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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.

Won’t Get Fooled Again: Day 18

It is just possible that the community organizing traditions shared by many public and academic libraries will find resonance with the Obama administration. Both draw on a culture of commitment and service to specific communities. In the case of Obama, a clear promise to “change” how things are done in Washington (not unlike the promises made by every president elected since the 1950’s.) In return, Obama promises to speak directly to and for those individuals who voted for him. There is much talk about the grassroots organizing potential of Obama’s millions of emails that give him a direct way to reach out to local and state-wide constituents. An electoral right and power often associated with the Congress rather than the president. Indeed, it is exactly this kind of direct outreach that Obama’s administration is counting on to push Congress into acceptance of the massive economic stimulus package.

However, to judge by the track record of the federal depository library system, most librarians share a far different relationship with their communities. We tend to think of them less as individuals who “get us into office.” There is only a very shallow tradition of working closely with the congressional districts of House members or Senators to coordinate the collection and service of federal documents. In most cases, academic and public libraries identify their immediate communities as the student and faculty of their respective institutions, or the set of voters that approve their budgets (usually a local government or public body.)

Where am I going with this? The suggestion, which I will develop more fully in subsequent blog entries, that libraries that share a clear mission to include government information service to their communities are going to have to redefine the who, what and why of that service. Further, this service will need to expand beyond the passive collection of “public documents” and add value in such a way that mirrors what many other community organizations are doing with either public programs and/or information. For example, suppose state and national library associations came up with a coordinated program that highlights the the recommendations of the Government Accountability Office’s “13 Urgent Issues” to be considered by the new administration and congress. Indeed, FGI has laid the
foundation for this kind of national service over the last couple of months by pulling together the basic bones of bibliographic guides. However, there is still too little effort to push this kind of community information organizing to the necessary level where a library’s community might come to expect this kind of information service as a matter of course.

Community organizing never rests.

See you on Day 19.

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