From a New OMB Watch Article:
In recent years, government has increasingly embraced the proactive disclosure of information and created online tools to increase transparency. But how do Americans discover that information? Who helps them learn how to use complex government databases and tools? The answer may be a surprisingly familiar one: libraries.
Libraries have traditionally played a leading role in helping the public discover and use government information. However, the rapid expansion of e-government creates new opportunities and challenges for empowering the public with such information. The Government Printing Office (GPO) is now considering a proposal that could help libraries around the country to modernize and expand their government information services, supporting equitable public access to information and amplifying the impact of open government initiatives.
The article goes on to discuss government information in libraries and the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) focusing on the rejected Ithaka S+R report.
Finally, OMB Watch shares several key priorities for the FDLP which were included in comments about the Ithaka report that OMB Watch sent to the GPO on September 16, 2011 (3 pages; PDF)
I’ve enjoyed my time as a guest blogger for FGI. To wrap up, I’d like to share a story.
This summer, my household ran smack in to a preservation problem. It all started with fresh paint. My husband started to paint the living room and dining room. A color even, moving us away from 15 years of sensible beige. We were embracing the future. It seems like a good opportunity to have the drapes cleaned. They were old, came with the house, and had a vintage floral theme. They were perfect. But not perfectly preserved, as it turned out. The cleaner called, after testing one panel, to say the lining shredded. Too much sun damage (yes, even here in Seattle). We fussed a bit – considered and abandoned a variety of salvage schemes (for example, cutting the linings out, until we learned the hems shredded as well) – and eventually retrieved the drapes from the cleaner. They have been in the trunk of the car ever since. The rooms are painted now – and look lovely – but the windows are bare.
Our technical services librarian has an interest and expertise in preservation. She’s also a sister crafter, so I consulted her about my dilemma. After telling her the story, she laughed and said “this is just like our library.” And she’s right. The UW Gallagher Law Library has a rich print historical collection of legal and government information. Much of it is falling apart. We are a public institution with a shrinking materials budget. We don’t have the funds to preserve all of the collection, and we can’t afford most of the available digital collections as a substitute for print. So how do we decide? What parts of the collection do we preserve and what do we digitize? Can we salvage anything? Should we buy acid free boxes or just tie volumes? Can some of the fabric become throw pillows? What can we afford to license? Are we headed for a big box store purchase when our heart longs for something we truly cannot afford? Should we go the DIY route, if we can’t afford commercial services? Do we keep our old volumes on the shelves or do we need to empty the trunk of the car to make room for the next thing?
And what do the users want, and how does that impact our decision-making? Our household users (the dogs) didn’t like the disruption of the painting, but they really like looking out the unobstructed window. It’s great for them, actually, since they no longer have to wait for an intermediary with opposable thumbs to open the drapes. They can investigate the world of our street whenever they choose. The intermediaries are fretful, however. We pay the heating bills and know something needs to be done before the damp chill sets in. We think about the future, and the budget. Plus we liked the old drapes. We own them, and we know how to operate them. We don’t like this change, forced upon us by the passage of time.
I’m still wrestling with the drapery dilemma. As for the library dilemma, there is the global picture, which includes digital preservation and consortial arrangements such as LIPA: Legal Information Preservation Alliance, and has been well articulated here on FGI. But I’m interested in the local picture of our library.
I do like the idea that if each individual library works to serve our patron base, and shares what we have, it will, in the end, all work out. My hope is that libraries like ours will ask the right questions. That we’ll thoughtfully consider the answers. That we’ll be good stewards of our resources and try to preserve what’s unique in our collections. That we’ll think about today’s users, and tomorrow’s users, and our role as the largest public law library in the Northwest. Easier said than done, just like a household project. But in the end, it could work.
The library's server was out of commission for two days last week. Luckily, we were closed one day, fall quarter hasn’t started, and we have a back up for the circulation system. Plus we could search (sort of) our collection on WorldCat.
Dead servers are one of the reasons why distributed digital deposit is a key element in providing access to information. But, we don't have much technology money (thus the old server). Collecting our own copies of electronic content is an aspiration, yet given our fiscal reality, it’s not going to be practical for a while. After three years of budget cuts, the University of Washington has lost half of its state funding. We are all feeling the effects.
