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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.

New information access initiatives in New Mexico

I’ve had a few comments and questions on the Digital Archive, and I’m going to get to them tomorrow on the last day of my guest month in another instalment on that topic. This will be a fairly quick and short post to let you know about a couple of legislative initiatives that, if successful, should greatly increase access to electronic resources in some of the rural areas of New Mexico. It was prompted by Dan’s comment to “share the good news” if the whole state was covered by broadband.

Well, we’re not there yet, but the Internet to the Hogans Initiative may be one way to get a lot of people there in the near future. State Senator Leonard Tsosie, a member of the Navajo Nation, introduced the bill in the 2006 session of the New Mexico Legislature to “ensure that no New Mexico hogan is left behind in the evolving digital world.” The bill would have provided money for Navajo chapter houses to plan for communication corridors, technology education in schools and colleges and other features. The bill died in committee, but there are plans to continue in the next session of the legislature.

Another initiative in 2006 was on the House side of the legislature. Representative Janice E. Arnold-Jones sponsored a bill to create the Rural Library Development Fund. It also died in committee, but Arnold-Jones, an Albuquerque businesswoman who is well versed in the IT and audio-visual production fields, plans to continue her efforts. While the bill focused on materials, equipment and furniture, some of the money could probably go toward improving broadband access.

It’s interesting to note, by the way, that interest in library and information technology access comes from both sides of the aisle — Tsosie is a Democrat; Arnold-Jones a Republican. In the coming months, NMSL will be participating in various ways in these initiatives and watching closely to see where they will go in the upcoming 2007 legislative session.

2 new transportation options in NM

One of these is really new, the other an attempt to revive some of what was once the backbone of travel in the U.S. Both of them have generated some interesting public reactions and both deserve to be closely watched to see how their success or failure might affect their respective industries.

I’ll talk about the newest one first, and then later point you to a fun download for the other.

New Mexico’s new spaceport is now in operation in the arid plains about 25 miles southeast of Truth or Consequences (the official site is Upham, but neither Google Maps nor the Census Gazetteer search engine can find that). The inaugural launch on September 26 was less than inspiring, as the 20-foot Spaceloft XL rocket from UP Aerospace only reached about 42,000 feet (far short of its intended 70 miles) before corkscrewing off course and crashing in the southern NM desert.

The state has embarked on a highly visible partnership with multi-billionaire Richard Branson, whose Virgin Galactic will be the anchor tenant of the spaceport. Branson hopes to launch paying customers from the spaceport into suborbital rocket rides at $200,000 per person. In addition, plenty of people in the state are hoping that lots of additional high-tech tenants follow Branson and make southern NM a hub of future aerospace development. Will it be an economic booster or a boondoggle? It seems like a risky bet in times of tight hydrocarbon fuel supplies, but time will tell.

Dan’s comment on my last posting referenced a study on Alaskan railroads, which brings me to the other new transportation project, which is more down-to-earth and an attempt to help save some of those fossil hydrocarbons. New Mexico’s Rail Runner Express launched this past summer with service from downtown Albuquerque north to suburban Bernalillo in Sandoval County. Some delay with rails and other material deliveries has postponed service south to Belen for now. The state hopes to bring the Rail Runner to Santa Fe by 2008. But while folks seem fine with the idea of the spaceport, the public reception to passenger rail has been mixed.

The problem: a quirk of history led to the main line of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe railroad (of Harvey Girls fame) bypassing the actual city of Santa Fe and going a few miles to the east (it’s since merged with the Burlington Northern to form the BNSF) A later spur line built to downtown Santa Fe is inefficient as it adds quite a few miles to the Albuquerque-Santa Fe trip, so the state wants to build brand-new track branching from the main line south of the city into Santa Fe. Several alternative routes have been proposed and public comments are being gathered. This makes many homeowners anxious. They seem to fear noise, pollution and the idea that the terrible vibrations of a passing train will undermine their homes. Personally, I would love having a train into town to pass within shouting distance of my door, but that’s just me.

