Thanks in part to a We the People petition signed by 65,000 people(!), President Obama's science advisor, John Holdren, issued a directive on Friday to all research funding agencies to develop plans to make the results of federally-funded research publically available free of charge within 12 months of publication. It also requires that scientists receiving taxpayer dollars to improve upon the management and sharing of scientific data. This is huge! By my rough count, that means that approximately 20 US agencies will now make the science they fund available to the public. The only thing better would be for President Obama to support FREE access to ALL federal govt publications by assuring that FDsys remains freely available (one of the recommendations of the recent NAPA report was the tremendously backward and short-sighted suggestion that GPO charge for access to their FDsys database!)
See the policy memorandum, Expanding Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research
The Obama Administration is committed to the proposition that citizens deserve easy access to the results of scientific research their tax dollars have paid for. That’s why, in a policy memorandum released today, OSTP Director John Holdren has directed Federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication and requiring researchers to better account for and manage the digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research. OSTP has been looking into this issue for some time, soliciting broad public input on multiple occasions and convening an interagency working group to develop a policy. The final policy reflects substantial inputs from scientists and scientific organizations, publishers, members of Congress, and other members of the public—over 65 thousand of whom recently signed a We the People petition asking for expanded public access to the results of taxpayer-funded research.
To see the new policy memorandum, please visit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/ostp_publi...
To see Dr. Holdren’s response to the We the People petition, please visit: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/response/increasing-public-access-resul...
Michael Stebbins is Assistant Director for Biotechnology at OSTP
We all know about the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II, but did you know there were Code Talkers in World War I? Or that the very first US military code talkers were Choctaw and Comanche?
Suzanne Marshall, an MLIS student at Florida State University and reference librarian at West Florida Public Library serves up these facts and more in an article titled "A hidden story: American Indian Code Talkers" in the Winter 2012 Student Papers Issue of Dttp: Documents to the People.
The story of the Indian Code Talkers and belated efforts to honor their work is a story interesting in and of itself. But Suzanne uses this story and some unanswered questions as a springboard to explain the current state of affairs in government archival material and to argue for facilitated access to such material.
She concludes with:
Citizens rightfully own government documents and must be granted not only access but facilitated access to those documents. Important facts are, by default, invisible and virtually inaccessible without facilitated access. As this case of the American Indian code talkers highlights, we must strive to reveal the rich heritage we share in our co-owned government documents.
Marshall, Suzanne. A hidden story: American Indian Code Talkers. Dttp: Documents to the People, v. 40, no. 4, Winter 2012, p. 27
Dear ERIC Community,
We have currently disabled access to many ERIC full-text PDFs due to the discovery of personally identifiable information in some documents. A team is in place to check each PDF to see if it contains personally identifiable information. Due to the quality of many of the documents, a large portion of the search has to be done by hand. This will take several weeks, but our primary concern is to protect the privacy of individuals.
To minimize the burden on our users, we will prioritize searching the PDFs that users request. If you would like to request a PDF to be returned online, please fill out this form, which requires only the document’s ERIC record number and your email address. Full-text PDFs will be returned on a rolling basis. We will be posting the list of newly released documents here.
We are sorry for the inconvenience and want to thank you for bearing with us through this unexpected delay.
The ERIC Team
It seems like a responsible enough message and they are trying to assist researchers who need documents. It would have been nice if the message had a date stamp so we could see how long it will take ERIC to rectify this situation.
I'm also wondering about the status of ERIC fiche collections. Wonder if we'll see withdrawal requests from ERIC and whether that would wind up highlighting the personal information they're trying to withdraw.
When we think about the historical paper-and-ink collections that FDLP libraries have built over the last 200 years, we often wish we could make them more accessible through digitization. But we have to be careful when we think this way. One thing I have learned repeatedly as I have worked with digital information over the last twenty five years is that, in the digital world, "access" and "preservation" have to go together. When we neglect either, we lose both.
