Yesterday I said I was going to talk about the Government Information Online project as yet another example of how government information librarians can work together across geography and institutional lines. In a nutshell, since February 11, 2008, about 26 libraries (private, public, academic and state libraries) have been using OCLC's questionpoint software to answer email questions and host chat sessions from the public. In fact, I am going to be on chat duty in about 45 minutes from now. Here are some preliminary figures:
Total number of sessions registered on the system for emails and chats: 6,121.
This averages about 500 sessions per month.
Total for emails: 3,713 Total for chats: 2,408
February: 693 390: emails 303: chats
March: 573 315: emails 258: chats
April: 612 353: emails 259: chats
May: 492 314: emails 178: chats
June: 512 295: emails 217: chats
July: 460 281: emails 179: chats
August: 411 272: emails 139: chats
September: 596 382: emails 214: chats
October: 787 495: emails 292: chats
November: 586 389: emails 197: chats
December: 399 227: emails 172: chats
I think in terms of numbers and quality of service, this project stands as an excellent example of how librarians from a multitude of institutions can reach out to the public. The response, and support from the institutions and GPO, have been excellent.
I will speak a bit more about the service implications of this kind of model tomorrow.
The next few months are important for libraries to take advantage of the civic optimism unleashed by the recent national elections. Promoting government information in new (and not so new) ways ought to become the priority for our institutions and associations. I have already mentioned a couple of possibilities -- Talking Back to Democracy and working closely with your congressional district offices to reach out to parts of the community not directly participating in the life of the institution that is responsible for a depository. Or even working with the several depositories that might be part of a congressional district.
The point is, I suppose, is to get back to some things that librarians have always done well and transcend both the traditional practices of paper-based government information service and the whiz-bang possibilities of using the web. The heart of our local practice, if not our theory, is that we explain complicated processes and events. Here again, examples from journalism might shed some light. The Chicago Tribune recently published a graphic that explains the rather baroque steps involved in order to impeach a governor. I think this is a graphic style/narrative librarians have touched upon in the past -- remember those different kinds of graphics that show how a bill becomes a law. From another point of explaining, there are two excellent examples from the New York Review Books -- one that describes a rather complicated case of libel in England and the other that discusses the role of pharmaceutical companies in the promotion of useless drugs -- that demonstrate the classic strengths of what are essentially bibliographic essays.
Another way we reach out to our communities is through information/reference services. Tomorrow I will talk about the the success of the Government Information Online project and the promise it might offer.
See you on day 5.
In one week we will be free from the current regime of government information command and control. This time next Tuesday, a new president will begin work with a new Congress to address a multiplicity of problems that challenge this country at home and abroad.
But, as the old rock and roll anthem once put it
The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that's all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain't changed
'Cause the banners, they are flown in the next war
There's nothing in the streets
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Are now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again ...
I think -- to put it in a very blunt fashion -- libraries are all about not getting "fooled again."
In my last posting, one of the points I made was that somehow (someway) Librarians, their institutions, and other like-minded cultural organizations will have to come to terms about what their future roles might be in respect to this unfolding democratic revolution of change in a digital age. Especially librarians and libraries that choose to participate in the civic conversation that makes the remarkable democratic moments of next Tuesday possible. The globe's other two major powers, as pointed out in today's New York Times opinion piece, remain mired in other governing models that do not demand a comparable kind of mutual openness and transparency between the governors and the governed. The one and true thing about America's civic electoral revolutions, for the most part, is that they play out with a minimum of bloodshed and deception.
This bloodless change is especially true if the people are truly engaged in the civic mechanisms (more than just voting in elections) -- which seem to happen last year. Now, the big question is, can they sustain this engagement. Certainly, with two wars overseas (and dozens of other armed conflicts), economic crises at home, environmental damage and ruin around the globe -- all of these "engage" our communities in significant ways. However, this sense of mutual purpose, for the most part remains disconnected and unorganized. People realize they are living through strange and difficult times -- but there is often a huge disconnect between a community and the elected/public officials they send to the halls of government. I live in Illinois and this disconnect is apparent everyday as we watch the latest debacle unravel the results of the last free and open election.
