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The burden e-gov puts on libraries

James Jacobs commented on the post I published on e-government. He said:

"Evidently (and I haven’t checked on this so this is purely an anecdote!), libraries are beginning to be seen as e-govt resources. Good you say, but the worry comes in when librarians are more and more expected to help their patrons fill out the govt forms that they’ve downloaded from library public computers. In other words, librarians are being seen as defacto public information officers."

From the discussion on this subject that I had in one of my classes, I think what James is saying is true. I’m not a public librarian, so I am basing this opinion off of what I heard my class. My professor, Paul Jaeger, co-wrote an article in Library Journal last year on this subject. He and his co-authors took a poll of librarians to investigate the growing reliance on libraries as an e-gov source. From the article:

"So, as libraries become valuable community access points to e-government services and resources, especially in post-hurricane emergency relief, their efforts as agents of e-government represent an unfunded mandate. The library community must respond with better training and education. However, government agencies that both fund libraries and rely on them for their public access computing and Internet access also must provide greater support." (Bertot 35)

Here is the citation for the article: Bertot, John Carlo, et al. "Drafted: I Want You to Deliver E-Government." Library Journal 131.14 (15 Aug. 2006): pp.34-39.

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  1. jrjacobs says:

    Very interesting article Chris. Thanks for posting the citation. This is definitely an important discussion to have especially given that more and more govt agencies are only accepting e-forms for services.

    Historically, libraries have been one of the primary access points for IRS tax forms — the first forms to go the egovt route. Access to these forms were at both public and academic libraries. However, librarians were never asked to give advice and help on filling out those forms. The shift that Bertot, Jaeger et al describe is worrisome. From what I gather from this article, the way to deal with the problem is to a) train librarians; and b) give more $$ to libraries via an updated e-rate program.

    While these are good suggestions, there are problems with both because they both ignore the root of the problem — the problem being that the shift to egovt services, although it makes things easier for govt agencies, makes it much more difficult for citizens to get help from the very agencies which are charged to give them help. And the agencies don’t even realize (or ignore the fact) that this shift is having a troublesome ripple effect on citizens and libraries.

    The real question to answer is how can govt agencies better serve citizens, not how can libraries better serve the citizens that aren’t getting the assistance they need from govt agencies. Libraries are already underfunded and understaffed with many librarians forced to wear multiple hats — the days of the government documents librarian only dealing with govt information are long gone. Making them wear another unfunded hat is a big problem.

    I’m psyched that libraries are stepping in to the internet void to offer internet access and public computing to those in their local communities who would not otherwise have that access. I just think it’s worrisome for them to be seen by govt administrators as unfunded extensions to their services.

  2. there is an interesting example for a functioning collaboration in Austria: The public libraries in Linz serve also as a place of “citizens’ service”. You can handle a bundle of administrative tasks in the library branches (only in German). I think this is an excellent chance to anchor the importance of libraries in politicians’ and administrators’ brains. I agree, however, that this must be funded and library staff must be trained accordingly.

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