Some recent writings have reinforced this old idea and are worth remembering:
- All Digital Objects are Born Digital Objects, by Trevor Owens, The Signal (May 15th, 2012).
There is no large red button that says "digitize" on it, we make decisions about what significant properties we want to record from a physical object and we work to ensure that those properties are recorded in the newly created digital object. When we talk about the scanner "digitizing" it's all too easy to forget the history of the creation of the digital object and we can easily forget that there are a range of individual and institutional authorial intentions that go into deciding what and how to digitize.
- Digitization is Different than Digital Preservation: Help Prevent Digital Orphans!, by Kristin Snawder, The Signal (July 15th, 2011).
Many institutions see the immediate value of having materials available electronically. This is valid reasoning. Many researchers no longer want to come and see the materials. They want access from the comfort of their own couch and fuzzy slippers. But, in the hurry to meet user expectations, institutions may scan large quantities of materials without having a solid plan for preserving the digital images into the future.
Approaching Digitisation Through A Digital Preservation Perspective. by Alenka Kavčič-Čolić. Presented at the SEEDI (South-Eastern European Digitisation Initiative) 2012, Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Most libraries still conceive digitisation as a digital reproduction aimed to provide access to library materials only. The master files resulted from digitisation are usually not digitally preserved and the digital collections run the risk of being lost for the future.
The above examples are about short-term thinking and lack of planning when libraries aim for access without planning for preservation. The same mistake can be made the other way, too: when libraries plan for preservation without access. Paul Conway made this point more than 15 years ago:
For years, preservation simply meant collecting. The sheer act of pulling a collection of manuscripts from a barn, a basement, or a parking garage and placing it intact in a dry building with locks on the door fulfilled the fundamental preservation mandate of the institution. In this regard, preservation and access have been mutually exclusive activities often in constant tension. "While preservation is a primary goal or responsibility, an equally compelling mandate--access and use--sets up a classic conflict that must be arbitrated by the custodians and caretakers of archival records," states a fundamental textbook in the field (Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn. Preserving Archives and Manuscripts. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1993. p. 1). Access mechanisms, such as bibliographic records and archival finding aids, simply provide a notice of availability and are not an integral part of the object.
In the digital world, the concept of access is transformed from a convenient byproduct of the preservation process to its central motif. The content, structure, and integrity of the information object assume center stage; the ability of a machine to transport and display this information object becomes an assumed end result of preservation action rather than its primary goal. Preservation in the digital world is not simply the act of preserving access but also includes a description of the "thing" to be preserved. In the context of this report, the object of preservation is a high-quality, high-value, well-protected, and fully integrated version of an original source document.
-- Paul Conway Head, Preservation Department Yale University Library. Preservation in the Digital World Council on Library and Information Resources, Pub62 (March 1996).
An interesting perspective on the limitations a simple web search comes today from an Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He notes that "The contested history of Executive Order 11246 is an important aspect of the history of the modern women's rights movement and of the presidency of Lyndon Johnson," but that a simple search for it yields the revised, not the original, version of the order:
- The Perils of Internet Research: The Case of LBJ and Affirmative Action, By Samuel Walker, History News Network (5-28-12).
A standard Google search for "Executive Order 11246" yields multiple web sites, including those of the U.S. Department of Labor (which enforces the federal contractor provision), the National Archives, and Wikipedia. These sites post the current revised version of E. O. 11246. While it duly notes the many revisions over the years, only historians who are specialists on the subject and some employment law attorneys (but only those interested in history), will realize that it is not the original. Consequently, they will gain no hint of the contested initial history of affirmative action regarding sex discrimination or of LBJ's record on women's rights.
This is not an insignificant issue. Wikipedia is widely used by average Americans as a research tool. College undergraduates use it routinely, as do many graduate students. Only PhD or some MA students who are closely supervised by their faculty are likely to know they are missing some important history. Few people, moreover, are likely to question the National Archives as an authoritative source on American history. Executive Order 11246, finally, is hardly the only document where the original does not immediately appear through a Google search. Try finding the original text of the 1966 Freedom of Information Act, for example.
