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LIS Webcast: Government Information at the Crossroads

LIS Webcast: government information at the crossroads (February 7, 2006)

Charley Seavey talks with Laurie Canepa of the State Library of New Mexico and Barbara Rehkopb of Washington University in St. Louis about the present and future of government information. This Webcast, hosted by the University of Missouri, Columbia’s School of Information Science and Learning Technologies, is a nice service and opportunity to share information and ideas. I highly recommend listening to the interview.

First off, congratulations to Laurie and the State Library of New Mexico for being honored as Depository of the Year and to Barbara and WASHU for celebrating their 100th anniversary as a federal depository library!

There are a few things I’d like to highlight about Charley’s interview with Laurie and Barbara. I was interested to learn about the New Mexico News Plus service, a blog and clipping service highlighting federal government information mentioned in the news of local and regional import — see there ARE uses for blogs in libraries 😉 . I was also excited to hear that Laurie is feeding those digital documents (many of them fugitives) into their state library’s OCLC-supported digital archive. All three agreed that this is of vital importance to the preservation of digital government information because they were skeptical of GPO’s ability to preserve all documents for all time.

I’d also like to mention a meme that worried me. All three agreed that, since many public libraries have internet access, they can and should consider themselves depository libraries. I think this rings true on the surface, but when looked at more deeply, denegrates the work that depository librarians have done for the last 150+ years. Access is important, yes, but collections, cataloging, reference and long-term preservation are the pillars on which depositories are built. Putting a “link to American Factfinder” on a library Web page does not a depository make. This statement and belief only makes it more difficult for docs librarians to convince their administrations of the continuing vital importance of documents and efforts to build local digital collections.

And I’ll end my missive with this quote from Dr. Seavy for you all to mull over:

[35:30] GPO needs to recast itself as an information access agency right now the legislation isn’t going to let them do that. They need congressional action and the resources to do it. If every state is doing what Laurie is doing … downloading and preserving on local servers stuff that is relevant to that state/region, then in a way we’ve got alot of redundancy there we’ve got alot of, a big safety net. I fear that if we put it all in one federal basket somewhere, then some day some fool is going to decide well we don’t need this stuff anymore; the money ran out or whatever and boom all that history goes away. I’d really rather see alot more local responsibility in taking care of and preserving the digital information that’s out there. I think GPO and Superintendent of Documents has got a role, but I’m a long way from convinced that everybody should depend on the feds to do it. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

(hmmm, seems I’ve heard this idea before somewhere 😉 )

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


  1. The “any library can be a depository” meme provides the attractive idea of a library being able to cherrypick documents without any requirments for access, retention, and discarding. It’s depository lite that focuses on high demand documents. There’s nothing wrong with it as long as you don’t confuse it with a library that provides a committed, systematic service of collecting documents, preserving them, and making them available. One weakness in this meme is that it overlooks the depository community’s role in making mundane and esoteric government information available. It’s like the difference between just having a copy of the “World Almanac” and providing a reference collection. The “World Almanac” has a lot of quick, useful information, but it’s not so good for in-depth research.

  2. James R. – Thanks for blogging the webcast. I meant to listen at lunch, but got distracted. I definitely will make room for it in the next few days. Kudos to New Mexico State Library for harvesting and storing state and federal documents in the OCLC Archive. The OCLC Archive could certainly be one approach to handling materials obtained through digital deposit.

    I’d like to join James and Herrick in criticizing the meme “any library can be a depository”, but I’d like to point out that there is a useful concept hiding in this unproductive meme – that of a government information service center. One way such a center could work is envisioned in the Gov4You concept document on the FDLP NextSteps Wiki. Given the lighter collection development and processing load in federal documents, more communities could have access to government resources than if service were only delivered by traditional depositories. And I think that’s a win for the public.

    BUT, information has to be accessed from somewhere. Being an expert on the US Budget does you no good if the a prior year’s budget has been yanked off the web for hiding inconvenient information. There’s no sense in becoming an expert on BLM documents if the BLM server is blocked by court order. That’s where a geographically dispersed set of institutions (libraries) holding local digital collections of publications come in. It gives the “government information service centers” extra ways to obtain the information their patrons need.

    Additionally, I believe that collecting and processing materials, regardless of format both builds expertise and encourages administrations to continue the investment in government information expertise. If someone has research that says otherwise, please make a note of it here.

    I think there is room both for depositories and “government information service centers”, but it is very important to distinguish between the two.

    So say it with me, “Any library can be a government information service center, but only depositories help guarantee permanent, public access to government information.”

    “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

  3. Thanks Daniel and Herrick for clarifying my angst about “any library can be a depository.” As Daniel points out, information’s got to be accessed from somewhere. And, since I’m full of neologisms today, I’d like to propose a “DocsTorrent” concept (like BitTorrent) where all of those libraries (depository and non-depository) who are starting to build their own local archives via OCLC, LOCKSS or some other software can connect up into one (or more) peer-to-peer (P2P) government information networks. Even those GISCs could submit documents to the DocsTorrent thereby participating in the depository system. P2P architecture allows for any library with an internet connection and Web server to become part of the DocsTorrent. Then the meme wouldn’t be quite so off-base.

    Come on folks, the technology’s there, we just have to get our social networks together.

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