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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.

University of Minnesota Libraries Speaker Series So Far: Lorcan Dempsey & Paul Courant

The University of Minnesota Libraries has taken a new approach to its planning process this year to help deal with seemingly conflicting realities. On the one hand, everything said publicly by University administration indicates that the U’s financial future is Not Good. On the other, the Libraries has several projects in place that are innovative and many, many more on hold that would also be fabulous. These projects are in addition to the regular day-to-day work of a library. Something has to give somewhere, but the Libraries can’t just metaphorically throw its hands in the air and say “the heck with this, I’m out”.

So, the Libraries is hosting a speaker series with the goal of moving from lemons to lemonade. There have been two speakers so far – Lorcan Dempsey and Paul Courant. See https://wiki.lib.umn.edu/Staff/UniversityLibrariesSpeakerSeries for more information – future speakers will be Jim Neal and Clifford Lynch. While online access is limited during the talks, the future speakers will be recorded and the webcasts posted soon after for all to view. And, at the risk of sounding sycophantic, I believe our University Librarian’s – Wendy P. Lougee – opening remarks are also worth a listen on their own merits.

Lorcan Dempsey – “Discovery and Delivery”
Dempsey began by describing levels of rarity of library collections based on OCLC data with the suggestion that where libraries should focus their expenditures (presumably on preservation, simply having the space to hold, doing really good digitization, etc) is on the rare items. Non-rare items could reasonably be entrusted to network-level services like the Hathi Trust. He then presented a typology of library collection types sorted by rarity and current levels of stewardship. Government publications fell into high stewardship, but low rarity. Dempsey acknowledged that this was a broad characterization and that there might be rare items within a category like government publications or maps. Also, the University of Minnesota is a partner in the Hathi Trust and has sent some of its government publications collection in for digitizing, so the Libraries are already on the path he’s describing here. Caveats aside, I feel that he provides a well-reasoned and evidence-based rationale for shifting stewardship away from non-rare items and towards collections that are getting no real attention at all. This was only a tiny portion of his overall talk and I recommend going through the entire powerpoint or webcast to get the full presentation.

Presentation, Webcast, Related Readings: https://wiki.lib.umn.edu/Staff/UniversityLibrariesSpeakerSeries#dempsey

Paul Courant – “Scholarly Communications and Publishing”
Courant’s talk can be best described as a reflection on just what is it that we’d like to pay for. He framed part of the problem in terms of the Parable of the Anarchist’s Annual Meeting (see http://www.econ.ucsb.edu/~tedb/Journals/anarchists.pdf). In short: with coordination – either between libraries or between libraries and smaller publishers or both – we can take at least some control of the journal publishing arena. We already spend a fortune on a situation we don’t like. Surely the logical thing is to begin to spend some money on creating a situation more to our liking. This includes taking on more of a publishing role and allying ourselves with societies and small publishers (including university presses) who might be more interested in the benefits of open access that the big vendors. However, when I asked if he was advocating canceling contracts with big vendors, he answered (I’m paraphrasing) “Well, probably not. Well, not entirely. Might want to pass on those Big Deals they offer though.”

He also felt the library community should speak up loudly in favor of the recent RFI from the Office of Science and Technology Policy regarding increased access to the products of federally funded research. At the same time he reiterated that open access isn’t exclusively a library issue. In fact, he said it’s a faculty issue. Libraries need to keep pushing on the topic, but pushing faculty to understand that this is an arena they can control if the choose to do so.

Courant isn’t a librarian – he’s an economist by background and I found his application of an economics perspective refreshing. Again, like Dempsey’s talk, there was no magic “the Libraries should do this” moment because we are in a tough spot without easy resolution. But, also like Dempsey’s talk, he has a great way of expressing the issues facing libraries.

Presentation, Webcast, Related Readings: https://wiki.lib.umn.edu/Staff/UniversityLibrariesSpeakerSeries#courant

I don’t know if these speakers really will lead to concrete ideas for coping with our budget problems, but I sure am glad we’re having them – each one has been thought-provoking.

In response to the “Economic case against homosexuality”

Recently Bert Chapman, the Government Information & Political Science Librarian and Professor of Library Science at Purdue University, posted a comment (An Economic Case Against Homosexuality) on his blog (Conservative Librarian, October 27, 2009).

We disagree both with Bert’s premises (that homosexuality is “aberrant ” or a “lifestyle” or that it is a “threat” to “traditional sexual morality”) and with his conclusions (that “the extremely high financial costs” justify imposing one’s religious beliefs on others).