Experienced government information specialists will not be surprised by this and will recognize the need for sophisticated searching (and careful interpretation of search results) in general.
But this is also an example of the importance of our historical collections. Because government information is a record of the activities and attitudes and knowledge of a government at particular points in time, it retains historical value even when it is "out of date" -- as in the above example. Different versions of laws, old censuses, series of annual reports, early maps, photographs: all these are important historical records which require the same attention and care we devote to the most current information.
Too often, however, I hear librarians focus on "currency" as a value to such an extent that they seem to deprecate the value of historical records. I feel this is the case when library administrators refer to our historical paper collections as "legacy" collections.
The word "legacy," when used as an adjective, comes from computing and means superseded, no longer useful, difficult to use, and in need of replacement. In this way the use of "legacy" as an adjective as a description of our historical collections is both incorrect and demeaning. Those who call our historical collections "legacy collections" are diminishing the value of those collections. I don't know if they do this intentionally or not, but I do know that this use carries an implication that cheapens the value of these collections. That can lead to bad decisions.
If we must use the term "legacy" to describe our historical collections, we should use it as a noun. The noun "legacy" means bequest, heritage, endowment, gift, and birthright. Our historical collections are a legacy from the past to us and to our children and must be treated with respect.
While working on the State Agency Databases Across the Fifty States project updating Arizona databases, I ran across this resource:
I don't think this is a deliberate attempt on Arizona's part to discourage access to records, but it does illustrate that there is much more to providing access to public records than simply putting them online. Ideally an agency considers the formats that citizens are likely to use and uses technologies that require low levels of involvement from users. Or, failing that, posting the data in an easy to manipulate format (spreadsheets, xml, pdf, etc) that other people and organizations can use to provide better access.
Informative, but non-essential websites are likely candidates for being shut down.
White House says critical websites won't be affected by shutdown, By William Matthews, Next Gov (04/07/2011).
In the event of a government shutdown, federal websites "would remain operational" if they are deemed "necessary to avoid significant damage to the execution of authorized or accepted activities," a White House official told Nextgov in an email message late Wednesday.
...For the duration of a shutdown, agency-operated websites that are not judged to be critical "would not remain active," the official said. That doesn't mean they will necessarily vanish from the Internet. Rather, if they remain available, the information on them might not be up to date, and transactions submitted to agencies through the sites might not be processed until the shutdown ends...
Sites to be closed include the International Trade Administration, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Economics and Statistics Administration, the and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
...Informative, but non-essential websites, such as USASpending.gov, ITDashboard.gov and Data.gov are likely candidates for being shut down...
...Agencies are expected to post notices on their Web home pages about which online features will work and which won't during the shutdown.
Declan McCullagh at CNET reports that many federal Web sites will likely go offline if the government shuts down Friday night. "A 16-page memo (PDF) to federal agencies says their Web sites may stay online only in a small number of situations, including tax collection and handling 'exempted' activities such as payments and other functions that are paid for by previous annual budgets."
So how will permanent public access be maintained in the event of a shutdown? Will the standard notice include information on how to find your local federal depository library? The public won't even be able to find a list of depository libraries on the FDLP desktop (fdlp.gov) but will have to go to Documents Data Miner hosted by the library at Wichita State University. The Washington Post has a list of govt agency shutdown plan details -- including GPO -- but only states, "If the government were to shut down, a [GPO] skeleton staff is expected to stay on to print copies of the Congressional Record and other White House documents." It's unclear whether or not fdlp.gov, fdsys.gov or other GPO sites will remain online in the event of a shutdown.
"The mere benefit of continued access by the public to information about the agency's activities would not warrant the retention of personnel or the obligation of funds to maintain, or update, the agency's Web site" during a shutdown, says the memo, prepared by the White House's Office of Management and Budget.
It adds: "If an agency's Web site is shut down, users should be directed to a standard notice that the Web site is unavailable during the period of government shutdown." The IRS's Web site would likely stay online, the memo says, because tax collection is an exempted activity, "but the entire Treasury Department Web site would not."
