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FGI’s comments and recommendations for the GPO draft report of the task force on an “all-digital” FDLP

[editor’s note 10/28/2022: we updated the text below about 100% of govinfo being published digitally in order to clarify where we got that number and why we use the 100% number rather than the 97% born-digital that is most frequently cited.]

We want to thank GPO Director Halpern for calling a “Task Force on a Digital FDLP” and for all of the members of the task force for diligently working through the many thorny issues regarding the future of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). Director Halpern has requested public comment on the draft report until October 14, 2022. We at FGI are submitting the following as our public comments.

1. The task force was asked to study “the feasibility of an all-digital FDLP.” The group was charged to define the scope of an all-digital depository program and recommend how to implement and operate it.

Although the task force working groups concluded that the FDLP can and should go “all-digital,” the draft report was also consistent in noting that “all digital” does not mean everything will be available only in digital formats (pp. 7, 10). The final report should emphasize this point and clarify and clearly state that print remains a viable format for some of our most important government publications as well as an important access method – and recommend exploring future print opportunities like “print and distribute on demand” as an option for depository libraries.

2. The draft report has lots of good ideas but we suggest that some clarifications and reorganization will bring the findings and recommendations of the different working groups into better focus.

We suggest that the final report should begin with a clear “problem statement” that the report will then address. We suggest that this should have two points:

  • Currently 100% of government Public Information is published digitally. (We are extrapolating that 100% estimate from table 11 of the 2018 Library of Congress study “Disseminating and Preserving Digital Public Information Products Created by the U.S. Federal Government:A Case Study Report” which showed that only three of the surveyed agencies reported less than 100% of their publishing output was born-digital. This 2018 estimate is no doubt closer to reality for most agencies than the 2009 estimate of 97%.)
  • Only a small fraction of that born-digital government information is currently being curated or preserved in any regular fashion. This has created an enormous preservation (and, therefore, long-term access) gap. Any “all digital FDLP” must recognize and address this enormous digital preservation gap.

    (Note: We base this on the research we have done examining the contents of GPO’s Govinfo repository and 2020 End-of-Term crawl data. We found that the great bulk of new digital Public Information is produced by the executive branch (90% of all government PDFs (aka “publications” on the government web are published by the executive branch), but only 2% of the born digital PDFs in GPO’s Govinfo repository are from the executive branch. Meanwhile LC’s web harvesting is relying on GPO and NARA to take care of the executive branch [https://www.loc.gov/acq/devpol/webarchive.pdf] and, by law, NARA is treating all executive branch web content as “records,” of which only 1-3% are typically preserved. For some more details, see our post “Some facts about the born-digital ‘National Collection'”.)

These two points would put the Task Force’s recommendations into context. The primary focus of actions designed to ensure “permanent no-fee public access to digital content” must focus on ensuring the preservation of that content. No digital system can ensure “access” unless that system has control over and preserves the content it intends to make accessible.

3. To address the problem statement, we recommend that the report create long-term goals from which all recommendations would flow. It would be persuasive and most helpful if the Task Force provided explicit connections between each recommendation and one or more of the goals, showing how the success of each recommendation can be evaluated in terms of the goals.

  • Increase the preservation of all federal government Public Information.
  • Ensure permanent, no-fee access of federal government Public Information to the general public.
  • Enhance discoverability and usability of federal government Public Information for all.

4. We believe that the draft report minimizes the need to preserve the existing national print collection. It emphasizes digitization of paper documents for access and accepts and proposes even looser rules for the discarding of paper collections without adequate safeguards for the preservation of the information in those collections in either paper or digital formats. Digitizing for the sake of better access is a noble objective, but preserving the born-digital content that is currently NOT being curated and in danger of loss is a much more urgent matter than enhancing access to already well-preserved paper collections.

5. We suggest that the final recommendations and action items be grouped or labeled in categories that will clarify their purpose and scope. For example:

  • principles (free access, privacy, etc.)
  • short term tasks
  • long term objectives

6. Earlier this year we created a list of some specific long-term strategies which may be of use to the Task Force: “FGI’s recommendations for creating the ‘all-digital FDLP'”.

