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Daniel’s take on DLC Vision – General Comments

Today the Depository Library Council (DLC) released this discussion paper:

The Federal Government Information Environment of the 21st Century: Towards a Vision Statement and Plan of Action for Federal Depository Libraries. Discussion Paper
Prepared by the Depository Library Council September 2005

This paper is an effort to provide a guiding vision for the access, description and preservation of government information and how libraries might fit into this process. I’m sure it was hard work for the DLC, because they had to listen and integrate a chorus of disjointed voices from the depository community. They deserve some praise simply for coming up with anything at all! Whether or not you work in a library, this paper is worth reading.

Today I’d like to offer some general comments on this paper. In the coming days, I’ll have some comments focused on the main sections of the discussion paper: 1) Library roles in the non-exclusive environment; 2) Adding value; 3)Managing collections and delivering content ; and 4) Deploying expertise.

The discussion paper has several positive aspects. The paper acknowledges (though not endorsing) the benefits of local deposit of electronic materials (pgs 9-10); it does endorse full no-fee access to electronic publications (p. 13); it acknowledges problems with digital rights management (DRM) software (p. 13); and on several pages it offers interesting and practical ideas for libraries wishing to extend their reach and expertise into the digital realm.

There are significant negatives to the discussion paper as written, and I hope that community input can improve the final product. My biggest complaint about the paper is that DLC does not clearly endorse the deposit of fully functional electronic files into libraries as part of being a depository. A close second is that its opposition to DRM software is tempered by their suggestion that digital files distributed to depositories be “incorporated and fully exploited within their local digital environments.” To me this sounds like “in-library use only” or “authenticated users only.” That’s no way to treat taxpayer purchased data.

The discussion paper also seems to suffer from some questionable assumptions such as:

1) “First, the World Wide Web has become the preferred medium through which the public seeks access to information, including government information.” (p. 2) – Seeking information may not be same as using information. Case in point – A user may use irs.gov to find what publication they need, but will want the publication in paper.

2) “Google and other search engines provide “smart” indexing to federal and state government information sites,” (p. 2) – What do the authors mean by “smart indexing?” Try to find the current strength of the National Guard on regular Google.

3) “The public increasingly favors direct access to Web-based federal information over the alternative of visiting a local FDL.” – This ignores the possibility that the public could be accessing a digital file over the web that has been deposited with a Federal Depository Library.(p. 3)

4) Various references to Google Uncle Sam on page 5. – How many people in the general public use Google Uncle Sam over general Google? Should we put in a lot of effort working with a resource who usage pales in comparison to main Google?

5)”Many depository librarians believe that their libraries should focus on serving as information centers for Federal government information..” (p. 10) – What does “many” mean? Has anyone surveyed the community other Free Government Information’s unscientific poll showing 90% support for depositing electronic files?

6) Fewer than 10 tangible collections are enough (see discusion on p. 11) – Where did this number come from? Any research?

One last general problem that I have with the paper is all three posssible Federal Depository Library Program futures mentioned in the discussion paper envision the end of the Federal Depository Library Program: Fold, Status Quo and Proactive. Fold needs no explanation, Status Quo says FDLs will wither away, and even the Proactive scenario says “It is likely in this scenario that the status of designated FDLs becomes increasingly moot; in effect, all libraries function to some extent as government information access centers.” Left unconsidered is a vigorous (though likely smaller) system of Federal Depository Libraries that provide full, no-fee access to government information that through local deposited files and simultaneous user agreements for agency databases.

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