Obama promises to mend this break, and demonstrated the community organizer's instinct to build a common cause amongst a vast number of people from different backgrounds and circumstances. But it will be very interesting to see if he can sustain this civic bonding once he is lashed to the obligations of office and the political horse-trading that still dominates our politics. Already news reports, and Obama's own words, caution us that everything promised during the elections will be off the tables until the economic crisis somehow brought to some kind of path to resolution.
I think this means librarians in general, and government information librarians in particular, can not expect quick responses to their calls or advocacy change of how government information must (or can) be used more effectively by our public officials. But, if we do not make our arguments because of this lack of quick response, then we got "fooled again."
Our revolution, unlike the one from November last year, will continue to be incremental and deliberative. Now is the time to consolidate the nearly thirty years of advocacy we have been accumulating, as pointed out in my earlier posts, and work our arguments into something that can win a pragmatic plan to addressing our many concerns -- everything from bibliographic control to preservation. It will involve changing laws; it will involve changing regulations; it will involve enforcing laws and regulation, it will involve money -- maybe more money, or perhaps, doing something different with the money we have.
One way to sustain this effort for the long haul, which I will discuss in my next post, is to use our organizations to keep the civic conversation going in our communities.
Seven days to liberation -- then the real work will begin.
See you on Day 6
Daniel and Jim raise several good points. I will break from the possession obsession and move on to some other issues I think will impact the future success of government information services in our bibliographic institutions and with our communities.
And Daniel is right, this time of change and upheaval is also an opportunity to take an advantage of putting some emphasis in our message about civic engagement and librarianship(speaking as a poor citizen from Illinois who has, perhaps, experienced enough political revolution -- from triumph, to tragedy and now to a pathetic comedy of ego and errors.)
Specifically -- how do those of us responsible for government information in library institutions take advantage of the public's need to figure out what is going happening out there? In the Gutenberg traditions, we did with our collections, bibliographic tools/structures, and a hard-won pragmatic expertise on helping people find information and/or knowledge to their questions.
How do we do it in a world of civic information transformed by digital technology? There are four ways we can do this, and I will discuss each (with a specific suggestion or two of how to approach the problem) over the next ten days.
1. How do we work within our professional associations. and with other advocacy groups, on how to better understand and collaborate with the public/non-governmental institutions responsible for creating and the several layers of civic information content and infrastructure?
2. How do we establish some kind of clear understanding of what our institutional role should be/might be in the preservation of the vast number of digital and tangible formats now used by these public institutions?
3. Can we agree on clear guidelines and expectations of what it means to effectively (and actively) promote the access and use of civic information within our communities?
4. In terms of education and professional knowledge -- what are the essential skills, outlook, tools necessary to support a librarian who specializes in government information services?
I figure these points will keep us well occupied long after liberation day.
See you on Day 10.
Good to be back on the grid. My unexepected time away gave me a chance to gather some more threads together and plan for a post-liberation effort -- in other words, once we reach January 20, the new President joins the new Congress, what happens next?
Well, just a few days after the swearing-in ceremony on the Hill, we are going into a season of library association meetings -- ALA in Denver, ACRL in Seatlle, and the Federal Depository Library council in Tampa -- in four short months. If these aren't opportunities to discuss and debate and organize about the future of government information services and civic engagement, then what are we doing with our time?
In the meantime, in a brief response to Jim Jacobs thoughtful piece in response to my koan "Can there be librarians without libraries" -- don't confuse the lack of control over information with the inability to do anything positive or proactive about how public information is distributed through a democratic society. My ideal of librarians and their institutions in this changed environment does not suggest either of Jim's arguments that we will become travel agents or proto-business managers with responsibilities to manage the content management rights for a specific set of users.
My argument lies less with what we will be doing in a digital world, and more with the notion that this library activity will not spring from possession (which is the same as control in Jim's argument I think), and more from mediation, context and praxis. Why is this? Even though Jim argues otherwise, the digital production and distribution of information/knowledge has upset the traditional relationships formed and exploited by librarians, users, and producers of information. Just check out the recent stories about publishers, bookstores, and other cultural institutions that aggregate (i.e. possess) information on behalf of their communities.
