Pt. 2: Non-Lawyer's Journey through Title 44: Availability of Government publications
As I proceed through selected parts of Title 44, I want to keep reminding our audience that I am not a lawyer and that I welcome comments from all, especially those with more experience in interpreting Title 44 than I do.
Last time I covered the part of Title 44 that defined a government publication. This time we continue our examination of the law behind the Federal Library Depository Program by examining the Availability of Government publications through Superintendent of Documents contained in 44 USC 1902:
TITLE 44--PUBLIC PRINTING AND DOCUMENTS
CHAPTER 19--DEPOSITORY LIBRARY PROGRAM
Sec. 1902. Availability of Government publications through
Superintendent of Documents; lists of publications not ordered from Government Printing Office
Government publications, except those determined by their issuing components to be required for official use only or for strictly administrative or operational purposes which have no public interest or educational value and publications classified for reasons of national security, shall be made available to depository libraries through the facilities of the Superintendent of Documents for public information. Each component of the Government shall furnish the Superintendent of Documents a list of such publications it issued during the previous month, that were obtained from sources other than the Government Printing Office.
(Pub. L. 90-620, Oct. 22, 1968, 82 Stat. 1283.)
Historical and Revision Notes
Based on 44 U.S. Code, 1964 ed., Sec. 81b (Pub. L. 87-579, Sec. 1, Aug. 9, 1962, 76 Stat. 352).
This part of the law shows the ideal for government information as designed by Congress - that everything except classified or purely internal documents would be available to the nation's federal depository libraries. And even internal documents should be provided to the public via depository libraries if they had some interest or educational value. The default position of the law as written is that all documents should be released to the public in findable places. According to the law, these places are depository libraries.
In recognition that even in a perfect world, not all publications are sourced through the Government Printing Office (GPO), agencies have a statutory requirement to provide GPO with a monthly list of publications. Based on my personal observations, nearly all states with a state depository program have a similar requirement for state agencies.
In practice, that requirement is routinely ignored on both the state and federal levels. It's done partly out of ignorance, partly because of workload and perhaps a small fraction because agencies don't want their documents known to the general public.
One benefit of living in a web-based world is that agencies can be "helped" in complying with the "listing of publications" portion of the law through web crawling. That's what we do in Alaska. Every month we check all publicly accessible agency servers known to us. We download all new files and in the process generate a list of newly added materials. I believe that GPO is already experimenting with this technology for a few agencies.
The downside of doing it this way is that not every file is a document, and some documents consist of multiple files. Perhaps what we need is an enforcement mechanism for those monthly lists. Or smarter software.
The next stop on our journey, which may take me a few days, will be to examine section 1903 - Distribution of publications to depositories; notice to Government components; cost of printing and binding.
As I said at the top of this entry, I hope that some readers of this site with longer experiences of Title 44 will chime in with their thoughts and analysis. Or that people who are meeting Title 44 for the first time will have some questions. In either case, please either use the comments below, or e-mail me at dnlcornwal AT alaska.net with your comment and permission to post to the FGI site.