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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.

36 Days to Government Information Liberation

2. Seek to establish the most effective techniques individual bibliographic institutions can contribute to a national system of government information access, preservation and organization.

I said yesterday I would get to the 1990’s and reflect on the substantial policy and research analysis created during those ten critical years. But, first, we must step back into the 1980s for a moment and set the stage.

I paid homage to Hernon and McClure body of work yesterday — but I want to put some other national efforts into perspective as well.

First, the Association of Research Libraries created something they called the “Task Force on Government Information in Electronic Formats.” in the mid-1980s. Following on a report, ARL held several town hall style meetings that helped frame much of the discussion about how and why libraries should incorporate digital government information into their collections and services. This became one of the first set of “principles” produced by libraries about “government information.”
Here is one version of those principles —
1. Open exchange of government information should be protected.
2. Federal policy should support the integrity and preservation of government electronic databases.
3. Copyright should not be applied to U.S. Government information.
4. Diversity of sources of access…is in the public interest and entrepreneurship should be encouraged.
5. Government information should be available at low cost.
6. A system to provide equitable, no-fee access to basic public information is a requirement of a democratic society.

I have to point out that this effort was also linked to another ARL goal to confront the growing evidence of how the Regan administration was using claims of secrecy and national security to restrict otherwise open and freely available information. In a report called Access to Information it issued in 1985, which followed on a statement from the Council on Library Resources called “Scholarship, Research, and Access to Information.”

And not to put to fine a point on it — it is amazing how all of this rushes back into one’s memory with a little prompting from the web — it was also the time when the FBI was conducting an extensive investigation of libraries and their users — hoping to curtail and arrest the use of sensitive (but not secret) technical information found in many research libraries open collections. The argument was simply this — taken separately, the technical reports (often government reports) were not classified or secret. But knitted together by a clever foreign agent doing good library research, a string of reports could reveal sensitive (even classified) information. One of the better books on this FBI program is “Surveillance in the Stacks The FBI’s Library Awareness Program” by Herbert N. Foerstel.

The whole other subtext going on during the 1980s (again anticipating the arguments of the 1990s and early 2000s) centered on the ownership of the public’s information. Another set of Regan policies sought to “privatize” as much government work as possible (and this include the privatization of government information.) Years of library debate, rancor, standing in professional meetings with hands on hips and yelling at each other, accusations of selling out, accolades for standing up to the “the man” to protect the public’s right to know … oy vey, those were days when government information librarianship and brawling in the streets were close cousins. I mean, we would get seriously worked up about it … it is not an exaggeration to say that decades-long friendships broke up over the issue. At the international level, the struggle was framed in terms of something called the “New World Information Order.” Based on a report issued by the United Nations, it was a very strong argument that private media companies in first world nations held unfair monopolies around the globe that drowned out different or indigenous information cultures.

But, if you think the Depository Library community was asleep or somewhere else during these crazy days — they were busy hatching plans to include digital information in the depository library system. The culmination of that effort was something called “Informing the Nation”. And, yes, Hernon and McClure had their hands in this effort as well as contractors. Prior to this epic, the community was also involved in another effort to get digital information into the depository library system — in the early 1980s — the GPO and the Joint Committee on Printing created something called “Ad HocCommittee on Depository Library Access to Federal Automated Databases.” Hoduski, by the way, was the chair of this effort.

So, again, by the end of the 1980s we have a wealth of policy, research, and experience within the government information library community that deeply considered all of the implications of digital government information.

And the web was still five or six years a way from bursting on the scene.

See you on Day 35.

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