So I've been printing out documents, as a very small way of contributing to the greater good and serving our patrons. At least that's what I think I'm doing. It’s not something I hear a lot about, but I can’t imagine that other librarians don’t do this. Maybe we’re too embarrassed to admit we print electronic documents?
Our policy is to very selectively print documents for the collection. The selection decisions need to be consistent with our collection development policy, but also take into account the ease of printing and binding (not too long, not too short, PDF preferred). We also consider the ease of use by the public. The perfect example is Washington State judicial benchbooks, which are guides used by trial judges, but often used by patrons without lawyers. For many years, because we are a public law library, we received the benchbooks, and other publications from the Administrative Office of the Courts, in paper, for free. Now the benchbooks are on CD ROM and we have to pay (not much, and I'm not complaining about this given the state budget).
We recently acquired the Manual for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction on CD ROM, and chose to have it printed, even though we had to spend scarce staff time to put all the documents in one PDF file so it could be send to the copy center. The Courts of Limited Jurisdiction handle a wide variety of traffic violations and misdemeanors, including reckless driving, driving under the influence, and driving with a suspended license. These courts also issue domestic violence protection orders and no-contact orders.
It is a much smoother reference transaction (for both patron and public service staff) if the staff has a book to put in the hands of a patron with an issue in traffic, family, or juvenile court. Although we have many public workstations, these patrons are often challenged, and challenging. “It's on the computer" can be a barrier to access.
In a perfect world, we’d have the Manual for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction in print, on the original CD ROM, and downloaded to our local server, which will never die. But for now, two out of three will have to do.
In its efforts to address the value of Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) membership and to determine baseline outcomes-based performance measures, the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), working with Outsell, Inc. and the Depository Library Council, developed a survey for depository library users. The survey ran from October 10, 2010 through March 4, 2011 and garnered over 3,300 responses from users of nearly 550 depository libraries. Submissions were well distributed both geographically and across different library types.
Recommendations From the Report
* Undertake more promotional activity, not just on the web, but also through library help desks and other local facilities in participating libraries;
* Increase training/tutorial activities both on the web and in participating libraries to assist users in finding Government documents on the web;
* Make more materials available in library collections and online; and
* Develop new tools to enhance access to and discoverability of Government information.
While not specifically about government maps, this five minute video from the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library is a nice overview of the different uses of maps and why old maps remain important. It also makes a decent case for why at least some maps ought to continue in a physical format.
Unfortunately, I won't be going to ACRL 2011 in Philadelphia next month. But I'd recommend that folks go to this session on Wikileaks and libraries. If anyone is going, we'd love it if you'd volunteer to send us a summary of the panel (which is confusingly listed under "Roundtables".
Session Title: Wikileaks, war, and the web: where do academic libraries fit?
When Wikileaks released the Iraq and Afghan War Diaries it raised ethical questions for academic libraries. Join the discussion and help provide guidance to such questions as: What are libraries' responsibilities regarding leaked classified information? Should libraries link to leaked classified materials? How might Wikileaks be used in an instruction session?
Time: 8:30AM - 9:30AM
Location: Roundtable 3 (Exhibit Hall A, Pennsylvania Convention Center)
This week, two stories in the news about libraries highlight the importance of libraries to their communities and the challenges they face.
- Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces Support for Library Facilities Across the Country. U.S. Department of Agriculture Press Release No. 0486.10 (Sept. 24, 2010).
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced investments in 30 states that will create jobs by building and enhancing libraries in 129 rural communities across the nation. The projects are being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act).
"Libraries are the centerpiece of rural community life, but in many cases they need additional funding to provide rural residents with computer access, modern equipment and new training and educational opportunities," Vilsack said. "These Recovery Act investments in our nation's libraries will serve rural America for generations to come."
- Anger as a Private Company Takes Over Libraries, by David Streitfeld, New York Times (September 26, 2010).
Can a municipal service like a library hold so central a place that it should be entrusted to a profit-driven contractor only as a last resort -- and maybe not even then?
