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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.

Docs for Digital Democracy (ARL interim summary)

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has released the following 10-page paper:

Documents for Digital Democracy: A Model for the Federal Depository Library Program in the 21st Century, Interim Summary, prepared by Ithaka S + R

It is the top link at http://www.arl.org/pp/access/fdlp/index.shtml

A non-partisan U.S. Census Bureau

For fascinating, provocative reading about where the Census Bureau will reside in the federal government organization, read the Feb 10, 2009 Wall Street Journal: “Why Obama Wants Control of the Census: Counting Citizens is a Powerful Political Tool” (author: John Fund). http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123423384887066377.html.
Serious changes may be happening, and more quickly than imagined. Even the seven former Census directors who support turning the Census into an independent agency recommended doing so after the 2010 Census.

To quote the article, “[S]tatisticians at the Commerce Department didn’t think [Obama’s changes] would mean having the director of next year’s Census report directly to the White House rather than to the Commerce secretary.”

Lots of food for thought.

Air fresheners are bad, but regulations are fun

Anyone who has ever had to teach about federal regulations is always thrilled to have good, hopefully entertaining, examples for this topic. And now that instructors have access to the Reg Map, we can actually give a step by step explanation of this once murky process (thank you, General Services Administration). As is the case with legislative process, our students’ first question is frequently "How do regulations come about?" We reassuringly tell them that executive agencies produce regulations, frequently due to statutory mandate, and that the regs are published first in the Federal Reqister, now Regulations.gov as well, before being codified in the CFR.  From the Reg Map, we learn that that there are other Initiating Events besides legislative mandate: such as recommendation from an external group.

Well, a recent news article offers a fine example of an external group directly petitioning the federal Executive Branch: environmental organizations are asking both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to more tightly regulate air fresheners. The groups don’t need to approach Congress; they can go directly to those agencies whose mission it is to keep us safe.  And since the air freshener industry, a $1.72 billion annual sales concern, is cranking out "sprays, gels and plug-in fresheners offer[ing] no public health benefits" but potentially causing "breathing difficulties, developmental problems in babies, and cancer in laboratory animals," I am glad the groups are taking action.  The groups are asking for labeling of all ingredients in air fresheners and a banning of allergens or items appearing on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals. Here’s a report from the National Resources Defense Council, one of the groups involved.

How Washington DC shapes us all: in honor of Art Emerson

Many of us who are drawn to U.S. federal publications end up traveling to our Nation’s capitol fairly regularly, if we don’t live there already.  Over time, we develop constellations of memories about "the first time I did" this or that in Washington DC.  We attend GPO-sponsored events like the formative Interagency Depository Seminar (alumna, class of 1993) or the Depository Library Conference & Council meetings; we tour famous sites and museums; we recall our first time on the Mall, seeing cherry blossoms, and riding the Metro.  Special people in our lives are willing to show us "their" Washington DC, and their perspectives further enrich our understanding of all the secrets within the Beltway.
There are also special Washington DC people we visit — our family or friends — who are completely outside the govdocs realm.  For fifteen years, I’ve had a standing date (always dinner and a walk) with a reference librarian from the Library of Congress, Art Emerson.  Art served as the Library of Congress subject expert for Australia and New Zealand.  He was a contemporary of mine from the University of Michigan School of Information and Library  Studies (its old name).  Art and I would look forward to our annual time together:  what new memorial would we see?  What museum just opened?  What ethnic restaurant was fabulous and as yet undiscovered by the hordes?  I’ll never forget the night he took this small town girl on a no-holds-barred tour of the Metro’s steepest escalators, because he knew what fear and excitement these inspired in me.  He took special pride in my teary-eyed first glimpse of the LC Main Reading Room and the restored Jefferson Building.  When he visited the Northwest this past year, we took him to see Seattle’s favorite Australian import, Lauren Jackson, play a mean game of basketball.
My friends and I were shocked to learn that Art Emerson died last week.  A health problem had been building, stealthily, for some time, until it finally manifested itself and ended his life.  He was 51.  He had spent a glorious year at the State Library of New South Wales.  He helped people all over the world discover treasures of one of the greatest libraries on Earth, and a federal library at that.  He was still planning his next trip to Australia, perhaps planning his next book project after his Historical Dictionary of Sydney.  He had a wicked sense of humor and a mind that would be the envy of any scholar.  With the serendipity that always seems to happen around a death, I turned over a scrap of paper on my guest room floor last night to find that it was a card for Tony Cheng’s Seafood Restaurant and Mongolian Barbeque, the last restaurant I visited with Art.  I’m too sad to eulogize him further right now, and FGI is not the place to do so.  But I thought in Art’s memory, I would ask the FGI readership:  what are some of your favorite secret spots in  Washington DC?  What special person introduced you to these?  How has Washington DC changed who you are as an information lover?

Yellow tap water: thoughts on local government, part II

And now for my second tale of local government information and intrigue from Tacoma, Washington.

I live in a 1920’s era house, and I have to admit that sometimes the first spurts of water out of the tap are slightly rusty (nothing to worry about, the plumber assures me, as if anyone would believe that).  But in this past month, I noticed that the water had a slightly tinted look to it, even after I’d let it run for a while.  It wasn’t anywhere near as cloudy as the tap water I’d seen in Vancouver BC last year when I visited that city during a boil-water advisory. No, this tinted water looked a little off, tasted fine, didn’t seem to kill me, and froze right up into sort of mod-looking ice cubes.  Normally, I’m skiddish about such things, but I didn’t think too long and hard about my not-quite-right water.  I was thirsty, so I’d been drinking it anyway.

I was suprised to see in last week’s mail, mixed in with the Val-pak coupons, cable TV come-ons, and various unwanted bills, a blanket-mailing to all Tacoma residents from the Tacoma Public Utilities water management superintendent.  The content of the letter said basically, hey, the water’s yellow, we know about it, it’s a normal seasonal occurence, and it happens when naturally-present iron and manganese pass through our treatment process.  Problems or concerns?  There’s a phone number I can call.  I didn’t call it, because I felt satisfied with the information, but I’m glad the phone number is available.

Mass mailings direct from government, aside from those related to taxes or elections, have always interested to me.  Here at work, we have agreed that the nuclear fallout shelter designs from FEMA, delivered en masse to American doorsteps through the early 1980s (as near as we can figure), are some of the most seductive.  By far our favorite is Home Fallout Shelter: Snack Bar, Basement Location, Plan D. I went trolling about on Worldcat, the open web, and Google Books, looking for a digitized copy from a .gov or .edu.  Found one on a web site called Millionaire Playboy(TM) which I approached with trepidation; it appears that Millionaire Playboy(TM) is a commercial outfit that reviews and sells kitsch to the pop culture and video gaming communities.   Why have these folks beaten us to the digitizing of these government classics, which they’ve no doubt gotten from a federal depository library (or from some hopeless collector with a worse hoarding impulse than mine)?  (Scroll down to the bottom of this off-putting Mr. Stinkhead column and you’ll see a bunch of them.)

I’m signing off for the day.  The web has wearied me.  I’ve rambled too long, when all I wanted to tell you about was my yellow tap water and how my local public utility gave me the resources to learn more about it.