But more on this in subsequent posts along that road to liberation and beyond.
I missed you all and can't wait to get back into the thick of things.
In his continuing series about Government Information Liberation, John Shuler considers the role of collections in libraries. One particularly revealing moment in his discussion is his day 60 post in which he describes a series of questions that he poses to his graduate students to get at the "fundamental things we do."
The Question and Conclusions
Can doctor still be a doctor without a hospital? They usually answer -- of course. Can you be a lawyer with out a courthouse? Again -- affirmative. Now the money shot -- Can you be a librarian without a library? Dead silence.
One would hope that the questions prompt a discussion and don't just end in "dead silence." Although John doesn't tell us what the discussion, if any, was, he does give us his conclusions: possession of "material" might have once been central to the purpose of libraries but, in the digital age, possession is much less important part of what libraries do.
Even though John qualifies his conclusions to allow for some limited role of collections for some libraries, he overwhelms his caveats with assertions that collections begin and end with the physical ownership of "material" and that "we will not own (possess) much of the material." He even coins the phrase "Gutenberg Librarians" to deprecate "possession and/or control" (66) of information by libraries.
So, John's essential, bottom-line conclusion, regardless of his caveats, comes across clearly: The net, John says, has brought on "the beginning of the end" of library collections (35).
I think his conclusion is wrong and the question he asks is misleading. You can see how misleading the question is by turning it around and realizing that the professions/institutions he uses are not parallel:
- Do doctors build hospitals? (No)
- Do lawyers build courthouses? (No)
- Do librarians build libraries? (Yes)
But the real problem is that the question implies a shared understanding of what a library is -- a shared understanding that I think we need to articulate explicitly. I think that, before one asks "Can you be a librarian without a library?" one should ask "What is the role of the library is in the digital age?" John has been outlining what he thinks the role of librarians should be and he apparently wants to separate the role of librarians from the role of libraries. Very well: let's examine the roles of both with some discussion, not dead silence.
I think John is implying is his series of posts that librarianship in the digital age will be about helping people navigate a complex, networked maze of shifting, changing information. Librarians will help users "connect the dots" and find connections that are not otherwise explicit (47). While there is nothing wrong with this view, and there is much to recommend it, it doesn't go far enough and it misses a key role for libraries.
As John portrays it, this view accepts that libraries will be less about selecting and preserving information and building digital collections and more about providing services for information over which librarians have no control. Librarians, in this view, are valuable precisely because they have no control over information.
This view accepts that information will be tightly controlled by producers and distributors. What is available, who can use it, under what conditions it may be used, and when it becomes no longer available will all be controlled by government agencies, publishers, individuals, organizations, and other "content" producers.
John also proposes that "librarianship" will be more important than "libraries." To me, this sounds like librarians will be analogous to travel agents who, because they deal every day with the complex, difficult, disparate, unconnected systems, are better able than the traveller to navigate these systems and find the best flight at the best price. So librarians, in this view, will help casual information users navigate a variety of complex, difficult, disparate, unconnected, public-freely-available and proprietary-and-licensed information systems. Just as travel agents have no control over what flights or trips are available or what they cost or what restrictions are placed on them, so librarians will have no control over what information is available or what it costs or what restrictions are placed on its use.
In this view, librarians will not manage collections but will license the right to read from those who control information. Whether the license comes in the form of payment of dollars to a commercial vendor and a written contract that licenses access, or an FDLP designation, or a contractual "partnership" with GPO, or the anointing of permission by Google Books legal department, the result is the same. As a recent article in Library Hi Tech says, "In future, librarians will no longer manage media, they will manage rights" (Böhner, Dörte. Digital rights description as part of digital rights management: a challenge for libraries. Library Hi Tech 26, no. 4 (2008): 598-605). This view reshapes the role of librarians from information providers to information gatekeepers; from information curators to business-officers who sign contracts and pay bills.
Who would want to go into that field?
John hasn't said much about the role of libraries except to assert that, for many people, the digital environment is now the "default library" [emphasis added] that supports broad access to a "collection" of government information (51).
