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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

46 and 45 Days to Government Information Liberation

1. Recognize the importance of librarians and their institutions in the sustainability of a dynamic civic culture.

I think the toughest aspect of sustaining this kind of weeks long conversation is to try and keep all the different aspects of what we now call government information librarianship together into some kind of cohesive whole. In my last post I spoke about the underlying foundations of social capital shared by journalists and librarians that mediates between individuals or communities that want to know more about government institutions and sources of information produced by and about those institutions.

In the case of librarians, the cumulative social capital comes from centuries old traditions of gathering and organizing a community’s information artifacts. As an outcome of this gathering and organizing, librarians might also choose to become familiar with the substance and dynamics of how government organizations function, study or address problems, communicate with the public (and other government organizations), and eventually how the government organization might stash its information stuff over the long haul (or not, as the case might be.) In an open and democratic society these librarians also take on the express purpose to proactively work with other organizations, groups, and interested individuals to keep the civic machinery of government as transparent and accessible as possible. The term civic machinery is not widely used in the library traditions, but is a term that constantly pops in the professional and popular press. example, see here, here, here and here.

I like the phrase “civic machinery” — once used by Jane Addams to describe the critical role certain institutions might play in connecting a community to the democratic structures of their governments. Here is what Addams said specifically —

“As the policeman who makes terms with vice, and almost inevitably slides into making gain from vice, merely represents the type of politician who is living off the weakness of his fellows, so the over-zealous reformer who exaggerates vice until the public is scared and awestruck, represents the type of politician who is living off the timidity of his fellows. With the lack of civic machinery for simple democratic expression, for a direct dealing with human nature as it is, we seem doomed to one type or the other–corruptionists or anti-crime committees”

What the civic expansion of public digital information over the last 15 years now demands of librarians and their professional associations is simply this — take advantage of the technology to preserve our traditions of sustainability and transparency.

See you on Day 44.

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