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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.

Federal Depository Libraries – GovDocs for Jocks

I apologize to all the govdocs jockies who are a little underwhelmed by my 101 approach to all things document-y, but I’ve been enjoying all the new stuff I’ve learned. Today I’m talking about Federal Depository Libraries.

If you went to library school you may have had a class in GovDocs where you learned about FDLs and their complicated and mysterious cataloging and classification system and met very odd people who made these systems their lives. By the end of the GovDocs class, most people were terrified but a few were hooked. I can remember almost every GovDocs librarian I’ve ever met and I don’t think this is true for any other type of librarian I’ve encountered.

So, here are some things you need to know. Other GovDocs fanboys and fangirls, please add more information in the comments. This page has an intro to the FDL program for further reading.

  • The US has 1250 Federal Dpository Libraries nationwide. You can find the one nearest you by going to this page. Want to print a list for your state? Go to this page.
  • The broad purpose of these libraries is to “provide local, no-fee access to Government information in an impartial environment with professional assistance”
  • ANYONE can go into a FDL, even if the collection is part of a larger private library that you would not otherwise have access to. This is true, for example, at the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library where they have a very strict visitor’s policy and you have to read all the way to the bottom of this page until you see the words “Government Document U.S. depository (Bobst 6th floor) open to general public”
  • The purpose of these repositories is changing in the face of the shift to more and more information being created and disseminated digitally. The FDLP was created and mostly maintained as an avenue to get print publications from the Government Printing Office to the public who they serve. The GPOs role is shrinking

My taxes = my info, right?

Let’s talk about Open Access to taxpayer funded government information.

The open access movement wants nothing less than “Putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature on the internet. Making it available free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. Removing the barriers to serious research.” The argument for open access to government information is fairly simple: tax money has already paid for this work, restricting access to it through copyright, fees, print-only publication or other complicated access or licensing requirements is antithetical to the idea of scholarship and the purpose of government. This is an Internet-era desire since the costs associated with publication can now be mitigated down to something manageable. Read much more about Open Access here.

There are recognized exceptions, of course, such as classified, military research, research that leads to patents, and research published in some royalty-producing form, such as books. The Office of Management and Budget has a publication that describes the value in maximizing access to information, but stops short of mandating that access to government information be free. In OMB Circular A-130 they state that

“In determining whether and how to disseminate information to the public, agencies will: (i) Disseminate information in a manner that achieves the best balance between the goals of maximizing the usefulness of the information and minimizing the cost to the government and the public;”

Federal Computer Week argues that this “maximizing usefulness” clause allows for the distribution of raw data to the private sector who can repackage and “value add” to the data making the government’s cost of distribution lower while not totally restricting non-fee-based access.

As one example mentioned briefly here earlier, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had been technically providing access to their weather data to the public all along, but it was in a proprietary format and difficult to work with. People who wanted easy to understand weather data had to use commercial weather providers. At the end of 2004, NOAA began making their digital forecast database available in standard XML format. Who likes this? The public. Who doesn’t like this? Private sector companies that resell this data. However, since they often have the ears of our elected representatives, we have seen our own government trying to legislate restricted access to government information in order to benefit the private sector.

What other hurdles are there to open access? The NOAA example includes a few: non-proprietary data formats, unfair leveraging of private sector’s “rights” to value add and resell data, and legislators themselves. There are also the restrictions mentioned above: web and accessibility standards for information (requiring people to use one browser, or one type of computer), copyright and restrictions on distribution, and fees for obtaining copies of government information.

Of course, the major hurdle is often mental, or perhaps ideological. We don’t know we have the right to this information. We will take no for an answer. The people with the information have their own reasons for not making it as easy as humanly possible to obtain. Many of those reasons are even prosaic (though possibly obstructionist) and reasonable-seeming. In the wake of 9/11, with the government’s increasing tendency to want to circle the wagons in the name of cautiousness, now more than ever it’s important to continue to say “That’s my information, and I’d like some more.” [thanks to libwitch for the inspiration]

Further Reading

Government Info Actions taken at ALA 2006 in New Orleans

[from Kevin Reynolds, Chair, Committee on Legislation Government Information Subcommittee]

Below you will find the text of six resolutions resulting from the collaborative work of the ALA Committee on Legislation (COL) Government Information Subcommittee (GIS) and the GODORT Legislation Committee. These include:


The first four resolutions were adopted by the ALA Council. The Resolution Concerning Advocacy for Federal Library and Information Programs was endorsed by GODORT and GIS, but was not sent to Council as a resolution. Rather, the idea expressed in it was accompanied with a request to form an ad-hoc COL subcommittee to examine the situation of federal libraries and to recommend steps that ALA can take to improve the status of federal libraries and librarians. This was included in the COL report to Council, which was accepted. Finally, the AALL Resolution on No-Fee FDLP Access to PACER was forwarded to us by the American Association of Law Libraries. GODORT and GIS endorsed this resolution and it was also included in the COL report to Council.

