Our mission

Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

To read: “Cutting through the Fog: Govt Information, Librarians, & the 45th Presidency”

Kian Flynn and Cass Hartnett have just published a solid article in Reference & User Services Quarterly, 57(3) called “Cutting through the Fog: Government Information, Librarians, and the Forty-Fifth Presidency” (full citation below!). In it, they broadly highlight the current govt information landscape — kindly mention several projects including LOCKSS-USDOCS! — and then come to a very positive conclusion:

Going forward, librarians must face the present—and the future—state of government information in order to cut through this fog. We need to work together to pursue collaborative partnerships to safeguard past, present, and future government information for the public’s long-term access and consumption, and to promote services that encourage our users to critically evaluate and interrogate all information. Our collaborations must move in two directions at once: (1) We need to ensure that official legal processes are in place to best manage government information (the hoped-for outcome of Title 44 reform). And (2) we need to create nongovernmental solutions to preserve secondary “use copies” of government information as well (read: backups), holding the information in trust together. The solutions we create today need to be adaptable for the government information landscape of the future.

One thing I thought I should mention. In their section on highlighting collections, they helpfully point the reader to publications from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and Congressional Research Service (CRS) as particularly valuable and relevant for their “dispassionate, scholarly, ‘just the facts’ approach.” I think it should be noted that none of these are hosted on GPO’s govinfo.gov platform, only the GAO has a partnership in place w GPO to permanently preserve their documents, the CBO has been under an unprecedented attack on its legitimacy by the GOP, and CRS reports, until recently — and after a 20 year grassroots effort! — were never made publicly available or distributed via the FDLP. It takes a village of libraries to assure permanent public access!

Please read and forward to others who may be interested. Thanks Kian and Cass!

Flynn, K., & Hartnett, C. (2018). Cutting through the Fog: Government Information, Librarians, and the Forty-Fifth Presidency. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 57(3), 208-216. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/rusq.57.3.6608

CFPB considering plan to shut down public database of consumer complaints against banks

Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Mick Mulvaney is considering a plan to shut down the public access to the CFPB database of bank complaints against financial institutions. A coalition of organizations — including the American Library Association (ALA)! — has written to Acting Director Mulvaney to protest his plan to end public access by consumers to view and file complaints against financial institutions.

Dear Acting Director Mulvaney:

We the undersigned consumer, civil rights, good government, and pro-transparency groups are writing to express our firm objection to your recently stated plan to end public access to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) database used by consumers to file and view complaints against financial institutions, and to urge you to reconsider your plan.

You have suggested that making consumer complaints public without first verifying all points may be harmful to businesses and used this potential harm to justify ending public access to the complaint database. However, there simply is no clear, objective evidence that such a problem actually exists. Without greater certainty, such a drastic rollback of transparency seems premature. In fact, companies subject to complaints in the database are given a chance to publicly respond and to clarify that same public record if they feel the complaint is unfair or inaccurate. In 2017, companies responded to 95 percent of the complaints submitted through this database, though not all companies chose to share their responses publicly.

Furthermore, it seems as if you have left out any benefit that access to this database provides to consumers. Public access to this complaint database provides consumers with the necessary information to make better pre-purchase choices based in part on experiential information shared by fellow consumers about companies with which they’ve done business. Hundreds of thousands of consumers use the system each year.3 It is essential that this information continue to be available to consumers prior to engaging in such business dealings as committing to a contract, taking out a loan, or opening a financial account.

A publicly accessible, user-friendly, searchable system that allows individuals to research companies, specific complaint types, and actual products or services helps create a competitive, well-functioning marketplace for consumers and corporations alike. Indeed, companies with strong records of standing behind their products and services benefit from a publicly searchable database, and those that work to resolve consumer complaints in a timely and effective manner also stand to gain.

You’re invited to the PEGI May Webinar Monday May 14 @ 12pm EDT

Please join the PEGI Project for their May webinar. There’s a great list of speakers who will be talking about various efforts and projects to identify, collect, and preserve born-digital government information. Please RSVP and forward on to any of your colleagues and networks who may be interested. See you there!

Please join the PEGI project for a webinar on Monday, May 14th, 2018 at 12:00pm EDT to hear directly from trailblazing organizations about projects underway to identify, collect, and preserve born-digital government information. Leading figures from these organizations will be on hand to discuss the advocacy and coordination necessary to make an impact, and they can answer your questions about more ways to contribute to national efforts at a local level.