In fact, we do not believe that any economic argument could justify denying basic human rights to members of our society. Jonathan Swift made this point better than we ever could in his satiric piece, A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick (1729).

We understand that, in a secular country whose citizens embrace many (often conflicting) religious beliefs, we make economic and legal choices democratically all the time. Those decisions come from what we as a society value collectively, democratically. We make those choices with the understanding that the process will yield good decisions for all (including minorities). We also believe that, in this country, we have an explicit, Constitutional responsibility to refrain from imposing one religious or philosophical belief on others who do not share that belief.

Although we reject Bert’s premise that economics can be used as an argument “against homosexuality,” we do recognize that some people might find Bert’s “economic case” convincing even if they do not share Bert’s religious beliefs. For that reason, we think it important, even necessary, to address the factual inaccuracies of Bert’s posting.

Our colleague and guest FGI blogger Amy West, Data Services Librarian at the University of Minnesota, has investigated Bert’s claims and reports, below, on her findings.



As the FGI folks say above, I’m not planning to discuss the premises underlying Bert’s article. Instead, I will take his arguments as is and respond. As I look at the comments he’s received on his site, on the article in Inside Higher Ed (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/11/13/purdue) and on professional listservs, I notice no one has systematically addressed the figures he presents, or more commonly doesn’t present. So, paragraph by paragraph, here’s what I found…

Paragraph One: Introduction – no factual assertions

Paragraph Two: Federal Expenditures on HIV/AIDS
Bert says that federal expenditures on HIV/AIDS related activities in 2008 are $23.3 billion dollars, but provides no citation. So, I went to the Consolidated Federal Funds Report (CFFR) from the Bureau of the Census. The CFFR provides annual reports on funds expended by the federal government. According to the CFFR, in Fiscal Year 2008, the federal government expended $3,692,496,880 on activities related to HIV and AIDS.(1) However, the total amount of federal expenditures is $4,416,612,547,616 or $4.4 trillion dollars. Thus, HIV/AIDS expenditures would be 0.08% of all federal expenditures. Yes, $3.6 billion dollars is a lot of money, but in context of the overall federal budget, it’s a tiny, tiny portion of the pie. Does this really constitute an undue burden on the overall population? For some additional perspective, keep in mind that federal flood insurance expenditures for FY 2008 were $1.16 trillion dollars or 26% of total federal expenditures.(2)

Paragraph Three: Costs from pharmaceuticals and patient care as a result of sexually transmitted diseases.
Bert suggests that we should factor in costs from behaviors he’s opposed to, but doesn’t provide any such data himself – just implies that there must be a cost and it must be significant. However, if you look at the leading causes of death from the Centers for Disease Control, you’ll see that the number one cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease.(3) Further, as of 2005, Forbes.com reported that the best-selling drug in the U.S. was Lipitor ($8.4 billion in sales in the list attached to the article), which treats high cholesterol (a factor in heart disease).(4) Given the readily available data showing that other diseases and associated treatments are significant factors in health care costs, it’s going to take more than an assertion to make this point. It’s also worth noting that $8.4 billion dollars in sales for a single drug for a single health condition in 2005 is more than double all federal spending on HIV/AIDS programs for 2008 as reported in the CFFR.

Paragraph Four: HIV/AIDS in Prisons
The inclusion of this paragraph is a mystery. Rape is certainly bad in any circumstance, but the relationship of prison rape to HIV/AIDS and any economic costs is left unstated in Bert’s post. Of note is the series HIV in Prisons published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics which shows that for 2006, “1.6% of male inmates and 2.4% of female inmates in state and federal prisons were known to be HIV positive or to have confirmed AIDS.”(5) HIV in Prisons sheds no light on how or when the prisoners acquired HIV/AIDS because of the varied methods in which testing occurs in prisons.(6)

Paragraph Five: Domestic Partner Employee Benefits Reduce Benefits to Heterosexual Couples
Once again, there is no data here, just assertions. There is reference to an article called “Do Domestic Partner Benefits Make Good Economic Sense?” as a source of supporting data.(7) This article relies on a single study of small businesses to make arguments regarding all domestic partnership benefit packages from all employers of all sizes. Yet, even the authors of this article acknowledge that there exists no data to prove their claims when they say “To date there is very little publicly available data-and no publicly available actuarial studies-on the cost of health-care for live-in partners, for nearly 90 percent of the employers with such benefits adopted them within the past six years. Moreoever, most employers and insurers either do not track the cost of domestic partnership benefits separately, or do not disclose the information publicly. Accordingly, it is nearly impossible to accurately predict the cost of granting cohabitation benefits.”(8) In fact, the study on which they rely analyzed small businesses. It may well be that adding domestic partnership benefits is more expensive for small companies than large companies, but that could just be an effect of the overall structure of health care in the U.S. According to the fact sheet “The Economic Effects of Health Care Reform on Small Businesses and their Employees” from the Council of Economic Advisers, the current structure of health care means that small businesses usually pay 18% more the same sets of benefits as large employers, regardless of what those benefits might be.(9)

