to me. Changes will be made that will benefit the interests of people who have established themselves as important parts of society.

Just my $0.02. Now I’ll do my best to actually read the regionals report. It’s so sad that we can’t all be fully informed about everything, even within our own field.


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