To hear about the current state of preservation efforts and contribute your ideas and priorities, please RSVP at the following link: http://bit.ly/PEGIMayWebinarRSVP.

Presenters:

Heather Joseph, Executive Director, SPARC

Brandon Locke, Director of  LEADR at Michigan State University & Founder & co-organizer of Endangered Data Week

Rachel Mattson, Curator of the Tretter Collection for GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota Libraries & Founder/co-leader of the Digital Library Federation’s interest group on Government Records Transparency & Accountability

Bernard F. Reilly, President, Center for Research Libraries

Justin Schell, Director, Shapiro Design Lab & Member of EDGI (Environmental Data & Governance Initiative)

Bethany Wiggin, Founding Director, Penn Program in Environmental Humanities (PPEH)

Moderator:

Shari Laster, PEGI Project Steering Committee

 

If you have any questions or comments, please direct them to [email protected]

via PEGI May Webinar — PEGI Project.

FGI at GovInfo Day 2018: how to build a sustainable govt information ecosystem

I had the distinct honor to be invited to give the keynote last week at the 20th anniversary of Canadian Govinfo Day held at Simon Fraser University in beautiful downtown Vancouver, BC. It was 2 days of a program chock full of a workshop, updates from Canadian and provincial government information providers, other presentations and roundtable discussions.

There were two presentations of note:

  1. Melissa Adams, a Librarian and Archivist at the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, gave a presentation on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report which included a good discussion on what libraries and archives were doing in response to the report; and
  2. Carla Graebner gave a heartfelt presentation honoring several Canadian leaders in improving access to government information:
    • Percilla Groves (SFU Library, retired)
    • Nancy Hannum (BC Legal Services Society, retired)
    • Gay Lepkey (Depository Services Program Canada, retired)

It was so nice to hear about, and then hear from, these librarians and their tireless efforts at providing access to government information. Kudos to Percilla, Nancy, and Gay for professional lives well led!

My talk was entitled, “The State of US Government Information: Toward a Sustainable Ecosystem.” If you click on the gear at the bottom or the slides, you can open the speaker notes. Alternatively — and for when google slides inevitably goes away! — you can download my slides and presenter notes (and just an aside, the cute baby seal was a last minute addition based on Carla Graebner’s offhand comment along the lines that “government information is not the cute baby seal of the library world” 🙂 ).

The long and short of my talk was that I argued that we need to build a government information ecosystem (see image below). This ecosystem needs to deal with the five petals of publishing output, collections/curation, preservation, metadata/description, and access and be publicly controlled and funded, collaborative, interoperable, and sustainable, and be built on open standards like OAIS, with version control and links resolving. Perhaps most importantly, it must be based on public policy which requires .gov entities to produce open, findable, collectible, re-usable information.

This ecosystem must include well-curated archives of interconnected, well-described, preservable govt content in re-usable formats, have a ubiquitous metadata layer that can be shared among and between archives, search engines, and the public, and allow libraries to build discovery layers that contain .gov and non-governmental materials (ie books etc) for their designated communities, either ongoing or on the fly. The big thing in libraries these days is “service,” but, as I have argued many times, a library can’t build services without collections, and these well-curated archives form the basis of library services going forward, not just for .gov content but across the library.

We’re moving in the right direction, but more work is needed to make the government information ecosystem a reality. Onward!



Modernizing the FDLP Modernization Act

The so-called FDLP Modernization Act of 2018 (H.R.5305) corrects many of the flaws of the 1993 law. It catches the law up to what it should have been in 1993 and conforms to current GPO practice. Specifically, it requires GPO to provide free access to digital content; it requires GPO to have a program of digital preservation; it changes the scope of GPO and FDLP with new definitions of “Information Dissemination Products” (IDPs) — a term used by OMB since 1996; and it requires GPO to abide by existing privacy laws (going back to 1974 and 2002).

These are welcome improvements, but they fall short of “modernizing” the law to the conditions of 2018 and beyond. A few small changes can go a long way to truly modernizing the law. These changes will create a collaborative, digital FDLP; guarantee long-term, no-fee access to government information insulated from federal political and economic pressures; and enhance services to users.

Suggested Changes

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