"There's this American flag, apple pie thing about libraries," said Frank A. Pezzanite, the outsourcing company's chief executive. He has pledged to save $1 million a year in Santa Clarita, mainly by cutting overhead and replacing unionized employees. "Somehow they have been put in the category of a sacred organization."
The Government Printing Office posted the following announcement to their FDLP-L list that seemed worth sharing:
From: Announcements from the Federal Depository Library Program On Behalf Of FDLP Listserv
Sent: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 8:50 AM
Subject: Training Sessions from the Six-State Virtual Conference Available
The six states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming recently held an online conference using the OPAL web conferencing software. Over 5 days, the Six-State Virtual Government Information Conference ran 17 different programs covering numerous topics of interest to Federal depository libraries and government information professionals.
GPO is proud to have provided technical support for this online conference and we invite the wider FDLP community to view 15 archived sessions of the conference in the OPAL Archives at their convenience at http://www.opal-online.org/archivegpo.htm.
The topics of the sessions vary greatly to cover both hot issues in depository libraries as well as training on Federal information products. Examples include: the Sunlight Foundation's address on open access, demographic and business information from the Census Bureau, tracking the usage of your online depository collection, moving to a more electronic collection, FDsys, and marketing depository collections and services, to name a few.
Be sure to visit the Web page the conference organizers developed to accompany the virtual conference. The page includes links to the PowerPoint presentations, audio clips from government information specialists, a Twitter feed, OPAL information, and more. See
In addition to the above, there is a program on using PACER, the federal courts documents system. I've got a lot to learn about PACER and this session seems like a great place to start.
We at FGI have often spoken of the need for GPO to partner with depository libraries to provide training to the wider community. We salute GPO, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming for making this conference a reality and for sharing it with the wider govinfo community.
If you attended the conference or watched the videos, we'd be interested in your impressions and comments.
The University of Minnesota Libraries has taken a new approach to its planning process this year to help deal with seemingly conflicting realities. On the one hand, everything said publicly by University administration indicates that the U's financial future is Not Good. On the other, the Libraries has several projects in place that are innovative and many, many more on hold that would also be fabulous. These projects are in addition to the regular day-to-day work of a library. Something has to give somewhere, but the Libraries can't just metaphorically throw its hands in the air and say "the heck with this, I'm out".
So, the Libraries is hosting a speaker series with the goal of moving from lemons to lemonade. There have been two speakers so far - Lorcan Dempsey and Paul Courant. See https://wiki.lib.umn.edu/Staff/UniversityLibrariesSpeakerSeries for more information - future speakers will be Jim Neal and Clifford Lynch. While online access is limited during the talks, the future speakers will be recorded and the webcasts posted soon after for all to view. And, at the risk of sounding sycophantic, I believe our University Librarian's - Wendy P. Lougee - opening remarks are also worth a listen on their own merits.
Lorcan Dempsey - "Discovery and Delivery"
Dempsey began by describing levels of rarity of library collections based on OCLC data with the suggestion that where libraries should focus their expenditures (presumably on preservation, simply having the space to hold, doing really good digitization, etc) is on the rare items. Non-rare items could reasonably be entrusted to network-level services like the Hathi Trust. He then presented a typology of library collection types sorted by rarity and current levels of stewardship. Government publications fell into high stewardship, but low rarity. Dempsey acknowledged that this was a broad characterization and that there might be rare items within a category like government publications or maps. Also, the University of Minnesota is a partner in the Hathi Trust and has sent some of its government publications collection in for digitizing, so the Libraries are already on the path he's describing here. Caveats aside, I feel that he provides a well-reasoned and evidence-based rationale for shifting stewardship away from non-rare items and towards collections that are getting no real attention at all. This was only a tiny portion of his overall talk and I recommend going through the entire powerpoint or webcast to get the full presentation.