But, shouldn't we be asking about the future, not just describing the present?
Shouldn't we be asking about the relationships between doctors and lawyers and information? Certainly doctors and lawyers need a body of literature to practice their professions. Instead of asserting that users have access today, shouldn't we be asking, "Who will build and manage and preserve those collections and ensure long-term, free access to them?"
Shouldn't we be asking what guarantees we have that the information we want today will be available if we want it tomorrow? Shouldn't we be asking who controls access to that information and what are their reasons for providing access? Shouldn't we be asking who will pay for long-term preservation and access?
Just because users who are not familiar with information policy, information economics, or information technologies are happy with current access to information does not mean that they will be happy with the access (or lack of it!) tomorrow or in ten years or a hundred years. Providing easy access at one point in time does not guarantee easy access at a future point in time and can actually mask problems of long-term access.
It is one of the roles of librarians to think beyond today and one of the roles of libraries to guarantee access for tomorrow. We need to think about the long-term. Using short-term convenience as a reason for avoiding that kind of thought is evading one of the key roles of librarianship. And assuming that producers and distributors will have the same values and ethics and practices as librarians is to confuse the role of producers with the role of currators.
Maybe the real questions we should be asking are:
- Can lawyers practice without libraries?
- Can doctors practice without libraries?
- Can libraries exist without librarians?
The word "library" does not mean "I have some information." If it did, bookstores would be libraries and publishers would be librarians. We need libraries in addition to publishers and bookstores (and government agencies that distribute information as a by-product of another, primary, mission).
It is all about control
Let's be clear, then. Even in the paper and ink world, libraries and their collections were about wresting control of information from producers and distributors and granting control to local communities and information users. A publisher could take a book out of print, but a library could keep it available. A user could purchase a book and pay for magazine subscriptions, but could use the information for free at the library. Libraries leveraged economies of scale for the benefit of the community, enabling every community member to have benefits of access to information that no individual could possibly afford.
The need for wresting control of information away from those who wish to control the access to and the use of information has not changed in the digital world. But the battle lines have shifted and we need librarians in the fight to keep free, open, usable access.
"Content providers" want to replace copyright with license agreements. Producers want to charge for every single use and dictate who can use information, under what conditions, and in what way. Governments want to be able to alter and even withdraw information after it has been released. And the proliferation of requirements to register to read or use information portends a world in which people will not have the right of privacy when reading.
It is ironic that, given technologies that enable almost unlimited use and re-use of information and that enable information to be distributed and used and re-used almost without cost, we face a horde of stakeholders who want to limit access, charge for every use, restrict re-use, and look over your shoulder to see what you're reading.
More inaccurate conclusions
As noted above, John hedges his conclusion a bit. His wording is that "possession is much less exclusive or destiny for any one institution" and preserving and organizing the information sources "will remain important -- but is no longer our exclusive responsibility" (66). He expands on that idea:
- [G]overnments are taking back their possession of information sources. (60)
- [M]any other web sites [are] capturing the lost or deleted pages. (60)
And from these, he draws conclusions:
- [Information will] remain with the producers or be delivered directly to the users by the producers. (50)
- [W]e will not own (possess) much of the material we mediate on behalf of our user communities. (51)
- Possession ... is no longer a social good that is dominated [by] the dominion of libraries. (60)
To me, these summarize one possible scenario out of many. And, IMHO, this scenario is not one librarians should be content to accept or embrace. Why? Because it almost certainly guarantees that a lot of bad things will happen: loss of access, loss of free access, licensing constraints, DRM constraints, loss of information, loss of usability of information, and more.
Different Questions, A Different Answers
In a separate post, I will examine those issues in more detail, but I'll close this post with some assumptions and a couple of final rhetorical questions as a way of addressing John's question, "Can you be a librarian without a library?" The assumptions:
Society needs: organizations that select that information that deserves preserving from the plethora of information that surrounds us; organizations that then acquire, organize, and preserve that information; organizations that provide trusted, free, private, secure access to and service for that information.
Society needs organizations that have the complete mix of all of these roles as their primary mission (not a secondary mission or a by-product of publishing, or dissemination, or making money). In the case of government information in a participatory democracy it is particularly important, even essential, that society has such organizations.