By reorganizing and refocusing the report on what is truly important — preservation first, access built on preserved content — the report will be clearer about the current status of preservation and access and how GPO and FDLP can contribute solutions to existing gaps and weaknesses.


James A. Jacobs, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Stanford University

Appendix I: Section by section comments


“no fee access to federal government information … regardless of geography, ability, telecommunication infrastructure, etc”: I’m glad this is clearly stated as a key recommendation. Publishing medium (digital or paper) needs to be added to the list.

“Superintendent of Documents policy should determine which specific print titles will remain available for selection by FDLs”: depository libraries as the primary service points for access should also have a say to determine print availability. Depository librarians have a unique perspective on access and the utility of certain formats for certain titles. GPO could and should have a “print and distribute on demand” of any born-digital publications in the CGP and GOVINFO.

“agency repository content”: It is unclear to the reader that this is aspirational. Very few agencies currently have “repositories” beyond what they publish on their websites. How will GPO/NARA/Library of Congress/Office of Management and Budget (OMB)/Department of Justice work together to create policies, recurring budgets, and publishing workflows that spur the creation of agency repositories rather than simple websites?

“secure and provide dedicated resources for infrastructure modernization and increased capacity to digitize legacy collections”: It is unclear if this recommendation is targeted toward libraries or GPO and also how this will occur since GPO does not currently have gift or grant authority.

“develop a government-wide network of digital repositories”: left unsaid is that there will need to be ongoing funding to create and maintain this network of repositories. It is also unclear if this network will be made up of primarily of agencies or if it is envisioned that libraries will be part of this network (remember, there’s already a library network of digital repositories in the LOCKSS-USDOCS network!).

“new ways to automate compliance with Title 44”: I like the sound of this and hope GPO can motivate agencies into compliance. It would be good to include possible ways for compliance to happen.

Comments on the impact on access section:

It’s good to have the admission that access to select print materials will be retained. This should also be stated in the introduction to the report. It is also worth mentioning that access to print materials will be best served if many geographically dispersed libraries remain motivated to build and maintain print collections. If certain titles are only physically available in a small number of libraries in the 4 designated “National Collection Service Areas” (https://fdlp.gov/about-the-fdlp/national-collection-service-areas) then public access to critical government publications will be negatively impacted.

Again the 97% number is quoted and needs to be qualified and contextualized.

“awareness and ability” (p10): “Access … presumes that users are aware the information exists”: This is a huge caveat and needs to be explored. Part of GPO’s outreach activities to agencies will need to be the promotion of depository libraries as access service points on agency websites. All agencies will need to provide links to FDLP libraries as well as services such as Government Information Online (GIO) (https://godort.libguides.com/GIO).

Comments on the impact on depository libraries section:

Given that many libraries have discontinued the dedicated government information librarian model and are moving away from maintaining physical collections, how will an all-digital FDLP impact staffing levels in FDLP libraries? GPO may need granting authority to provide grants for government information librarian positions and/or may need to work with IMLS (LB21 grants?) to provide ongoing funding for government information projects in depository libraries. It’s clear that if there was federal funding to help libraries hire and maintain government information librarian positions (perhaps as official GPO liaisons?) that this would be a great impetus for libraries to join/remain in the FDLP.

“impact on staffing and staffing levels”: One of the things not mentioned in this section is that reduced staffing at some FDLP libraries also impacts other libraries across the whole system. As the internet is the primary means for many to find information, those libraries who maintain government information positions will be impacted by increased workloads and reference questions from people outside the libraries’ primary service areas (I get reference questions from across the country simply because our library catalog is indexed by Google.)

Comments on the impact on federal agencies section:

The elephant in the room and perhaps the leading problem for the future of the FDLP is in paragraph 2 “there is little compliance with the current requirements in Title 44”. It is clear that GPO must work with the policy-setting agencies OMB and Department of Justice to address this compliance issue. Simply put, if agencies do not comply, then most digital government information will not be curated or preserved and access will be lost. For more context, see “Some facts about the born-digital ‘National Collection'” (https://freegovinfo.info/node/14376/).

Comments on the impact on GPO and LSCM section:

It is time to re-think reliance on traditional library cataloging records and traditional library catalogs as the primary way of providing description and discovery of Public Information.