Presentation, Webcast, Related Readings: https://wiki.lib.umn.edu/Staff/UniversityLibrariesSpeakerSeries#dempsey
Paul Courant - "Scholarly Communications and Publishing"
Courant's talk can be best described as a reflection on just what is it that we'd like to pay for. He framed part of the problem in terms of the Parable of the Anarchist's Annual Meeting (see http://www.econ.ucsb.edu/~tedb/Journals/anarchists.pdf). In short: with coordination - either between libraries or between libraries and smaller publishers or both - we can take at least some control of the journal publishing arena. We already spend a fortune on a situation we don't like. Surely the logical thing is to begin to spend some money on creating a situation more to our liking. This includes taking on more of a publishing role and allying ourselves with societies and small publishers (including university presses) who might be more interested in the benefits of open access that the big vendors. However, when I asked if he was advocating canceling contracts with big vendors, he answered (I'm paraphrasing) "Well, probably not. Well, not entirely. Might want to pass on those Big Deals they offer though."
He also felt the library community should speak up loudly in favor of the recent RFI from the Office of Science and Technology Policy regarding increased access to the products of federally funded research. At the same time he reiterated that open access isn't exclusively a library issue. In fact, he said it's a faculty issue. Libraries need to keep pushing on the topic, but pushing faculty to understand that this is an arena they can control if the choose to do so.
Courant isn't a librarian - he's an economist by background and I found his application of an economics perspective refreshing. Again, like Dempsey's talk, there was no magic "the Libraries should do this" moment because we are in a tough spot without easy resolution. But, also like Dempsey's talk, he has a great way of expressing the issues facing libraries.
Presentation, Webcast, Related Readings: https://wiki.lib.umn.edu/Staff/UniversityLibrariesSpeakerSeries#courant
I don't know if these speakers really will lead to concrete ideas for coping with our budget problems, but I sure am glad we're having them - each one has been thought-provoking.
Thanks to James for the invitation to blog… I should start out by making clear what I believe to be the ethical foundation for what we do as librarians…
Librarianship is founded in two inter-related principles. 1) the stewardship of knowledge and 2) the free, open and effective sharing of knowledge for the common good. Everything we do as professionals flows from – or, at least, should(!) flow from --these two principles. (We can talk later about aberrations…)
Stewardship implies thinking comprehensively and synthetically about knowledge and about how knowledge is historically organized but even more importantly, about how knowledge might be organized as it continues to evolve… I hope it is very clear that I am saying explicitly: librarianship is not defined by a physical format (board and rags) or by intellectual domain or by economic or cultural jurisdiction. By implication, stewardship implies a careful consideration of how knowledge is created, of epistemology.
I think all good librarians practice epistemology intuitively . A senior scientist for whom I once worked said that he had the uncomfortable feeling that I was “observing” him – and of course, he was right – for many years I have considered ethnography to be an essential part of the librarians role. Though, unlike me, a really skilled librarian-ethnographer is not obvious…
What should follow from practical observations is insight and innovation for the benefit of all who seek to use knowledge.
As for sharing, the American public library is one of our most fundamental democratic institutions. It embodies the meritocratic notion that every member of our civil society has the right to access to knowledge and should have the freedom to develop knowledge creatively and productively (or even idly and unproductively! – Bertrand Russell, among others, has noted the importance of “idleness” to the creative process – and apparently, Charles Darwin – as he was gestating The Origin of Species -- shot pool with his butler most days… The pool table was next door to his study).
The American public library tradition has evolved in parallel with the evolution of science. Both traditions are strongly dependent upon full disclosure, upon full access and upon effective use. In a very fundamental sense, without submission of one’s scientific analysis and data to public scrutiny, one is not practicing science.
Similarly in the public sphere, there has been a strong and increasing demand that public policy and decisions taken for the public good, be “evidence-based” . (One might consider Colin Powell's performance before the the UN, just prior to the Iraq War, -- to be a pro forma honoring of this expectation?)
In a complexly representative system of government, it is only by provision of the evidentiary basis for policy and decisions that citizens can engage with and evaluate policy and decisions. The importance to access to data as evidence has become critically clear as the discussion of global climate change has progressed… Ultimately not only should the available data as evidence be fully available for examination, but the scientific logic that supports the selection of those data as evidence should also be transparently and usefully available... More, to follow...