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Pt. 7: Nonlawyer’s journey through Title 44: Free use of Government publications in depositories

This post, all earlier postings in this series, and my “not a lawyer” disclaimer can be found at http://freegovinfo.info/title44 or through our library under Nonlawyer’s Journey through Title 44.

In my last Title 44 installment, I covered 44 USC 1909. Today I cover 44 USC 1911, Free use of Government publications in depositories. Why not Section 1910? Because 1910 deals with the replacement of depository libraries and so does not seem to be a central part of the Depository Library Program.

44 USC 1911 states:

TITLE 44–PUBLIC PRINTING AND DOCUMENTS

CHAPTER 19–DEPOSITORY LIBRARY PROGRAM

Sec. 1911. Free use of Government publications in depositories; disposal of unwanted publications

Depository libraries shall make Government publications available for the free use of the general public, and may dispose of them after retention for five years under section 1912 of this title, if the depository library is served by a regional depository library. Depository libraries not served by a regional depository library, or that are regional depository libraries themselves, shall retain Government publications permanently in either printed form or in microfacsimile form, except superseded publications or those issued later in bound form which may be discarded as authorized by the Superintendent of Documents.

(Pub. L. 90-620, Oct. 22, 1968, 82 Stat. 1286.)

Historical and Revision Notes

Based on 44 U.S. Code, 1964 ed., Sec. 92 (part) (Jan. 12, 1895, ch. 23, Sec. 74, 28 Stat. 620; June 20, 1936, ch. 630, title VII, Sec. 11, 49 Stat. 1552; Aug. 9, 1962, Pub. L. 87-579, Sec. 8, 76 Stat. 355).The first sentence of section 92, is classified to section 1119; the remainder comprises this section of the revision.

Section Referred to in Other Sections

This section is referred to in section 1915 of this title.

Section 1911 is another section that places responsibilities on libraries. In this case, libraries are required to allow free use of government publications and to retain all but superseded publications for at least five years. Certain depositories called regionals must keep all but superseded publications permanently. Regional libraries are covered in detail by 44 USC 1912, so I’ll save a full discussion of the vital regional libraries until then.

Traditionally, “free use” of government publications has meant the free browsing and borrowing of materials held by depository libraries. There is no requirement in either Title 44 or in Depository Library Program regulations for free photocopying. Photocopying follows the general guidelines of whatever a library allows for its general collection. If you can make ten free photocopies of a library book or magazine, then those same guidelines apply for government documents. If you charge $0.50/page for all library materials, then the Government Printing Office has no problem with you charging $0.50/page for photocopies of government documents.

I believe that the principle of free use might be endangered in a mostly electronic program because it forces more users into printing pages off the Internet. While they can technically read material from a screen, most people prefer reading more than a page or two from paper. Patrons can be charged the same rate for printing from government documents as they can for other web pages. Additionally, many libraries place limits on Internet time, which is acceptable depository practice. Many libraries offer a 30 minute time limit, which would make it hard to read more than the executive summary of many reports.

By contrast, in the tangible world, someone could either borrow the report and read it at their leisure, or at least take as much time as they needed in the depository’s reading area.

Leaving free use, let us consider the five year disposal period. The feds can require libraries to keep depository materials for five years because the items remain federal property even though the depository library has custody. Over the years, there have been efforts to change this retention period, but since it is written into statute, it has proved difficult to change.

With the arrival of a mostly electronic program, disposal of documents may take on new meanings, whether the future is one of linking to federal servers or one of building local digital collections. Anyone want to guess how that might change?

Next time we will look at the section of the law that governs Regional Depository Libraries and sing their praises.

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


5 Comments

  1. Yes, I was being facetious. I used the term borrow, when I really meant ‘stealing for my own digital hoard’. But yes, just like xeroxing the important parts to take home and work on. Somethings are ‘borrowable’.

    >By contrast, in the tangible world, someone could either borrow the
    >report and read it at their leisure, or at least take as much time as
    >they needed in the depository’s reading area.

