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Electronic Government Information:The more things change…

… the more they stay the same.

While researching my next installment of the Title 44 series, I ran across an ERIC Education Digest called ED331528 1991-05-00 Information Technology and the Informed Citizen: New Challenges for Government and Libraries. ERIC Digest.

Published back in 1991, this six page document cited several challenges in producing and using government information in electronic format including:

  • Possible sale of data by agencies.
  • Concerns about outright privatization of government information.
  • “Usability of information by the user. Electronic information products are not always readily usable by the individual who needs them.”
  • “Equity of access. Related to the previous issue is the cost one must pay to play in the electronic information game; namely, the hardware and software required to access electronic information.”
  • “Decisions will have to be made regarding which libraries will provide what levels of access to what electronic information products at what cost, based perhaps on particular characteristics of the information products.”

Fifteen years later and we’re still discussing many of the same things.

Interestingly, the authors of the ERIC report saw a role for libraries and librarians as guides and educators that I think remains valid today:

Providing a gateway to networks of electronic information is only one challenge facing libraries in the years to come. Libraries also serve as GUIDES, not only filling specific information needs but solving information problems (Schuman, 1990). For the foreseeable future, the “expert system” people will use to seek answers to information problems will be librarians (more appropriately, INFORMATION SPECIALISTS), whose traditional expertise as information searchers will have to expand to navigate skillfully the growing web of interconnected electronic databases. A knowledgeable guide significantly lightens the burden users must bear in finding the information they need.

Libraries must also serve as EDUCATORS, helping citizens to hone their own information problem-solving skills. The information specialist can help people to identify multiple perspectives on public policy issues, to clarify their questions, and to identify what information they need to answer their questions. Patrons also frequently seek help in INTERPRETING the information they have found; that is, in converting information into knowledge. Such requests will likely multiply, as citizens are confronted with increasing volumes of information and with policy issues requiring greater understanding of scientific, technical, and social information.

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