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43 Days to Government Information Liberation

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

Good of McKnelly and Hoduski to post their thoughts on the future of regional libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program. After I have had a chance to review and consider their analysis, I will offer my own thoughts on this important issue. I encourage everyone to chime in — this topic is going to be at the top of the agenda for the Public Printer’s Depository Library Council.

For today’s post, I want to follow-up on the theme of the enduring values shared by journalism and libraries as mediators between the community and their civic machinery. The seizure and forced federal court appearance of Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich and his Chief of Staff John Harris on corruption charges represents again where librarians and other media are in a race to get “government information” sources out to the public.

I first got a blip of the arrest through a Chicago Tribune email alert at around 8:30am on Tuesday. One or two people posted the information on University wide email lists shortly after. I went into the web pages for the Northern District of Illinois District Attorney, and found the 12 page news release about an hour later and posted it to email lists of the University. About an hour later, I located and posted the link to the seventy-six page complaint. By 11am central name, most of the major news sources were linking to the same sources.

After 1pm central time, there was no contest — the web and other mass media sources were swamping the internet with stories, analyses, links to relevant documents and web pages. Though a bit rushed and breathless at first, much of the reporting by early evening had begun to place the charges in the larger context of corrupt Illinois politics in general (for instance, the number of sitting Illinois governors either been charged or sent to prison in last 50 years).

So, my observation that it would be most difficult for government information librarians to match the revelations unleashed in some kind of hopeless race with a reporters engaged in a feeding frenzy. Rather, they should take a step back from the “breaking news” and begin to craft web resources and links that direct users to specific sources and contexts that discuss the history of corruption in Illinois, constitutional succession in Illinois state government, impeachment processes in Illinois, who can and can not be seated in the U.S. Senate, implications of a powerful federal attorney taking on the powers (and corruptions) of local and state government….

You get the idea. I think digital government information librarians will play for the middle and long game, rather than the short chip shots of the daily media, preparing their users for greater understanding of what are, frankly, quite stunning events.

See you on Day 42

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