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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.

42 Days to Government Information Liberation

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

One simple question to pose tonight — is it possible for federal depository libraries to tap into the critical relationship they share with either their designated congressional districts or senate sponsors? Much of our tradition and practice aims to serve the communities defined by our depository’s host institutions — academic, public, special or law libraries.

But, in this time of digital democratic transition and transparency, what if a major new goal for the federal depository library program was to shift the depository library obligation from our bibliographic institutions? What if we were to focus our energies on the civic and democratic communities represented by the districts and states they serve? For instance, imagine all the depositories in the Chicago metropolitan area collaborating with each other and through their respective House of Representative districts. This could involve using not only physical collections, but innovative digital tools to reach out to the constituents and local neighborhoods through the congressional district offices. Imagine reference tools designed to meet the particular social, economic, and cultural needs of these communities.

In the case of the Seventh Congressional District in Illinois, these communities could be as varied as part of Chicago’s Gold Coast along Lake Michigan through the impoverished streets of the Austin neighborhood to the west, and along the inner suburbs of both the upper and middle classes found in River Forest and Oak Park.

In rural areas, where many of the congressional districts must somehow overcome both geography and infrastructure issues, imagine how the designated depository libraries might work together, hand in hand, with the congressional district offices to assure that the citizens and communities are kept informed in an affirmative fashion through technology and inter-library cooperation. This kind of civic renewal, I think, is a better way to strike at the “digital divide” issue.

If our discussions about the program’s future began from these kinds of assumptions, rather than focusing on how much paper and how digital we should keep, I think the community of government information librarians will be in a much better place to take advantage of the civic possibilities made apparent during these days of liberation.

After all, its about documents to the people, not documents to the libraries.

Something to think about.

See you on Day 41.

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