As part of the search to save federal dollars, Senator Tom Coburn has introduced S 674, the Congressional Record Printing Savings Act of 2011.
This act may save up to $8 million a year by reducing "unnecessary" printing of the Congressional Record. You can find the text through Open Congress.
We at FGI are not opposed in principle to printing fewer copies of government publications as long as permanant public access and preservation issues are adequately addressed.
We don't believe this particular bill does so. We see three main problems with the "Congressional Record Printing Savings Act of 2011":
- The bill only gives gpo 45 days to determine the appropriate number of printed archival copies. - There is little published research on the appropriate number of printed copies for preservation purposes, and most of the available research deals with periodicals. Some original research needs to be done specifically for government publications and this couldn't be completed in 45 days.
- The bill is silent on where these copies should be stored. - This legislation directs GPO to determine a number of preservation copies, but doesn't state where these copies would be stored. Will the copies provided to Congress count? Will geographic distribution be taken into account? Will some be mandated to be stored in libraries? We the public don't know and we should before accepting a diminished number of copies.
- It misses an opportunity to deposit the electronic CR to depository libraries as an additional anti-tampering safeguard. - If the printed copy of the Congressional Record is going to be diminished, then assuring the authencity and permanent public access to the electronic Congressional Record will gain in importance. Keeping multiple electronic copies in non-federal hands would be an important safeguard against future alterations of the Congressional Record and ought to be considered by Congress.
If the Congressional Record is an interest of yours and you agree with our concerns, consider contacting your Members of Congress.
Several years ago, I wrote a legal brief with a retired Navy officer who was a private attorney in a small law firm in Pennsylvania. As an active retired officer, this particular attorney frequently accepted pro bono U.S. Navy cases representing veterans in Federal District Court against the Bureau of Veteran’s Affairs (BVA).
One summer day, the attorney admitted that he was frustrated with a new case in which a Korean War veteran had been denied retroactive health benefits by the BVA. The veteran had evidently failed to understand the legal forms that the BVA had provided him and so his request for an appeal of the BVA’s decision denying those retroactive benefits had been deemed untimely; the appeal period had passed. I was deeply interested in this case, and I offered to help him with the research and writing the brief to be submitted in federal court.
In researching the law, I realized that the legal administrative tests, cases, and terminology all took a back seat to one particularly glaring issue which I noticed on the forms. Just how was a veteran, who at this point was over 65 years of age, supposed to understand the legal difference between “shall” and “may?” In other words, how was he expected to understand that “shall” was not a word signifying that something was optional, but was actually one which signified something mandatory?
In this instance, if he did not read, understand, or respond to the “notice of right to appeal” section of the benefits form (which, by the way, was at the very bottom of the form), then his rights to appeal the BVA’s decision “shall” expire, which meant that his non-response ultimately closed out his case. But in other portions of the form, the permissive word “may” had been used in various paragraphs. So, he had interpreted the notice section to also mean the optional “may” and his request to appeal was therefore untimely, according to the BVA. Thus began my entry into the world of obscure government forms with conflicting language and even more obscure government personnel.
Times have changed since then, and I am now a library student learning about the current changes in government documents as I prepare to enter the world of document librarianship. Government agencies are moving towards the “e-government” trend, whereby, among other things, the online accessibility to forms and assistance are, ostensibly, much greater. But I am left to wonder whether the agencies’ forms, in these times of “googling” and “tweeting” and “friending” and mobile, on-the-go information access, have changed in substance.
Even if the delivery method has changed, will the user, many of whom are also library patrons, be able to navigate these forms and their implications? Or will the “plain English” movement, which permeated some aspects of the real estate (including various state broker contract forms), bankruptcy (see here and here), and securities industries, finally cause changes in more and more of the various government agencies’ forms as well?
Incidentally, we won the BVA case, whereby the BVA opted to settle in lieu of changing their forms, and our client received his retroactive benefits – in full.
Johanna Blakely-Bourgeois, Pratt SILS