Paragraph Six: Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage nationwide will increase costs for insurance, estate planning, divorce
There is no data in this paragraph; just what a “what-if” scenario. Since only five states allow same-sex marriages and federal law actively bans them, there simply is no data on which to base speculations on the effect of expanding marriage to more people with respect to insurance, estate planning and divorce law.(10) It is worth noting though that for those people who do have the option to marry, not all is rosy: nearly half of all marriages end in divorce.(11) Any increase in costs associated with marriage and divorce (if there are any) must lie with heterosexual couples because they are only ones with a guaranteed right to do both nationwide.

Paragraph Seven: Conclusion – – no factual assertions

Bert describes his post as a description of “substantive realities which cannot be denied”. However, as I show above, he describes neither current reality nor provides indisputable data. If there is an economic case to be made against homosexuality, it’s not present here.

(1) West, Amy. “HIV/AIDS Expenditures.” Consolidated Federal Funds Report. https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AuLB6VoqlRSidE11YVZBMFRMZFB2UzhiQ2pLS0NzblE&hl=en. Accessed 11/16/09.
(2) Bureau of the Census. “Table 9. Federal Government Insurance Programs—Volume of Coverage Provided by State and Outlying Area: Fiscal Year 2008.” Consolidated Federal Funds Report for Fiscal Year 2008. http://www.census.gov/prod/2009pubs/cffr-08.pdf. Accessed 11/16/09.
(3) Centers for Disease Control. “Deaths and Mortality.” FASTSTATS. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm. Accessed 11/16/09.
(4) Herper, Matthew. “The Best-Selling Drugs In America.” Forbes.com. http://www.forbes.com/2006/02/27/pfizer-merck-genentech-cx_mh_0224topsellingdrugs.html. Accessed 11/16/09.
(5) Maruschak, Laura M. “Highlights.” HIV in Prisons, 2006. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/html/hivp/2006/hivp06.htm#highlights. Accessed 11/16/09.
(6) Maruschak, Laura M. “HIV Testing in Prisons.” HIV in Prisons, 2006. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/html/hivp/2006/hivp06.htm#testing. Accessed 11/16/09.
(7) Corporate Resource Council. Do Domestic Partner Benefits Make Good Economic Sense? http://www.corporateresourcecouncil.org/white_papers/DP_Good_Business_Sense.pdf. Accessed 11/16/09.
(8)ibid, pg. 1.
(9)Council of Economic Advisors. The Economic Effects of Health Care Reform on Small Businesses and their Employees. http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/cea/Health-Care-Reform-and-Small-Businesses. Accessed 11/16/09.
(10) United States Congress. To define and protect the institution of marriage. P.L. 104-199. http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=104_cong_public_laws&docid=f:publ199.104. Accessed 11/16/09.
(11) Centers for Disease Control. “Marriage and Divorce.” FASTSTATS. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/divorce.htm. Accessed 11/16/09.

PoliFact | Fact Checking Presidential Candidates

PolitiFact is a project of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly. In the months ahead, the news staffs of both organizations will examine major claims by presidential candidates and rule on their veracity. Our Truth-O-Meter will help voters sort fact from fiction in the campaign. This is a working database and over time it will grow more valuable.

Agricultural Congressional Research Service Reports

The Congressional Research Service is the public policy research arm of the United States Congress and solely serves Congress as a source of nonpartisan, objective analysis and research on all legislative issues. Through the Congress, the National Agricultural Law Center is periodically receiving CRS reports related to agriculture and food issues. New and updated reports will be posted here as they are obtained: www.nationalaglawcenter.org/crs/

NRC Removal of Documents from its Public Archive / Unintended Consequences

From the Guardian at www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-6863800,00.html

"A three-year veil of secrecy in the name of national security was used to keep the public in the dark about the handling of highly enriched uranium at a nuclear fuel processing plant – including a leak that could have caused a deadly, uncontrolled nuclear reaction….The public was never told about the problems when they happened. …In 2004, the government became so concerned about releasing nuclear secrets that the commission removed more than 1,740 documents from its public archive – even some that apparently involved basic safety violations at the company, which operates a 65-acre gated complex in tiny Erwin, about 120 miles north of Knoxville."