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Daniel’s Take: Adding Value

The comments below reference the Adding Value section of the September 2005 Depository Library Council publication The Federal Government Information Environment of the 21st Century: Towards a Vision Statement and Plan of Action for Federal Depository Libraries. Discussion Paper

Prior Comments on this discussion paper:

I find “Adding Value” to be the strongest part of this paper. The Depository Library Council (DLC) recognizes that all government information professionals and institutions have an obligation to serve people where they are. They offer suggestions about where our users are including: popular web sites (Google, Yahoo, other search engines); FirstGov, agency web sites, etc.

The authors of the paper also point to the promotion of the virtual reference Government Information Online project as an example of the value that we can add. No argument there.

The authors note that Federal Depository Libraries (FDLs) would benefit from coordinating their searchable web content to reduce duplication and increase quality. Further, these benefits would be greater if FDLs cooperated to ensure interoperability “across retrieval tools, databases, and digital collections developed at different institutions.”

A final positive of this section is the discussion of fugitive documents. The work described here is interesting and I hope that a link to Walter Warnick’s work can be provided by DLC.

In my view, the main weakness of this section is an unawareness of where our users are. First, there is no mention of the 66 million, mostly older and rural Americans who do not use the Internet. Surely some of them want government information, but the world envisioned by the DLC has no room for them.

I’m not sure that the DLC or the government information community at large is sure where our online users are either. Over 53 million Americans use Instant Messaging (IM), but nowhere in the discussion paper do I see a mention of these users. IM isn’t just for teenagers anymore. Pew Internet estimates that 11 million Americans use IM at their job to increase productivity.

On the other hand, there is significant discussion about working with Google Uncle Sam on page five of the discussion paper, but how many people use this resource outside the documents community? Despite an hour’s search through the open web and proprietary databases, I couldn’t come up with usage figures for Google Uncle Sam, although Google Main accounts for about 43% of all reported search engine hits. There is no link to Uncle Sam either from the Google home page, or their “more” page. There is a link to Google Uncle Sam at the bottom of the advance search page, but you have to scroll to get to it. So why spend so much effort trying to optimize a search engine that few of our general users will see?

I think that the government information community needs to take at least a little bit of time to study where our users are so we can go to where they are and not where we think they are.

Although I don’t claim to know where all our users are, I have some additional suggestions for services and publicizing the existence of government information resources and expertise:

– Partner with FirstGov’s toll-free government information line either help staff the line or accept referrals from it. Make sure we promote this phone number to the millions who are offline.
– Start making contact with local media outlets, local governments, and Congressional delegations and offer these links for their web sites:
+Government Information Online
+Local FDL e-mail/chat ref
+Statewide/regional chat ref

They’ll thank us for taking questions off their back and making them look like good citizens.

– Send the sites above to government associations and related publications like:
+Government Executive

I’m sure that you can think of others. The basic idea is that while we’re studying where our users our, we can start promoting our expertise to people in government who presumably have greater recourse to government information.

Enough for one day. Feel free to leave me comments. I can tell that people are frequenting FGI more often these days and all of us volunteers would love to hear from you!

Tomorrow I will be discussing the weakest part of the DLC Discussion Paper, that of managing collections and delivering content. See you then!

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