Video from NPR Digital Services on the value of government information resources in journalism. Provides examples of data driven stories, discusses where to find data and how to effectively use data without making "rookie mistakes." Also contains information on using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to get data not currently accessible.
If you watch till the end, you'll see a mention of the usefulness of the State Agency Databases project at about 52:00.
The full text of a letter dated November 2, 2011 from Joyce L. Ogburn, ACRL President to William Boarman, Public Printer of the United States and Mary Alice Baish, Superintendent of Documents is now posted on the ACRL Insider blog.
Before sharing the full text of the letter, Ogburn writes:
We recognize that there are members who fall on both sides of the issues as recently stated by other associations and consortia. Over the past few weeks we have been considering how to proceed – reviewing the current situation, what ACRL has done in the past, and giving careful thought to approach we should take.
We decided that ACRL needs to lend its voice to the conversation and that we have precedent to guide us. Our past actions and letters urged GPO to look to the future and work with libraries to develop collaborative models for managing federal documents. We believe the best approach is to continue in the same vein, an approach that is quite reasonable and measured, as ACRL is known to be.
Here are Two Paragraphs From the Letter Sent to Boarman and Baish:
ACRL believes that the future of libraries will be based in innovative uses of technology and intensive collaboration across geographic boundaries. The multi-state models for managing federal documents that libraries have developed address the pressing issues of the economic climate, the imperative for wider collaboration, and the improvement of access to these critical resources. We view these as necessary and viable partnerships that will sustain library collections and services and will create enduring programs of access and preservation.
We understand that many people in the library community are concerned about the long-term quality of government information services, and ACRL is convinced that the quality of services associated with collaborative efforts will be stronger than stand alone efforts. ACRL urges the GPO to work closely and openly with depository libraries to explore and establish new models. It is essential that we leverage the possibilities inherent in 21st century practices to serve our citizens now and well into the future.
Direct to Complete Blog Post (incl. Letter)
Tony Robins, a New York City author and architecture tour guide, recently posed an interesting question on the SLA-NY listserv: could anyone help him ascertain what had happened to the Port Authority Library’s contents, once housed on the 55th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower, but which had certainly been closed before the buildings were destroyed in September 2001?
A few weeks later, Robins got back to the listserv with his fascinating results. A few dozen librarians had replied to him, either with their own anecdotal evidence, or links to articles that mention the loss of the archives (like this one from Archeology online, in 2002), or with information on who might answer the question more thoroughly. The library, according to his aggregated research, contained over 75,000 volumes and was staffed by three full-time reference librarians. Someone who had worked at the Port Authority Library before it closed described the collection as having “held most of the original blueprints and other materials related to the building of the New York-New Jersey bridges and tunnels, and the [T]rade [C]enter itself.” The Port Authority was formed in 1921 by compact between the two states, and the library’s existence dates back to at least 1928, as evidenced by an article in the November 1928 SLA newsletter (PDF). Robins also heard from another librarian who shared that the Port Authority had been in discussion with a number of area universities and libraries to find homes for the contents of the library, at one point, going so far as to supply a CD with metadata on the library’s holdings. The talks were ongoing during 2001, however, and nothing concrete had been transferred. Robins even got an answer from the Port Authority’s press department, confirming that the library was closed in 1995 due to budgetary restraints and although some of the more valuable material was removed, most of the archives were being stored in a sub-basement of the towers, and thus lost during the 9/11 attacks.
It’s a telling, and slightly chilling, story. On the one hand, the obvious tragedy is that original archives across seventy years were destroyed. But perhaps more subtle is the fact that the library had been out of use for six years and had not been relocated. Of course, the collection most likely contained a vast array of print reference materials for various departments within the Port Authority that, although useful for their patrons, could hardly be called unique. However, I was struck, in reading Robin’s results, that there was acknowledgment from various sources that some of the material was unique and irreplaceable. Their permanent loss was, of course, unforeseeable - but what’s also interesting is the six years they were simply out of use, in a basement. Was this a question of importance or relevance? Who would be served by these documents? Was it a matter of bureaucracy, of space, or of budget, that the unique elements of the collection weren’t transferred somewhere where they could be used?
So often in our coursework at SILS, we hear about LOCKSS - “lots of copies, keep stuff safe”. We hear about the importance of conservation and preservation, and how libraries can and should build consortia so that their patrons can access the breadth of resources from not just one, but many libraries. And in our Government Information Sources class, we learn about the challenges in making government information available and accessible to the people. We are learning that government document librarianship isn’t just about providing service to online materials, because it’s not all online - it’s about recognizing and advocating for the value of your collection, whether print or digital. This story reminded me that not all libraries survive budget cuts (much less catastrophic events), and not all information is infinitely replicated or repeated in digital formats.
- Krissa Corbett Cavouras, Pratt SILS
In the course of my work of maintaining the Lost Docs Blog, I came across the following publication:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. After an [suicide] Attempt: A Guide for Taking Care of Yourself After Your Treatment in the Emergency Department. (SMA 08-4355; CMHS-SVP06-0157), Rockville, MD:
Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006. Reprinted 2009.
I noticed it had this public domain notice that I've seen on some government publications:
Public Domain Notice
All material appearing in this publication is in the public domain and may be reproduced or copied without permission from SAMHSA. Citation of the source is appreciated. This publication may not be reproduced or distributed for a fee without the specific, written authorization of the Office of Communications, SAMHSA, HHS.
It is a fact that not enough people realize the public domain nature of most government materials and so my reaction to this notice was initially very positive. I instinctively like the idea of labeling govdocs as public domain so that people and organizations (Google, I'm talking to you!) would feel free to reuse and remix without fear of consequences and not lock up content not meant to be locked up.
