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4 to 3 Days to Government Information Liberation

I underestimated the groundswell of inauguration theater as the day of liberation dawns. I know serious policy decisions need to be made about the future of information policy — and after nearly 15 years of inaction, misdirection, and simple inertia, to be so to the possibility of change almost hurts in its anticipation.

But it is tough to run against the strong current of “history” in the making as Tuesday approaches. If some predictions hold true, it means well over a million people will crowd Washington, D.C.’s streets, parks, alleyways, the Mall, and corners just to catch a glimpse of some of the action or just to be able to say they were there. President Bush delivered his last formal public words yesterday — not surprisingly — making the claim he did all right with the problems he had to deal with it. In the meantime, insiders report that Obama is working hard on his first official words hoping to draw inspiration (and associations) from the speeches of Lincoln.

As government information librarians we should step back for a few days and enjoy this moment of democratic theater. As I consider which policy points to make or programs to support to assure the free and permanent access to government information — I had to stop for a moment when I saw the faces of some school children here in Chicago who got the unexpected opportunity to go to the big show on Tuesday. This was something special to them, something that gave flesh and joy to all of our dry reports and meetings. This was the spark of civic possibilites that much of our library advocacy only describes in a second or third hand.

So, for these next few days let’s just go with the moment. Something transformational happened nearly 70 days ago, and as we approach Tuesday, its full import and possibilities press on our sensibilities again.

If you are working over the course of the next three days, I recommend this — take a moment to talk to a patron and ask if they will be watching the inaugaration, and share some of the civic information possibilities this event might mean. Talk to them as if the government might still matter in their lives, that its thousands of of commissions, agencies, bureaus, committees, etc. are really trying to do something about all the problems and challenges we share. I do not mean to go all partisan or advocate political positions. I mean simply try to capture in brief human exchange the excitement and wonder this peaceful transfer of power implies.

Wednesday will come soon enough and our obligations towards fulfilling this democratic promise can begin again.

See you on day 3.

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