Reliance on those who have some, but not all, of these roles will ensure that some of these roles will go unfulfilled. Reliance on organizations that have some or all of these roles as a secondary mission or by-product of another mission will endanger free access to information, preservation and integrity of information, and the privacy of readers, and will increase the risk of the loss of information.
The rhetorical questions:
- What would you call an organization that fulfills all the roles listed above but "The Library"?
- Why would libraries want to abandon these roles to organizations that do not have these roles as their primary mission?
- If libraries do abandon these roles, what is the risk that society will lose free, open, access to its essential information?
I think those questions lead us to conclusions that are very different from the the ones John reaches. I will examine this in more detail in another post.
2. Seek to establish the most effective techniques individual bibliographic institutions can contribute to a national system of government information access, preservation and organization.
The 1990s represent some of the best and brightest efforts of advocacy, thinking and study about the future prospects of government information services in libraries -- here are some of the highlights (by no means complete; I will try to fill in more of the missing pieces in my subsequent posts)
Coming on the heels of OTA's Informing the Nation report, government information librarians were ready and willing to weigh in on the future of the federal depository library program in particular, and the role of libraries in the civic machinery of federal government information.
The decade began with a set of principles from the American Library Associations Governemnt Documents Roundtable -- published in Documents to the People, v.19:1 (March 1991):12, 14.
Soon after, a separate group of libraries came together around the issue and formed a coalition called the Dupont Circle Group, which issued its own set of principles, hosted a national conference, and made some specific recommendations on who the depository library program might change.
A year or so later, another loose affiliation of library groups came together with their own recommendations. The Coalition of Many Associations Framework debated many of the points rasied by the Dupont Circle effort, and issued its own report -- "Enhanced Library Access and Dissemination of Federal Government Information: A Framework for Future Discussion." Working Document endorsed by the American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, Special Libraries Association, 1995. American Association of Law Libraries Newsletter 27, no. 1 (September 1995): 14-15.
Not to be left out of the picture, the Depository Library Council issued its own statement on the challenges ahead -- Depository Library Council to the Public Printer (U.S.). "Alternatives for Restructuring the Depository Library Program: A Report to the Superintendent of Documents and the Public Printer from the Depository Library Council." September 1993. Administrative Notes 16, no. 16 (December 5, 1995): 23-59.
But wait -- there's more. ALA devoted significant chunks of its 1995 midwinter and summer conference to the issues -- and issued a report: * "Model for 'New Universe' of Federal Information Access and Dissemination: Preliminary Results of Forum on Government Information Policy, July 20-21, 1995, Sponsored by American Library Association." ALAWON, ALA Washington Office Newsline 4, no. 77 (August 9, 1995).
But then, the National Commission on Library and Information Science considered the problem, and issued its own set of principles, following work they did back in 1990.
GPO weighed into the fray -- and issued its own considerations -- "Report to the Congress: Study to Identify Measures Necessary for a Successful Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library Program as required by Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 1996. Public Law 104-53." Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. June 1996.
But wait there is more ...
In 1996-7, GPO issued to other strategic documents -- "Study to Identify Measures Necessary for a Successful Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library Program" and THE ELECTRONIC FEDERAL DEPOSITORY LIBRARY PROGRAM: TRANSITION PLAN, FY 1996 - FY 1998
Finally, and again -- remember I am only touching on the highlights of ten years here -- NCLIS returned to the problem and issued its own massive report on the problem of public information in a digital age following on a large-scale national effort during 1999-2000: A COMPREHENSIVE ASSESSMENT OF PUBLIC INFORMATION DISSEMINATION FINAL REPORT -- JANUARY 26, 2001
I am tired just thinking about how many brain cells we killed during these ten years trying to get a handle on the future of government information in a digital age. In reviewing this good work, I am reminded of the phrase -- those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Let's not close out this decade with another series of reports or studies -- lets do something about it.
I will get back to this exciting decade tomorrow -- after some rest.
See you Day 33
2. Seek to establish the most effective techniques individual bibliographic institutions can contribute to a national system of government information access, preservation and organization.