On the other hand, if only a handful of agencies use such notices for public education, it is conceivable that an environment would be created where only govdocs with public domain notices would be treated as public domain. I'm not sure if that's a danger, but I worry. The possible danger would be less if a public domain notice was required governmentwide.
What do you think? Are public domain notices on govdocs a good idea? Are they a good idea whether done governmentwide or by a few agencies? Would we be better off if there was a governmentwide policy to label the minority of copyrighted material in govdocs?
Note: Thanks to Vicki Tate for reporting this document to GPO and sending a copy of her receipt to the Lost Docs blog.
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.
Catching up with some updates released in August:
CRS has updated its Access to Government Information in the United States report. The latest edition is dated August 31, 2009 (via OpenCRS.com).
The Justice Department released its 2009 edition of Department of Justice Guide to the Freedom of Information Act on August 10. The announcement says the "2009 edition contains a newly updated and revised discussion of all aspects of the Freedom of Information Act, as amended by the OPEN Government Act, including the Act's procedural requirements, its exemptions and exclusions, as well as considerations applicable to FOIA litigation."
[UPDATE 7/12/10: I updated the link to the paper from Justin's site to the umd site where the paper was officially published. jrj]
I thought I would give the readers of FGI the first scoop on some early research that is coming out of the University of Maryland on how members of Congress are using Twitter.
Abstract: Twitter is a microblogging service boasting over 7 million members and growing at a tremendous rate. With the buzz surrounding the service have come claims of its ability to transform the way people interact and share information, and calls for public figures to start using the site. In this study, we examine the way Twitter is being used by legislators, particularly by members of the United States Congress. We read and coded over 4,500 posts from all members of Congress using the site. Our analysis shows that Congresspeople are primarily using Twitter to post information, particularly links to news articles about them and their blog posts, and to report on their simple activities. These tend not to provide new insights into government or the legislative process or to improve transparency; rather, they are vehicles for self-promotion. However, Twitter is also facilitating direct communication between Congresspeople and citizens, though this is a less popular activity. In this paper, we report on our results, analysis, and provide suggestions for how Twitter can be used by Congresspeople in ways that benefit the citizens, not just the PR machines of the legislators themselves.
From the results of this study we found that Twitter is being used effectively in some spaces and not as effectively in others. In particular, Twitter has created opportunities for increased communication between citizens and Congresspeople, but the majority of posts contained information or location and activities which were being used for outreach and self promotion rather than to provide information that is helpful to citizens.
* Note this paper has been submitted for an upcoming conference but has NOT been accepted, peer-reviewed, or published. Please DO NOT CITE this article but if you are interested feel free to contact me.
DataFerrett (Federated Electronic Research, Review, Extraction, and Tabulation Tool) is a free data mining and extraction tool developed by the U.S. Census Bureau that allows users to search, browse, combine, tabulate, recode, and analyze statistical data from a network of online data libraries. The DataFerret software can be downloaded from the website or ran in the browser via a java applet.
Some material to read before getting started:
Available data sets included:
- American Community Survey (ACS)
- American Housing Survey (AHS)
- Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)
- Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES)
- County Business Patterns (CBP)
- Current Population Survey (CPS)
- Decennial Census of Population and Housing
- Harvard-MIT Data Center Collection
- Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA)
- Local Employment Dynamics (LED)
- National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS)
- National Center for Health Statistics Mortality (MORT)
- National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HANES)
- National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)
- National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS)
- National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife (FHWAR)
- Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE)
- Social Security Administration (SSA)
- Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)
- Survey of Program Dynamics (SPD)
DataFerret is a wonderful tool for exploring and analyzing data. Enjoy!
(found via Open Access News)
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Library has recently put together a very unique collection of government information. Free and available to all, UNL's Government Comics Collection is a digital library containing 174 scanned comics books from various government entities. In the government realm, comics books have had a long and rich history as a delivery medium for government information. UNL has managed to successfully amass a pretty impressive collection.
(found via MetaFilter)
Data.gov is now live and ready for you to explore!
The purpose of Data.gov is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.
Data.gov has a searchable data catalog that gives access to data through the "raw" data catalog and by using tools. "The Raw Data Catalog provides an instant download of machine readable, platform-independent datasets while the Tools Catalog provides hyperlinks to tools that allow you to mine datasets."
Please note that by accessing datasets or tools offered on Data.gov, you agree to the Data Policy, which you should read before accessing any dataset or tool.
Here is an excerpt from the policy that we need to read closely:
Data accessed through Data.gov do not, and should not, include controls over its end use. However, as the data owner or authoritative source for the data, the submitting Department or Agency must retain version control of datasets accessed. Once the data have been downloaded from the agency's site, the government cannot vouch for their quality and timeliness. Furthermore, the US Government cannot vouch for any analyses conducted with data retrieved from Data.gov.
The agency's preferred citation for each dataset is included in its metadata. Users should also cite the date that data were accessed or retrieved from Data.gov. Finally, users must clearly state that "Data.gov and the Federal Government cannot vouch for the data or analyses derived from these data after the data have been retrieved from Data.gov."
What do you think? Is the policy fair? Any suggestions for improvement we could make to Data.gov?
Also, check out Sunlight Lab's "Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge"!
Just as the federal government begins to provide data in Web developer-friendly formats, we're organizing Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge to demonstrate that when government makes data available it makes itself more accountable and creates more trust and opportunity in its actions. The contest submissions will also show the creativity of developers in designing compelling applications that provide easy access and understanding for the public while also showing how open data can save the government tens of millions of dollars by engaging the development community in application development at far cheaper rates that traditional government contractors.
Now, let's go play around with this new site and make suggestions, shall we?