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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.

1. General Assumptions

The Government Printing Office (GPO) document, Digital Distribution to Depository Libraries: Exploring the Issues (9/6/2006) frames the discussion with these six basic “general assumptions”:

  1. Consistent with other formats, GPO will distribute authentic digital publications in formats intended for public access.
  2. The characteristics of digital publications vary so significantly from tangible products that new, more flexible, guidelines for managing them in depository libraries will need to be developed.
  3. Preservation of the source files, called Archival Information Packages in FDsys, will be the responsibility of GPO and its preservation partners.
  4. For a majority of content, digital distribution represents another format choice that can be selected, in addition to print, microfiche, and tangible electronic products.
  5. Libraries receiving FDLP digital publications would be responsible for providing sufficient infrastructure, including bandwidth and storage, to provide timely and effective public access.
  6. Libraries would need to ensure that they are providing access to the same version(s) of a digital publication that is/are available from GPO.

We at Free Government Information feel that assumptions 1, 2, 4 and 5 are extremely reasonable assumptions and hope they will form part of the philosophical foundation for any mostly digital depository program.

We must strongly object to assumption three, that the preservation of documents will be the responsibility of GPO and unspecified preservation partners. This represents an upending of over a century of successful distributed preservation efforts and launches GPO into entirely uncharted waters. Uncharted territory for a chronicly underfunded federal agency subject to constant fiscal pressure. While depository libraries are also financially challenged, there are more libraries than there are GPOs and so we continue to believe that lots of copies keep stuff safe. We hope that FDSys and government contracted partners will be part of a preservation solution, but relying on any one entity for preservation of fragile digital objects is suicidal for information. There is no polite way to put this.

We do not feel as negative about assumption six, but feel the community requires more information before they agree to it. Certainly for the latest available publication libraries should be serving the same version as GPO. They should also be responsible for marking previous editions as superseded and pulling them off their servers if appropriate. But we feel strongly that superseded editions in the digital world deserve the same treatement as their printed counterparts. Many libraries will only keep the most current version, and others will keep older editions for their historical value unless the agency has formally withdrawn them from the Federal Depository Library Program. If a GPO of the future decides to keep “latest only” for budget reasons, depositories libraries should not be obligated to do the same. If this is made clear, than assumption six becomes reasonable as well.

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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