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Comment on the “non-exclusive environment”

The following is a comment posted to the DLC Vision Outline and Discussion Paper blog under the topic, “Library Roles in the Non-Exclusive Environment.” I believe that the focus of the DLC Vision on the so-called “non-exclusive” environment leads to incorrect conclusions because of its false assumptions. The comments below, however, are an attempt to provide positive suggestions for improvement of the draft rather than a critique of the assumptions. Questions and statements by DLC are in boldface text.

“Pivotal to any discussion of government information provision is the ubiquitous internet. No longer do citizens, students, tax payers have to come to the depository library for government information.”

This statement should prompt a series of questions and discussion of them:

– Does the current state of access to government information from government web servers guarantee permanent access?

– Will citizens continue to have access to all government information they need from government web servers?

– Will the government continue to provide free access to fully-functional government information?

– Will government always provide access to government information and protect the privacy of readers?

“Despite the “digital divide,” the government is more and more often providing its information exclusively via the internet. Where does that leave Federal Depository Libraries?”

– It leaves FDLs with the same responsibilities they have always had: to ensure long-term, no-fee access to government information while protecting the privacy of users.

“In what ways, if any, might FDLs be necessary in the non-exclusive environment?”

– see below.

“What is the role of libraries generally and FDLs in particular?”

– Libraries have many roles. These roles include: selecting, acquiring, organizing, and preserving information; providing services for and access to that information; protecting the privacy of readers and users of that information; providing information without fees.

– Society needs organizations that have the complete mix of all of these roles as their primary mission (not a secondary mission or a by-product of publishing or dissemination or making money). In the case of government information in a participatory democracy it is particularly important, even essential, that society have such organizations. Reliance on those who have some, but not all, of these roles will ensure that some of these roles will go unfulfilled. Reliance on organizations that have some or all of these roles as a secondary mission or by-product of another mission will endanger free access to information, preservation and integrity of information, the privacy of readers, and risk the loss of information.

– What would you call an organization that fulfills all the roles listed above but “a library”? Since we already have a network of legislatively authorized libraries, what reason can we have for abrogating the responsibility and ability we already have in hopes that someone else will become the new library of the future? Doing so would either require rebuilding what we already have, or it would guarantee losing what we already have.

“To what extent are all libraries in some way government information access centers?”

– All libraries will have the possibility of providing better access to government information — but not all libraries will have the full responsibility of fulfilling all the roles of a depository library as outline above.

“There is a new diversity among FDLs, ranging from service centers to power collections – how do these mix?”

– The mix can be very similar to what we see in the paper and ink world. Some libraries will have small collections, frequently weeded; others will have large collections that the preserve for a long time. Most libraries will have collections of materials focusing on a particular clientele (k-12, college, university, agriculture, medicine, law, etc.). Some libraries will have advanced digital-library software and collections, others will have small collections of (for example) pdf files on cd-roms and public service PCs. Some FDLs may even wish to provide only service and no collections, but such libraries would not be depositories anymore.

– A “service center” is to information what a travel agent is to travel: it has no control over resources. While travel agents are potentially useful, we have seen that most users do not use travel agents, even if they provide “better” travel arrangements. Similarly, an FDLP that provides only “service centers” will be dooming itself to irrelevance.

“Only libraries? How might we collaborate with potential partners like the Memory Hole or Way Back Machine?”

– FDLs should both collaborate with and facilitate the work of others in the use and re-use of information. FDLs could feed information to such organizations and accept new information from them and guarantee long-term storage and access. FDLs should not, however, mistake the mission of such organizations for their own mission.

“How does the FDLP position itself where users are (Google; point-of-use; regional information; other?)?”

– FDLs should have collections of information and provide that information on the web. (To do this, we’ll need to have information that we control)

– FDLs should also create, and share metadata through OAI and RSS and similar future technologies.

– FDLs should provide new and useful organizations and views of the universe of information so that users can more easily find information. (Relying on a single view such as FDSys or a single functionality of provision would be a tragic under-utilization of digital information’ potential.)

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for suggesting positive alternatives. Just wanted to point out that some libraries are already using RSS to improve awareness of new government publications. Check out the University of Alabama “new titles” news feeds. You’ll need to scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the SuDoc feeds, but they’re there. I’ve flagged a few agencies like the Agriculural dept that sometimes provide pubs of interest to Alaskans. When our ILS supports RSS feeds a few releases from now, my library plans to offer a similar service.

    “And besides all that, what we need is a decentralized, distributed system of depositing electronic files to local libraries willing to host them.” — Daniel Cornwall, tipping his hat to Cato the Elder for the original quote

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