Comments on the impact on Title 44 and legislative/policy issues section:

We at FGI have analyzed GPO’s Title 44 changes in the past. Please see “Analysis of GPO’s proposed Title 44 changes to FDLP and FGI’s suggestions” and “Strengthening the Discussions about Title 44”.

T44 in its current form is inadequate to guarantee long-term free public access to federal government Public Information. In the absence of significant change to T44, GPO should treat FDLP libraries as potential partners in preservation as well as access, extending preservation to content that GPO is unable to preserve because of practical or legal limitations. At the same time, a long-term strategy of re-envisioning T44 can proceed.

The final report should recognize that existing reliable “agency archives” are not preserving Public Information, but funded research and are doing so because of a series of laws that require preservation of that content. Relying on such repositories for Public Information would require new laws.

Comments on the strategic framework and implementation section:

Appendix II: Task force recommendations

Based on their review and analysis, the working groups of the Task Force developed a series of recommendations regarding an all-digital FDLP. This section presents a consolidated set of recommendations to GPO by key topic.

### Users, Communities, and Accessibility

  1. Ensure that all members of the public, regardless of geography, ability, telecommunications infrastructure, etc., have no-fee access to Federal Government information.
  2. Develop protocols and guidelines that protect the confidentiality and privacy of individuals who access digital Government information through an all-digital FDLP.

### Printed Materials and Legacy Collections

  1. An all-digital FDLP may not mean the immediate discontinuation of print distribution. As long as key publications continue in print, such as congressional committee prints, hearings, and reports, Congressional Record, Statutes at Large, and the Code of Federal Regulations, print versions of these publications will need to remain available for FDL selection.
  2. Superintendent of Documents policy should determine which specific print titles will remain available for selection by FDLs. At the same time, GPO should periodically communicate with agencies to confirm whether or not there is a need to distribute in print.
  3. Continue to digitize legacy tangible collections, including in partnership with FDLs, and balance this work with the immediate need for FDLs to maintain the legacy print collections for access and preservation purposes.

### Permanence and Authentication

  1. Develop strategies and approaches that address publication permanence such as how born-digital and digitized Government information is preserved to assure authenticity, identify version control, and exclude personally identifiable information.

### Technical and Implementation

  1. Establish standards and partnerships for metadata, digital preservation, and the development of best practices for digitization.
  2. Develop a system to link to agency repository content via the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP) rather than continue to catalog agency publications that reside in the agencies’ repositories.
  3. Create additional types of FDLs beyond regional and selective designations to allow for different levels of library participation.

### Training, Transition, and Capacity Building

  1. Develop and provide collaborative training efforts to the FDL community to include skills specific to technologies and software for finding and managing digital publications and curating digital collections. LSCM staff will also require training resources to learn new systems and techniques as they become available. Creative staffing solutions at GPO and LSCM will be needed to manage the transition to an all-digital environment (e.g., an organizational transformation consultant).
  2. Secure and provide dedicated resources for infrastructure modernization and increased capacity to digitize legacy collections.

### Collaborations, Partnerships, and Relationships

  1. Collaborate with Federal agencies, libraries, and others to work toward ensuring ubiquity of access to broadband and technologies to mitigate the multiple digital divides and disparities. These collaborations can also foster access strategies and approaches to provide access to individuals with disabilities.
  2. Reach out to agencies, national libraries, and others to coordinate efforts to digitize historical publications, identify unreported publications, and increase preservation of and access to historical web content. GPO should foster collaborative arrangements to avoid duplication of effort and reduce costs.
  3. Work to develop a Government-wide network of digital repositories to ensure permanent, free public access to all Government information. GovInfo will be a key component of this network.

### Operations and Services

  1. Investigate new and enhanced bibliographic record distribution services to FDLs to increase access to Government information through library catalogs.
  2. Expand the implementation of the Regional Depository Libraries Online Selection Policy to other eligible titles.

### Title 44, Legislation, and Policy Actions

  1. Build on the GPO legislative proposals from 2022 to modernize the FDLP, as the proposals alone do not fully account for an all-digital FDLP as envisioned by the Task Force.
  2. Develop partnerships and cooperative agreements with Federal agencies to create new ways to automate compliance with Title 44, and explore other potential legislative, administrative, and discretionary options to increase agency engagement with the FDLP.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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