More news and new resources via INFOdocket.com.
Time once again for a selection of news and new resources that we hope will be an interest to the FGI community. The following posts are from INFOdocket.com (@infofodocket) where we compile and post new items daily.
10. Full Text Reference Resource: Trade & Development: UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics 2011
From the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
[Update 5/9/10: Thanks to Debbie Rabina for sending me a copy of her article and allowing us to post here (PDF). On a side note, how long will it be until ALA goes open access with all of their publications? Librarians should be walking the open access walk!]
I'd like to briefly commend this article from the Spring 2010 issue of DttP: Documents to the People:
Rabina, Debbie. "Ted Kennedy's Speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention: Researching Pre-digital government information in the Digital Age." DttP: Documents to the People (2010) v. 38, no. 1: 18-22.
This article is notable for two reasons. It is a fine example of using current events to leverage interest in government information. The article also serves as a good "how-to" guide on evaluating factual claims past and present. Aside from these two main benefits the article demonstrates the continuing relevance of print resources while showing the usefulness of electronic resources. It rejects a "paper vs. electronic" version of the world in favor of a "both/and" approach.
As far as I can tell, this article is not available electronically, but could be acquired through interlibrary loan at your local library.
DttP: Documents to the People is aimed at government information librarians, but I believe it would be useful to transparency advocates and researchers of all stripes. Check it out if you can. I find it an important benefit of my membership in the Government Documents Roundtable of ALA.
The Washington Post has a story today about "a little-known database on the Department of Education's Web site" -- the Private School Universe Survey (PSS):
- Mining the Web for public data on private schools, by Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post (November 2, 2009).
Private schools have a reputation for being, well, private. Private about their size, private about their students, private about rates of college-bound students.
The information on their Web sites, which is sometimes meager, and the material that a pesky parent can wrangle from an admissions director sometimes seem to be all that is available to interested families.
But a little-known database on the Department of Education's Web site has a surprisingly comprehensive profile of the nation's private schools.
The Private School Universe Survey, part of the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, is a biennial roundup of private schools with information on enrollment, demographics, college attendance rates and number of days in the school year.
In conjunction with the President's speech to students on Tuesday, Sept. 8, The Department of Education is sponsoring a video contest for students. More information will be available at http://www.ed.gov/iamwhatilearn/index.html .
From the announcement :
To further encourage student engagement, the U.S. Department of Education is launching the "I Am What I Learn" video contest. On September 8, we will invite students to respond to the president's challenge by creating videos, up to two minutes in length, describing the steps they will take to improve their education and the role education will play in fulfilling their dreams.
We invite all students age 13 and older to create and upload their videos to YouTube by October 8. Submissions can be in the form of video blogs, public service announcements (PSAs), music videos, or documentaries. Students are encouraged to have fun and be creative with this project! The general public will then vote on their favorites to determine the top 20 finalists. These 20 videos will be reviewed by a panel of judges including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The panel will choose three winners, each of whom will receive a $1,000 cash prize.
I came across Ranking America this evening. It provides information on the United States. Particularly, it compares America with other countries and also ranks it in terms of issues such as education, economy, environment etc. The information on this website has been compiled by Mark Rice, a professor of American Studies in a college in New York.
In light of all this financial upheaval, I've been trying to find good sources for learning basic economic concepts. I must admit that I haven't taken economics since high school, a class that consisted of one semester learning to balance checkbooks... and that was about it. Lately I've been reading a basic economics book, and have another on my to-read list, but it struck me that what I really needed was a series of short educational publications on specific economic topics.
Hmmm... government documents, anyone? Here are some helpful documents and websites I'm using.
- Federal Reserve Education
- Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco: Publications
- Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas: Publications
- The Federal Reserve, Monetary Policy and the Economy
- Free Enterprise, the Economy and Monetary Policy
- Everyday Economics
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Please comment if you've got further resources--I'm fascinated to see them!
During this past spring, I had the pleasure to teach a Government Information Sources course at San Jose State University. The course was taught solely online via BlackBoard, which is a great tool for many basic class maintenance tasks, such as grading and posting assignments, however because it is proprietary, BlackBoard creates a silo of course data that doesn't readily support open and participatory modes of communication that are associated with Web2.0. Subsequently, I decided to use BlackBoard for the basic functions (grading & assignments) and use Web 2.0 tools to support course interaction, communication, and content creation. What follows is a review of the tools I used in the course and how the class used them. I've also included the links to the resources.
