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Explaining “Born Digital” Gov Docs to Patrons & Professors

I had to explain to a student patron and their Professor today what is meant by “born digital” and how digital government documents are wonderful resources for a paper if we do not have the print version or when the print version doesn’t exist (or is horribly out of date). Have any of you had to explain this a lot?

It all started when the student patron told me she could only have three web sources for her Nursing research paper after I had shown her the wonderful world of digital documents online. She had found an eleven year old version of a government print source in our catalog but I cringed…born digital documents online via NIH or the U.S. Dept. of Health had more up to date medical information on her topic! I told her to use both the print and online sources. She would be able to see if there were any noticeable differences from the 1997 print version and the 2007/2008 online information on her topic.

I contacted the Professor and explained this too. All is well and she will allow for the use of online government information. She was just hoping to avoid the use of too many general (i.e. crappy) websites. I understand that but I wanted to make sure that the student would not be punished for using several good government online documents and websites for her paper.

I didn’t get into the nitty gritty digital authentication of government documents, but with some Professors who require legislative research, I tell them about the digitally authenticated documents that currently exist from GPO.

I have a feeling we government document librarians are going to have to explain this concept of “born digital” gov docs and digital authentication more often…especially now that more and more gov docs are being born digitally.

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