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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.

Comments on FDLP Modeling Project draft documents

[This is the first of several comments on the Ithaka S+R FDLP Modeling Project. We will tag all our comments so you can find them all here.]

Introductory comment

Status of the drafts

Our comments will address the first three documents from the FDLP Modeling Project.

Roger C. Schonfeld, Manager of Research at Ithaka S+R, wrote to us to clarify the status of these documents. Though some are labeled as “final drafts” They are actually the “final draft[s] of the public draft[s] — but not the final draft of the section [of the final report].” He noted that “…all three of the deliverables that we’ve released publicly to the project website are very much drafts for community input and review, which input will be incorporated in further stages of the project and will lead to the appropriate revision of these sections prior to the issuance of our final report.”

A bit of background: Our perspective

We at FGI come to these issues as unpaid volunteers who advocate “Free Government Information” — free as in no-fee and free as in free from constraints and controls on re-use. Our comments are informed by our daily work in both the physical and digital realms of government information.

We are committed to a digital future for government information. We come to this process with, collectively, decades of library work experience with digital projects as well as decades of experience providing services for government information at all levels of government. We have always looked for solutions that work for information users and will continue to do so.

How should we evaluate the current environment and plan for the future?

While it is useful to understand the context within which libraries operate, we should not mistake that context for a vision.

To plan a future that provides for free, permanent access to government information we must do more than examine cost-constraints and current trends. While library finances will certainly limit what we can do, they should not warp our vision of what we should do. We should decide what we want first; then we can develop realistic ways of achieving our goals. While current trends in information technology, government agency policy, and commercial information practices provide the context within which libraries operate, those activities reflect the visions of others and we should not let those trends dictate our vision of the future.

It is also important that we do more than examine current user-behavior. We shouldn’t blindly follow users; instead, we should use current user-behavior as an indicator of what users want in the future. Users may be happy that they can access government information today but we have a responsibility to go further and ask: “What will guarantee that access tomorrow?”

While technology changes, our fundamental values are constant. Technology does not limit our choices, it broadens them. The challenge is not that we need to amend our values (e.g., access, privacy, long-term preservation, reuse) in light of technological changes. The challenge is how to use technology to assure access, privacy, long-term preservation, and reuse. Libraries are well positioned as public, non-commercial stakeholders to lead this process.

We believe that libraries should embrace a vision of the future that goes beyond what any single institution (e.g., GPO, individual agencies, individual FDLP libraries) could accomplish on its own. Reliance on any single institution is much riskier than relying on many — particularly in times of deep financial uncertainty. No single institution can guarantee that it can do everything for everyone forever. Relying on many institutions spreads the burden and the risk. Relying on many institutions provides opportunities for broader, more diverse services and collections.

Finally, we believe that the future of FDLP is about control. Who will control the information? Will it be government agencies (including GPO)? Will it be private sector vendors? Or will it be a large community of libraries working for the benefit of their various communities and constituents, preserving both the digital information and the communities’ right to free access to that information?

It is with these ideas and values in mind that we will examine the information that Ithaka S+R has compiled. We will attempt to draw conclusions from that information that will lead us to a future of free, open, usable, well-preserved government information where citizens, not governments or corporations, control their information.

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

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