Ah, the 1990s....the last decade of the 20th century began with the collapse of the cold war and closed with first hints of the next global struggle (i.e. the war on terrorism.) In between we had political revolutions at home and abroad; economic boom and bust; technological upheavals; and the beginning of the end of what I call Gutenberg Librarianship.
If there were just three themes that bound the decade's narrative together, they would have to be --
1. Political shifts: the last bastions of the Lyndon Johnson inspired "Great Society" finally disappeared after nearly fifteen years of "government is the problem, not the solution" drumbeat by conservative pundits and elected officials. By mid-decade, with the Republican take over of the congress, the last years of the Clinton administration would reinvent this mantra into something called "reinventing government" -- better technology will deliver public programs and services more efficiently and smaller government will be "ok". Librarians and their associations would spend much of this decade debating how their bibliographic institutions will fit into the rapidly evolving "national information infrastructure." Unlike the comparable discussions of the late 1970s which led to enactment of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980 (primarily fostered by the many reports of the Commission on Federal Paperwork) -- the government reform efforts of the 1990s had the technology readily at had to match their ambitions -- the early grid of what was called the "information superhighway".
2. Technological and regulatory shifts: for the first time in nearly a century the old public service monopoly that bound the telecommunications industry would be overturned by, first, technology and then by changes in public oversight. Just as reinventing government imagined a leaner and more agile public administration culture, so to did the possibilities of a more interactive and consumer-driven model of telecommunication began to take shape -- largely because of the growing world wide web, the rapidly falling prices of expensive computing power, and the interoperability of certain software tools that shifted the communication from textual to graphical interfaces. The late 1990's federal laws governing telecommunications were rewritten and the "public monopoly" granted the telephone and telegraph companies almost 90 years before was lifted. Note too, with two years of these major rewrites, Congress and the President rewrote the laws governing public welfare...
3. Social and economic shifts -- at some point during the decade everyone suddenly felt much less poor, and more able to access, if not demand, many material goods and services once only available to the most affluent just a few short decades ago. Less regulation and government oversight translated into more consumer choices -- in bigger cars, bigger homes, more opportunities to participate in the digital economy through a robust information infrastructure. Public institutions such as libraries, universities, transportation authorities, health care providers, etc. now "had" to compete with an organizational model that presumed the best approach was one that relied on two purposes: it must be driven by the user and must make money or it must be the most cost-effective approach.
Against this backdrop of larger social, political and economic developments government information librarians came out of the 1980s talking, debating, thinking, pontificating about how public electronic data products were going to change the way they do business. Rhetorical focus would shift from the culture wars fought over secrecy and privatization of government information to cybercommunities, digital democracy, "keeping the information superhighway free and open to all, and not digital toll roads." One of my favorite conference themes during this time was one that focused on how to keep libraries from being road kill on the information superhighway. Remember -- between the early and late 1990s digital problems for most libraries revolved around the capacity and speed of computers used in their institutions, the used of new fangled media such as CD-ROMs, and how to perform increasingly sophisticated mediated searches using expensive databases such as DIALOG. I many ways, government information librarians were at the bleeding edge of innovation when the Clinton administration decided to embrace the graphical interfaces of the world wide web in late 1995.
How the government information librarians reacted to all this change we will leave for tomorrow.
See you on Day 34.
2. Seek to establish the most effective techniques individual bibliographic institutions can contribute to a national system of government information access, preservation and organization.
I said yesterday I would get to the 1990's and reflect on the substantial policy and research analysis created during those ten critical years. But, first, we must step back into the 1980s for a moment and set the stage.
I paid homage to Hernon and McClure body of work yesterday -- but I want to put some other national efforts into perspective as well.
First, the Association of Research Libraries created something they called the "Task Force on Government Information in Electronic Formats." in the mid-1980s. Following on a report, ARL held several town hall style meetings that helped frame much of the discussion about how and why libraries should incorporate digital government information into their collections and services. This became one of the first set of "principles" produced by libraries about "government information."