Connotea is an excellent tagging tool because it does some things other social bookmarking tools don't. First, it supports SFX & openurls, which means it integrates with your library's link resolver. It also has a group feature that allows collecting, browsing and viewing multiple users' library of tagged bookmarks at once. Lastly, each user or group can create a wiki (called a 'community page') that is attached to the user or group's bookmarks. Other major social bookmarking tools don't have these features and, collectively, they are definitely a big sell for someone teaching a course.
In class, I used the Connotea wiki extensively as the class syllabus and weekly course notes. I also tagged course materials with a unique week tag ( e.g. libr221-wk1) so students could filter on each week's materials easily. Additionally, as part of a class assignment, each student was required to bookmark and annotate a number of government information resources based on certain criteria. Since Connotea provides a RSS feed for each account, a feed for each student could be set up in my Google Reader account, so I could easily monitor (and grade) their tagging.
- Connotea: http://www.connotea.org/
- Course Group on Connotea (libr221): http://www.connotea.org/group/libr221
- Course wiki on Connotea: http://www.connotea.org/wiki/Group:libr221
MapBuilder is a cool mapping too that uses both Google & Yahoo maps APIs. Users can create and share a map, add locations to the map, and annotate those locations with textual descriptions or images. As part of the first assignment, students were asked to map their location along with their local FDLP libraries. Google maps now offers a similar product called 'My maps', which offers many of the same features.
- MapBuilder: http://www.mapbuilder.net/
- Google Maps: http://maps.google.com/ (Google MyMaps now offers most of the functionality of MapBuilder minus the collaborative piece.)
I created a course introduction with a very inexpensive webcam and added it to my YouTube account. Additionally, I used Camtasia to create screen casts of government information resources or lectures and shared these with the class by uploading them to my web site. I found this to be a very easy and effective means of one-way communication with the class.
For augmenting existing course material or for finding interesting 'retro' education resources, the Prelinger Archive, a public domain collection of over 60,000 ephemera videos (government & corporate PSA from the 50s, etc.), is a great teaching resource. I tried to select material that corresponded with the class topic, but sometimes chose material for just levity value. For a sampling of the
titles I used in the course, check out The Powers of Congress, Japanese Relocation, and Meet Your Federal Government. When time permitted, I would actually download the videos from the Internet Archive and then upload them back into YouTube. The benefit of getting it in YouTube was to take advantage of their superior video compression and the provided code that nicely embeds the videos in a course web page.
- My YouTube account: http://www.youtube.com/user/jt14den
- Prelinger Archive: http://www.archive.org/details/prelinger
Google Groups, a mail list service, provides a nice web interface and archive to the basic listserv. I created a google group for the class primarily because the email and discussion features in BlackBoard have big usability issues. A nice added feature in Google Groups is that it allows you to add web pages to the group, which is great for adding course information or a syllabus.
Google Documents and Spreadsheets is a browser based productivity suite that also allows for document sharing and collaboration. In the course, we used this site primarily for the final class paper. I let students submit their papers in whatever format they wanted (all students chose Word). I then uploaded, graded and shared my comments with them in Google Docs. This allowed me to provide in-line comments and feed back on their papers in a convenient way.
I used Planet Venus to aggregate multiple blogs or feeds into one interface. In our class instance of Planet Venus -- called GovInfo Planet -- we pulled in other govinfo blogs (FGI, DocuTicker, etc.) and related news along with our own course blog entries and Connotea lagging. This is a nice approach if you want to aggregate a number of information sources for a course. It also supports filters.
Planet Venus: http://intertwingly.net/code/venus/ (requires server
- GovInfo Planet: http://www.romanuslonginus.com/venus/govinfo/
Meebo is a popular free web-based multi-protocol chat service. It also provides nice chat widgets that can be embedded into a web page. for the course, I embedded a meebome chat widget into the SJSU faculty page and on the course syllabus page in BlackBoard. This allows access for those students who don't have an IM account on one of the services.