    >Traditionally, “free use” of government publications has meant the
    >free browsing and borrowing of materials held by depository libraries

    So I definitely want the term ‘borrowing’ of electronic documents to be used in that sense, and not in this sense:

    >the Government Printing Office has no problem with you charging
    >$0.50/page for photocopies of government documents.

    >many libraries place limits on Internet time, which is acceptable
    >depository practice.

    So when they get around to electronic documents, there are two ways to go for it, one to charge a prohibitive fee, and impose limits, which will make the information valuable, and inacessible to the hoi poi, or to make it free, which means problems for those in power when individuals speak up, because they’ve learnt things.

    Mostly, they mean that you can copy it, you can read it, etc, freely. Which is what I’m getting at.

    I don’t want to get my documents from an agency. There’s no way to verify that the file hasn’t been recently altered by administrative order.

    With an FDL, I usually can assume that if it’s there, it’s not been editted since it was deposited. It might’ve been withdrawn, or superseded, but that’s a different ball of wax.

    On the plus side with electronic records, there’s an opportunity for me to be the repository, and I don’t have to comply with withdrawal orders, or superseded orders – as long as the FDL isn’t tracking who has copies of things.

    I know that the digital form isn’t the best for everyone. However it’s probably going to be the only form that is going to be affordable in the future. Burgeoning amounts of documents, transportation and pulp costs, etc, all lead inevitably to digital information. I find that sad, because – yes, digital information hasn’t shown a long-term presence like (good) printed material has. Maybe we can go from the equivalent of cheap printing to archival paper in the electronic format, but so far I’ve not seen it. And they’ve had 30+ years to work on it…

  2. Thanks for your additional comments. There’s really nothing I can add except to say I appreciate your understanding of the issues. Have you thought of working as a documents librarian if you aren’t one already?

    Hope to see you on other threads at FGI.

    ————————————
    “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 quotes.

  3. Hi Ender,

    I’m happy to see that you’ve dropped by FGI. I’ve appreciated your comments on LISNews.

    It’s interesting that you use the term “borrow” to refer to digital materials. Unless a file is wrapped in a DRM format that renders a file unreadable after a certain time period, the term “borrow” really doesn’t make sense.

    Copying does, and most (I say w/fingers crossed) depository libraries would allow you to make an electronic copy of a document you didn’t have time to read at one of their workstations. CD burners are still relatively rare owning to library finances but will become more common in the future. You can find floppy drives in a number of libraries but that will decline as floppies are phased out. FTP could be done if a library maintained a local digital collection, or if you were accessing the document at home, you could save it from the original agency web site – assuming it was still there.

    While electronic format may be the best for you, it isn’t for everyone. For example, 74% of Americans over the age of 65 do not use the Internet and for Americans as a whole, there are 32% of Americans who do not use the Internet. Millions more Americans have dialup access and downloading megabit PDF files will take hours of tying up their phone lines.

    I myself prefer electronic files that are searchable (not all are) so I can quickly find specific parts, but I prefer print whenever I want the whole document. And then there’s the issue of preservation. The printed copy of the 9/11 Commission report will likely endure into the 23rd Century. The PDF version may not survive another ten or twenty. At least we’ll have the print copy to redigitize from.

    Thanks again for stopping by and I hope we’ll see more of you.

    ————————————
    “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.

  4. So, why can’t we require them to let us borrow the digital materials? I can get a floppy disk. Or a CD-R. Or, I could FTP or otherwise download it to my own computer for reading, or printing. I’d personally much rather have government documents in electronic format. Way too big otherwise….

  5. Digital Hoard happens to be the name of a media cataloging application similar to Delicious Monster but for the Windows environment. In some ways it is more robust as it can handle collections in the thousands of items and has the web 2.0 capability of tagging (tag clouds). It is just as easy and fun to use from an Interaction Design point of view. Check it out at digitalhoard.com

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