If you have any questions about these resolutions, please do not hesitate to contact me or Mary Mallory, GODORT Legislation Committee Chair. Many thanks to all of those who contributed to the crafting of the resolutions.


Kevin Reynolds
Chair, COL Government Information Subcommittee
Assistant University Librarian for Learning and Access Services
Jessie Ball duPont Library
The University of the South
Sewanee, TN 37383-1000

Phone: 931-598-1366
FAX: 931-598-1702
Email: kreynold@sewanee.edu


2005-2006 ALA CD# 20.8
2006 ALA Annual Conference


WHEREAS, for more than 30 years, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its network of libraries have provided reliable, accurate information about sensitive environmental issues that affect the health and safety of our families and communities; and

WHEREAS, these EPA libraries have provided access to vital information to researchers and to scientists, including EPA researchers investigating environmental issues that impact our Nation; and

WHEREAS, the EPA Headquarters libraries and the 27 regional and laboratory libraries are staffed with experienced, professional librarians who facilitate access to information, fielding 134,000 research requests from EPA scientists and enforcement staff and others in the last year; and

WHEREAS, the EPA Libraries house and catalog unique collections, including approximately 50,000 primary source documents not available elsewhere in any format, on vital environmental issues; and

WHEREAS, the EPA Libraries serve as institutional repositories for internal documentation as well as commercially published literature about the topics agencies regulate, investigate, and research; and

WHEREAS, the EPA Libraries operate public reading rooms, providing access to collections that are specifically tailored to meet the needs of constituents in their geographic region, at times specifically offering that access to comply with federal law; and

WHEREAS, in 2003 the Business Case for Information Services: EPA’s Regional Libraries and Centers prepared by Stratus Consulting for the EPA concluded that, “calculated conservatively, the benefit-to-cost ratio for EPA library services ranges between 2:1 and 5.7:1”; and

WHEREAS, the Draft EPA FY 2007 Library Plan: National Framework (June 1, 2006), including the current proposal to move materials to the web, does not ensure satisfactorily that the public, researchers, scientists and policymakers will have continued access to the staff, services, and high quality, accurate information found in the EPA Libraries; and

WHEREAS, the proposed FY 2007 budget for EPA Libraries contains a $2.5 Million cut which:
~has already resulted in the closure and imminent closure of some headquarters, regional and laboratory libraries and the reduction of staff at other EPA Libraries;
~will put the collections and services of the EPA Libraries at risk, causing essential information about the environment to be lost;
~would compromise the public’s health and safety by making it difficult, even impossible, for the EPA staff and scientists, other scientists and researchers, the public, contractors and regulated industries, and federal, state, and local policymakers to find accurate and high-quality information upon which to base decisions about health and safety concerns; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the American Library Association (ALA) urge Congress to direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reprogram $2.5 Million of the EPA FY 2007 budget to fund EPA Libraries; and be it further

RESOLVED, that ALA urge the EPA to restore funding to the EPA regional and laboratory libraries; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the ALA urge the EPA to develop a responsible information and collections management strategy, and make it available for public comment, to ensure continued access for the public and other stakeholders to the collections and services of the EPA Libraries.

Endorsed in principle by GODORT 06/26/2006
Endorsed in principle by FAFLRT 06/24/06
Endorsed in principle by SRRT 06/26/2006


2005-2006 ALA CD# 20.10
2006 ALA Annual Conference


WHEREAS, federal libraries are essential in supporting government staff to develop informed policies, write regulations, take legal action against law breakers, and educate the public; and

WHEREAS, these libraries have unique, historic and irreplaceable collections that are critical to achieving their agencies’ missions; and

WHEREAS, tax dollars have been spent to establish and maintain federal libraries and some agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Energy, are dismantling these valuable libraries;

WHEREAS, federal staff will be hampered in carrying out their responsibilities without the support of knowledgeable and skilled federal librarians who possess specialized subject expertise; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the American Library Association (ALA) urges Congress to affirm that the federal libraries are inherently governmental and the position of librarian is essential; and be it further

RESOLVED, that ALA urges the United States Congress to hold oversight hearings investigating the ongoing destruction of federal libraries before they are lost beyond recovery; and be it further

RESOLVED, that ALA urges Congress to adequately fund federal libraries so that they will be able to employ federal librarians with subject expertise to provide research services.