Oh yeah, now for the fun — you can download a nifty Rail Runner screensaver from the New Mexico Dept. of Transportation website. It comes in two versions: with our without soundtrack. The latter has guitar music in a soft, easy-listening beat (it may become sort of repetitious after a while, but would be good to nap to) and occasional clanky-clattery rail-crossing noises. They also put out a cool refrigerator magnet, but I’m afraid I can’t send you one of those over the web!

Congressional documents — or are they?

With thousands of documents issuing forth from Congress and its committees every year, it’s impossible to keep up with them all. And besides the “official” hearings and reports, there’s a whole category of Congressional information that doesn’t make it into the FDLP or other distribution channels run by GPO.

I’m talking about hearings held outside the official committee structure of Congress and reports researched and compiled by committee staffs (usually of a single party) and published mostly on a member’s personal website or one established and maintained with party, not government, funds.

There have been a great many of these popping up lately, largely because of the current situation of bitter partisanship in Congress. The Republican House and Senate leaders haven’t wanted to hold oversight hearings or conduct investigations into activities of the Bush administration and have aggressively opposed any requests from Democrats to do so. Since the committee chairmen are all from the majority party, they and ultimately the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader get to decide who can hold what meetings in which rooms and when, if ever, they can hold them. As a result, any members who want to look into things have to take extraordinary measures to conduct hearings and investigations.

One of the most well-known of these so far is Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio / Status Report of the House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff. It generated enough interest that a paperback version, with an introduction by Gore Vidal, was published by Academy Chicago (even so, OCLC shows only 139 holdings). This attempt to bring to light problems with the 2004 election in Ohio was due to the efforts of John Conyers, the ranking member of the committee (Conyers also publishes similar material on his personal campaign site). He was denied all requests for meeting space until he finally got the use of a tiny basement room that could barely accommodate all the Democratic members of the committee who wanted to participate, let alone witnesses and spectators (the Republicans boycotted the proceedings). Some more recent efforts have come from the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. It has held a number of hearings, several of them on the situation in Iraq, and posted transcripts and videos to the website.

From the beginning of our OCLC Digital Archive, NMSL has been capturing some of these documents for long-term preservation. One early one from 2004 was Report of an Inquiry into the Alternative Analysis of the Issue of an Iraq – al Qaeda Relationship. This report simply has Senator Carl Levin, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as the author, with a note in the preface explaining that the research and compilation was carried out by the Committee’s minority staff. It was posted as a PDF on his Senate web page and, as of this writing, is still there. Of course, it can also be found in the Digital Archive.

So are these government publications or not? For my money, they are — the elected representatives and their staff people are doing their work on the public payroll and using government resources (among others) to gather information. Even if they aren’t “official,” they’re still worth capturing and preserving, in case some of the websites go dark or the content is taken down later.

The quasi-official nature of these resources does raise some issues with copyright and may affect our putting some of them in the Digital Archive. For example, some of the hearings of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee have transcripts with a copyright statement from the Federal News Service, a commercial publisher of Congressional transcripts. These will not be harvested for the Digital Archive. We have yet to address some of these copyright issues in depth.

The NMSL OCLC Digital Archive project, part 1

Where does time go? My guest-blogging month is half over and it’s been two weeks since my first posting. Staff transition issues here at NMSL have kept us all busy (we will have some interesting positions opening up soon, if anyone is interested), as well as day-to-day work and well, just life. But there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on that I will try to do better at posting the rest of the month.

Today, I’m going to start talking about NMSL’s Digital Archive Project. It’s been going on a while now and is fairly extensive, so I’m going to break the topic up into three or four segments over the next few days. I don’t want to get bogged down in the step-by-step details of the process for this blog (if anyone is really interested in that, let me know), but you can get some details on the OCLC website.

