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CIA search: Down for two years and counting

Yesterday, when I was writing a post about The CIA’s Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf, I was looking on CIA.gov for a link to all the occurences of this regular feature in the CIA’s magazine Studies in Intelligence. Naturally, I used the CIA’s own search box. I was a bit surprised to find that every search I tried got the same result: (click image to enlarge)


In case you cannot read the above image, it says:

Search is Temporarily Unavailable

Search is temporarily unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try again later.

Posted: Aug 27, 2012 04:31 PM
Last Updated: Aug 27, 2012 04:31 PM

I don’t know if the date is correct, but if it is, search as been “temporarily” unavailable on the CIA website for more than two years.

I did not find a robots.txt file on CIA.gov (which means that the site is open to public search services) and I was able to find pages there that Google and USA.gov had indexed. Interestingly, when I tried Yahoo and Bing, I did not find the same pages, though I did not check thoroughly enough to determine if the pages were not indexed at all or if my failure to find them was a quirk of the search engines and my search strategy.

This seems to me yet another example of how, when libraries use that all-purpose excuse that “all government information is on the web” to minimize collections and services, they are providing their communities with a hollow promise.

As we have pointed out repeatedly here, when we fail to collect government information, it can be deleted or altered or moved. But this disabled CIA search service gives us another lesson: When we do not have the information in our collections, we have no control over how it is organized or indexed. We are at the mercy of the agency and commercial search engines: They decide what to index, and how to index it, and what ads to show, and how to deal with privacy of users.

As governments move toward “e-government” they are moving to information-services and when they are the only ones who control the information, they are also the only ones that control the services for that information. A Library that wishes to demonstrate its value to its community would do well to ask itself what value it is adding when it turns over collections and services to others.

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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