Endorsed in principle by GODORT 06/26/2006
Endorsed in principle by FAFLRT 06/24/2006
Endorsed in principle by ACRL 6/27/06


2005-2006 ALA CD# 20.9
2006 ALA Annual Conference


WHEREAS, government information and government-sponsored research are public resources collected at public expense; and,

WHEREAS, access to information collected, produced, and sponsored by the government is essential to maintaining an informed citizenry; and

WHEREAS, the American Library Association (ALA) has a long record of action in support of access to information, and believes that open government is vital to a democracy and that there should be equal, ready, and equitable access to information collected, compiled, produced, sponsored, and disseminated by the government of the United States; and

WHEREAS, The federal government invests $55 billion annually in scientific research, with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) portion accounting for one-third of that, resulting in over 65,000 journal articles published annually; and

WHEREAS, this information is not readily accessible to the general public; and

WHEREAS, Senators John Cornyn and Joseph Lieberman have introduced S. 2695, the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 (FRPAA), which requires Federal agencies to develop public access policies relating to research conducted by employees of that agency or from funds administered by that agency; and

WHEREAS, FRPAA would also require federal agencies with extramural research expenditures of more than $100 million to make electronic manuscripts of peer-reviewed journal articles resulting from their funded research publicly available via the Internet within six months of publication; and

WHEREAS, FRPAA would also require agencies to produce “an online bibliography of all research papers that are publicly accessible under the policy, with each entry linking to the corresponding free online full text;” now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the American Library Association (ALA) supports S. 2695, the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, as introduced, in that it reflects ALA policy regarding access to Federal government information by providing for the long-term preservation of, and no fee public access to, government-sponsored, published research findings.

Endorsed in principle by GODORT 06/26/2006


2005-2006 ALA CD# 20.14
2006 ALA Annual Conference


WHEREAS, Ms. Patrice McDermott has served the members of the American Library Association’s (ALA) as the Deputy Director of the Office of Government Relations since 2001; and

WHEREAS, Patrice has been a committed advocate for open access to federal government information and the public’s right to know; and

WHEREAS, Patrice has been a diligent proponent for privacy issues, including the protection of library records; and

WHEREAS, Patrice has been a leader in ALA’s efforts pertaining to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the U.S.A. PATRIOT ACT, and E-Government; and

WHEREAS, Patrice has been a leader in the display of fashionable hats during conferences; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the American Library Association (ALA) congratulates Patrice in her new position as director of OpenTheGovernment.org; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the ALA membership look forward to collaborating with Patrice on issues of mutual interest; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the ALA membership extends its sincere appreciation for Patrice’s tireless efforts on behalf of the Association and library users around the world and wish her continued success.

Endorsed in principle by GODORT 06/26/2006



WHEREAS, many libraries, scholars, and the public around the world depend upon the cataloging, authority files and subject headings produced by the Library of Congress, the Superintendent of Documents/Government Printing Office, the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the National Agricultural Library (NAL) and other federal libraries; and

WHEREAS, librarians, researchers, government decision makers, and the public depend upon the unique collections of the Library of Congress, other national libraries, executive branch libraries, the Supreme Court Library, the Senate and House Libraries, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) and other information and data centers; and

WHEREAS, librarians, researchers, government decision makers, and the public depend upon federal electronic publishing, dissemination, data collection, cataloging, indexing, and access services, such as GPO Access, Library of Congress’s Thomas, NLM’s PubMed, NAL’s AGRICOLA, the NTIS Database, the ERIC Database, the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII), the Defense Technical Information Service, Department of Energy report databases, and federal libraries; and

WHEREAS, some federal libraries have already been closed, others are under threat of closure by the end of this fiscal year, others are having their staff, budget and space greatly reduced, and

WHEREAS, some federal librarians (contract and federal employee) are resigning in advance of the threatened closures resulting in loss of corporate memory and research expertise; and

WHEREAS, the responsibilities of the ALA Washington Office include monitoring federal library data and information programs, consulting with the staff of these libraries and centers, organizing coalitions to defend these programs, working with the appropriate congressional committees to educate them about the importance of these programs, lobbying for sufficient funding, and to work with ALA membership to develop a plan to save federal libraries, data and information centers; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the ALA make support for federal library and information programs a priority; and be it further

RESOLVED, that ALA Council call upon the ALA Executive Director to work with the ALA Washington Office Executive Director to devise the means by which this policy priority will be implemented.