Here is one version of those principles --
1. Open exchange of government information should be protected.
2. Federal policy should support the integrity and preservation of government electronic databases.
3. Copyright should not be applied to U.S. Government information.
4. Diversity of sources of access...is in the public interest and entrepreneurship should be encouraged.
5. Government information should be available at low cost.
6. A system to provide equitable, no-fee access to basic public information is a requirement of a democratic society.
I have to point out that this effort was also linked to another ARL goal to confront the growing evidence of how the Regan administration was using claims of secrecy and national security to restrict otherwise open and freely available information. In a report called Access to Information it issued in 1985, which followed on a statement from the Council on Library Resources called "Scholarship, Research, and Access to Information."
And not to put to fine a point on it -- it is amazing how all of this rushes back into one's memory with a little prompting from the web -- it was also the time when the FBI was conducting an extensive investigation of libraries and their users -- hoping to curtail and arrest the use of sensitive (but not secret) technical information found in many research libraries open collections. The argument was simply this -- taken separately, the technical reports (often government reports) were not classified or secret. But knitted together by a clever foreign agent doing good library research, a string of reports could reveal sensitive (even classified) information. One of the better books on this FBI program is "Surveillance in the Stacks The FBI's Library Awareness Program" by Herbert N. Foerstel.
The whole other subtext going on during the 1980s (again anticipating the arguments of the 1990s and early 2000s) centered on the ownership of the public's information. Another set of Regan policies sought to "privatize" as much government work as possible (and this include the privatization of government information.) Years of library debate, rancor, standing in professional meetings with hands on hips and yelling at each other, accusations of selling out, accolades for standing up to the "the man" to protect the public's right to know ... oy vey, those were days when government information librarianship and brawling in the streets were close cousins. I mean, we would get seriously worked up about it ... it is not an exaggeration to say that decades-long friendships broke up over the issue. At the international level, the struggle was framed in terms of something called the "New World Information Order." Based on a report issued by the United Nations, it was a very strong argument that private media companies in first world nations held unfair monopolies around the globe that drowned out different or indigenous information cultures.
But, if you think the Depository Library community was asleep or somewhere else during these crazy days -- they were busy hatching plans to include digital information in the depository library system. The culmination of that effort was something called "Informing the Nation". And, yes, Hernon and McClure had their hands in this effort as well as contractors. Prior to this epic, the community was also involved in another effort to get digital information into the depository library system -- in the early 1980s -- the GPO and the Joint Committee on Printing created something called "Ad HocCommittee on Depository Library Access to Federal Automated Databases." Hoduski, by the way, was the chair of this effort.
So, again, by the end of the 1980s we have a wealth of policy, research, and experience within the government information library community that deeply considered all of the implications of digital government information.
And the web was still five or six years a way from bursting on the scene.
See you on Day 35.
Since one refers to Hoduski/McKnelly and Malamud as bookends, let's take a look at some of the vast literature written about federal government printing and the depository library system over the last 40 years or so.
Think of this a primer for those library school students who plan on taking a government information course next spring. The past is but a prologue, as they say over in the Smithsonian.....
First up, let's go back to the 1980s -- when three of the most comprehensive studies of the federal depository library system were completed --
Charles McClure and Peter Hernon, Users of Academic and Public GPO Depository Libraries. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989. p ix. (GP 3.2:US 2).
GPO's depository library program : a descriptive analysis / Peter Hernon, Charles R. McClure, Gary R. Purcell. Norwood, N.J. : Ablex Pub. Corp., 1985;
Improving the quality of reference service for government publications By Charles R. McClure, Peter Hernon, American Library Association
American Library Association, 1983
and this general assessment of information policies --
Public access to government information : issues, trends, and strategies / Peter Hernon, Charles R. McClure. Norwood, N.J. : Ablex Pub. Corp., c1984
I would submit that many of the issues we currently debate over the future and purpose of the depository library system were framed best by these studies. They hit upon the essential problems of purpose that plague the program to this day; problems only slightly changed by the barriers and opportunities of today's technology.
We do not need to reinvent this research -- It's there waiting for us return to its home truths.
The next stop will be those crazy years in the 1990s. Much policy and purpose to be rediscovered during this time as well.
See you on Day 36.