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GPO refuses to guarantee no-fee access

Last week, GPO had the opportunity to assure the library community that free public access is a GPO priority and it failed to do so.

Instead, in response to two questions that directly address the vague commitments to public access in its strategic vision for the 21st century, GPO chose to avoid the questions entirely and assure the library community that it is designing a system that will not be “constrained” by policies — such as access without fees.

The two questions were posted to the Future Digital System (FDsys) Blog, “Question and Answer” page on August 21 (“Policy neutral” does not mean “neutral policies”):

  1. Will GPO guarantee that it will provide information products for free to the public and that those products will be fully-functional and not encumbered, disabled, controlled or otherwise non-optimal or locked-down versions?
  2. Will GPO guarantee that it will make available for deposit, without fee, into FDLP libraries that wish to receive them, all fully functional digital government information products within its purview?

Here is the complete text of the response:

Monday, August 29, 2005


In terms of system design, “policy neutral” means that the system is sufficiently flexible to accommodate changes in hardware, software, communication technology, processes, policy, personnel, locations, etc. without requiring major re-engineering or design changes. FDsys is envisioned as being responsive to policy, but it is not intended to be policy-constrained.

GPO does not want to design a system that requires expensive adjustments each time a change is made to GPO’s policies. Therefore, the system must be policy neutral so that it can support not only GPO’s current operational policies but also emerging changes. The system requirements were carefully crafted to ensure support for any functionality desired by system users.

This blog is dedicated to the design and implementation of FDsys, and was created to give the user community a chance to provide information on what functions and features the system needs to include. The FDsys team and INT will forward all comments regarding policy to the appropriate business units. Comments regarding policy may also be made to the DLC blog located at http://dlcvisionoutline.blogspot.com.

posted by Magan Fleetwood at 2:42 PM

The fact that GPO is designing a system that will not be “constrained” by policy should worry anyone who values free public access to government information because it means that GPO’s “Future Digital System is designed to accommodate charging for access. What will happen to free public access, one might ask, when GPO’s “operational policies” change to become self-supporting through user fees?

As bad as that is, it is even worse that GPO continues to avoid taking any opportunity to affirm that it will at least try to ensure that government information will be made available without constraints or conditions or fees.

There are two simple things that GPO can do to guarantee no-fee, fully-functional access to digital government information. First, it should say that it wishes to do so. So far, it has failed to take even this small step.

Second, it should guarantee that it will release, without fee, fully-functional digital information to the public and depository libraries. This would ensure that good, usable copies are in the public domain and not locked into a system that may change its access policies and fee structure at a moment’s notice.

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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