Endorsed in Principle by COL/GIS 06/26/2006
Endorsed in principle by GODORT 06/26/2006
Endorsed in principle by FAFLRT 06/24/06



Whereas, The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC) makes available for a fee electronic access to federal court information through its Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service that allows paying customers to obtain case and docket information from most Federal Appellate, District and Bankruptcy courts, and from the U.S. Party/Case Index; and,

Whereas, The AOUSC has greatly increased court participation in its Case Management/Electronic Case Files program, thereby enhancing the value and utility of PACER to members of the public interested in legal research; and,

Whereas, The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) is required under 44 U.S.C. § 1902 to make available through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) “Government publications, except those determined by their issuing components to be required for official use only or for strictly administrative or operational purposes which have no public interest or educational value and publications classified for reasons of national security” from all three branches of government; and,

Whereas, The GPO recognizes the importance of their providing additional new services for depository libraries as incentives to keep them in the FDLP and, in addition, to provide the American public with enhanced access to government information and better services in their October 2005 “Progress Report 2: The Carrot Crop Is Still Growing” (available at: http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fdlp/pubs/proceedings/incentives_progress_oct2005.doc); and,

Whereas, The first proposed incentive listed in “Progress Report 2” is to: “Provide depository libraries with access to fee-based government information database services and other government information products so-called cooperative publications which must necessarily be sold in order to be self-sustaining under 44 U.S.C. § 1903; and,

Whereas, Depository libraries today have no-fee access to several agency fee-based government information databases, such as STAT-USA, USA Trade Online and the National Climatic Data Center Online Document Library, and the “Progress Report 2” notes that it would be appropriate for GPO to negotiate access to fee-based databases on behalf of the FDLP; and,

Whereas, Providing PACER to users of depository libraries at no-fee will increase greatly access by the public to important federal court information and strengthen the collaboration between GPO, the federal courts, depository libraries and the public which is the very essence of the FDLP partnership; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the U.S. Government Printing Office should negotiate with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to make the PACER system available at no cost to users of federal depository libraries; and be it further

Resolved, That this resolution be forwarded to appropriate members of Congress, including the Joint Committee on Printing, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, and the Depository Library Council.

Endorsed by the AALL Executive Board, April 1, 2006
Endorsed in Principle by COL/GIS 06/26/2006
Endorsed in principle by GODORT 06/26/2006

reduce, reuse, and recycle… food

Food recovery is a more sophisticated way of saying “food recycling”, making use of unwanted or unused food.

The most common methods of food recovery [pdf] are field gleaning, perishable food rescue or salvage (from wholesale and retail food sellers), food rescue (for prepared foods) and nonperishable food collection (food with long shelf lives). Some of these tactics are familiar to Food Not Bombs workers, food shelf volunteers or dumpster divers.

What you may not know is that under President Clinton, some United States Department of Agriculture agencies (Rural Development, the Farm Service Agency, and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service) and AmeriCorps created a Summer of Gleaning project working with food recovery groups in twenty-two states to help recover food that would have otherwise been thrown away.

They were aided in this program by the passage in 1996 of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act which creates a federal-level protection from liability for accidental damages for people and non-profits who donate food in good faith to help feed the needy.

A person or gleaner shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product that the person or gleaner donates in good faith to a nonprofit organization for ultimate distribution to needy individuals.

The USDA created a Citizen’s Guide to Food Recovery which includes a handy state food recovery resource directory as well as a list of state food recovery law citations (sadly unhyperlinked). Other government agencies have also published information on food recovery

Hungry and want to talk to the government about it? Their number is 1-800-GLEAN-IT

Do you have some ID?

Do you need government-sponsored identification to fly in a plane in the U.S.?

John Gilmore wanted to fly in the U.S. without showing government sponsored identification and without submitting to an extensive search. His appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was rejected. At issue were the Transportation Security Administration directives, which are unpublished, change frequently and are often not available in writing. They are also not available to air travel passengers who often face confusing and conflicting situations. However, as part of the Court’s decision, they did state that the current law “requires that airline passengers either present identification or be subjected to a more extensive search.”

While Gilmore lost his appeal and hasn’t flown in the U.S. since, he did issue a challenge to the Department of Homeland Security’s privacy advisory committee in San Francisco: mail your driver’s license home and “attempt to fly home without identification.” One person took him up on the challenge. He made it.