Having government publications and other information made available through the Internet is a great innovation. But we all know that one drawback is the problem of preservation of these resources. Websites come and go, are purposely taken down or just die for one reason or another. Even on websites that prevail over a period of time, specific pages may be dropped, either because an agency no longer wants the information to be freely available, or simply because it’s old and is replaced by newer information.

About four years ago, the New Mexico State Library (NMSL)had already been looking at this problem and trying to find solutions, particularly in light of its responsibilities in running the New Mexico state publications depository program. Marcia Smith, our state documents coordinator, was especially concerned about how to ensure the continuation and relevance of the state depository program into the electronic age. New Mexico state agencies had been publishing information on their websites for some time, but they were starting to publish born-digital, web-only versions of their annual reports and other publications. The prospect of developing an archiving system from scratch was too daunting and expensive for the staff and resources the library had. With some grant funding for start-up subscription costs and some reallocation of staff time to the project, NMSL purchased the OCLC Digital Archive product and began archiving publications in March of 2003.

As of this posting, NMSL has created 2642 DA records that link to harvested digital content. Since each issue of a serial generates a separate record, that number represents a much smaller number of distinct titles. There are around 300 of the latter and you can see them by going to NMSL’s SALSA catalog keyword search menu and searching “oclc digital archive.”

Although the project was originally conceived as a way to preserve information resources from New Mexico state government, we have from the beginning experimented with capturing U.S. federal material. We also wanted to publicize the project and see how we might go about collaborating with our state depository partners and others to extend the scope of our efforts to local government information and possibly even resources from NGOs. We have held several information and training sessions for interested libraries within New Mexico and a number of presentations at national conferences. In my next posting, I will talk about some of the specific sites and electronic publications we have captured.

Timely Internet info for parents and kids

First, thanks to James Jacobs and the rest of the crew at FGI for the privilege of being guest blogger for October. And what a time to be blogging about government information! I can’t say it better than Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo, who asked yesterday

Is it me, or is all hell breaking loose in this country’s politics? We’re in the last month of an election cycle and there are maybe four or five stories, each of which could totally dominate the national political news on their own. And each is flaming out of control at once …

So, I was going to talk about the New Mexico State Library’s OCLC Digital Archive project (and still will), but the timing on this was too perfect. My bio mentions that we receive and process state agency pubs for distribution to our state depositories. Fresh out of one of the boxes yesterday was Internet safety guide for parents / Internet safety guide for teens from the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General. You can view the titles separately in PDF or HTML format on the New Mexico AG’s website. The print version is a single, 6.5-in.-square booklet with the two titles printed back-to-back and upside down to each other (known to catalogers and hardly anyone else as a tete-beche, in case you need some cocktail-party trivia). While I’m aware of some NGO sites dealing with Internet safety, I haven’t taken the time to search for other state or federal government pubs on the topic. Anyone know of others?

Now, one reaction I have to something like this is to be a little nervous that government, at any level, takes this much interest in the Internet and what people are doing with it. Librarians have been tirelessly speaking out about the possible negative effects of CIPA, DOPA, etc. On the other hand, kids surfing the Internet can run into problems, and I’d much rather see government pubs and websites giving people tips about how to educate and monitor their kids on their own rather than passing lots of laws and imposing regulations.

This being election season, I can’t resist pointing out a political tie-in to one of the most closely watched House races in the country. Patricia Madrid, New Mexico’s state AG, whose name appears on this booklet, is running as a Democrat against the four-term, Republican incumbent, Heather Wilson, in New Mexico’s 1st House district. Madrid has made child Internet safety a centerpiece of her campaign from the beginning, months before the Foley scandal broke. And somewhat awkwardly for Wilson, this morning’s Santa Fe New Mexican reports that she served on the board overseeing the House pages from April 2001 to January of 2005. The latest Albuquerque Journal poll showed them tied at 44 percent each. Sounds like an interesting race to watch.