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Not a “myth” — an unanswered question

One of the major concerns I have about the future of free access to fully-functional digital government information is that GPO’s strategic planning document and the documents outlining its future digital system raise many questions which GPO has not addressed. These include questions about user privacy, long-term funding, use of digital rights management technologies, and deposit of digital files with depository libraries.

One major underlying problem that GPO has not addressed is that its Strategic Vision document has conflicting missions: to provide “free and ready public access” to electronic documents and to distribute electronic documents “on a cost recovery basis.” How can GPO provide electronic documents for free and for fee at the same time?

I was encouraged for a moment when I saw it was addressing this very issue in its handout, FDLP Myths and Monsters (included in the April/May Admin Notes). The very last item in this list is:

Myth: The new economic model for GPO will eliminate free public access to government information.

Reality: GPO has an abiding commitment to provide free permanent public access to official federal government information and the Public Printer has upheld this commitment. In the Strategic Vision, he states one of the three essential missions of GPO is “to provide, in partnership with the Federal Depository libraries, for nationwide community facilities for the perpetual, free, and ready public access to the printed and electronic documents and other information products of the Federal government.”

Unfortunately, this doesn’t address the question but simply restates the problem. For GPO to say that it has a commitment to free access doesn’t answer the question of how it plans to fulfill that commitment. For GPO to ignore the conflict between providing free access and distributing electronic documents on a cost recovery basis is more troubling than reassuring.

I’m sure everyone in the depository library community would be happy to hear what GPO’s plan is for providing free access and how it can ensure its plan will work without conflicting with its plan to sell the same information. Will GPO answer these questions?

  • How will GPO’s plan to provide free access to digital information while distributing digital information on a cost recovery basis be different from its failed attempt to do this with GPO Access ten years ago?
  • Will GPO’s provision of free access be diminished or restricted in some way (such as prohibiting downloading or printing) so that it can sell fully functional access?

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