Easy Forms and Polls
Wufoo makes it very easy to produce and distribute webforms. I used it to poll the class a several times during the semester. It is very convenient since you can embed the form in a web page (or blog entry) and have the results pop into Wufoo.
- Wufoo: http://wufoo.com/
Fantasy Congress takes the very popular Fantasy Football game and applies it to politics. Users can select teams of members of congress and join a 'league'. The application also allows users to trade members. In my course, I required students to select a team and join the course league. The great aspect of this application is that it pulls in information on current legislation. Users can rate bills and explore educational information about how Congress works. However, this application didn't really take off with the class (or the teacher). I think it is because there is a big difference between trying to assess and select the 'best athlete" from selecting politicians. For one, I bet most people know their representatives and a few big names, but beyond that most members of congress are unknown. Secondly, there is a bit of a cringe factor applying the sports analogy to politics. Maybe it comes
too close to the truth about perceived cynical aspects of politics.
Fantasy Congress: http://www.fantasycongress.com/
-- Tim Dennis
If you are interested in the future of government information, you'll want to read Why Grants.gov Should Be Abolished by Carol Kolmerten ([subscription required], The Chronicle of Higher Education January 12, 2007, page c1) even if you don't write grants or work at an institution of higher education. (The article will also be available without a subscription here for a few days.)
Kolmerten concludes that the result of the government moving from a paper based system of grant submission to electronic submission is that "small colleges can kiss their chances of getting federal money goodbye." Why? Because the new system is so hard to use, inconsistent, and unreliable.
Why is this relevant to government information specialists? For two reasons. First, the federal government is increasingly treating information dissemination as a part of e-government and Grants.gov gives us a preview of what to expect. Second, Kolmerten's situation -- trying to be the entire "grants office" for a small college while her primary job is as a faculty member -- has some close parallels to the situation of many government documents librarians who must wear more than one hat and cope with the shift of government information to digital access.
With E-government ("utilizing technology to improve how the Federal Government serves you") there will be less paper and more online forms. This will mean we will see fewer publications -- even in digital form -- and more "transactions." Kolberten calls attention to this in one of her suggestions for changes in the grant application process. She says that "Government-grant applications need to be downloadable. Period." In other words, with the current e-gov, transaction-based, automated, online, Grants.gov application process, you cannot download a form; you have to fill out forms online.
If you don't think that is relevant to what we do in our government documents collections, compare your shelves of 1970 or 1980 or even 1990 Census volumes to your shelves of 2000 Census volumes. The census has already moved to e-gov style transaction-based retrieval of information and there are, for the most part, few publications to download.
Many of us will empathize with Kolmerten's frustration at using government information online. The grants process required her to use software that her IT office did not support and, as a faculty member, she is not allowed to add software to her college-issued computer. To file the grant, she worked with the campus business office, the campus comptroller, and the campus assistant treasurer -- all on technical issues and requirements of the automated system, not on the grant itself. Once she submitted a form it was rejected and, after some research, she discovered the reason was that on one form she had not filled in one name in capital letters, though the form did not say that was required.
When she tried to request help, she got only automated replies (58 emails in a 48 hour period). When she tried to respond to automated messages, she was told her request was "closed." She had to submit a form as PDF file using a particular version of Acrobat and the faculty member she was working with didn't have that version requiring them to pass documents back and forth over slow connections. (High speed, broadband network connections are still a luxury for many.)
In the wonderful Catch-22 universe we had entered, we could not reapply without a federal ID number, and we could not get the federal ID number until the application was accepted. We needed a real person at NIH (someone who read one of my desperate e-mail messages) to resubmit it for us (three times) before it was finally accepted.
As a data librarian, I'm very much in favor of providing online retrieval of data and statistics and even developed one of the first such systems over 15 years ago. But online systems, while they are convenient for some, are not panaceas, they do not serve all people equally well, and they do not necessarily substitute adequately for print in every case.
Balance is the key and a government information dissemination system that is digital-only, transaction-based only, and without preservable instantiations of information is just as un-balanced as a system that has no digital delivery at all.
This is not the first time Grants.gov has been criticized for it's technical deficiencies. (See Grants.gov is Windows-only.)