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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.

Won’t Get Fooled Again: Day 35

Now that Dan, Jim, James and I are done with our latest skirmish – let’s get back to the future of government information. With people actually expressing interest — with such openness – in becoming America’s Public Printer (obviously FGI’s great hope); and with a current Public Printer still actively engaged in the job — I figure this is the best of all possible worlds — suddenly the idea of becoming Public Printer of the United States is hip and desirable.

Setting aside any of my own thoughts about what qualifies someone for the office that may differ from FGI’s leadership — here are a few points any sitting and potential Public Printer ought to keep in mind. It’s what I have said and would say to a Public Printer (I have spoken to a few of them over my 25 years as a federal depository librarian) – think of it as a four point elevator speech.

1. Technology is a wonderful thing. GPO is making great strides in several critical areas. One would hope these efforts will continue to embrace openness, standardization, preservation, authority and sustainability.

2. Libraries and librarians are wonderful things. If we tear our eyes from technology’s dazzle, I think there is a greater power to sustain a true engagement of civic culture through the retention, recruitment and collaboration with the over 1,200 existing depository libraries. Right now Library directors, governing boards, and librarians themselves want some sense from GPO about how it is going to act on this century and half cultural investment in their local institutions. We know, from long experience with earlier Public Printers, command and control (it comes from Washington and it shall be done) no longer works in this distributive age of power and access. We also know librarians and their institutions can be surprisingly nimble in their adaption of technological solutions to situations both unique to their community as well as beneficial to the rest of the system. Public agencies and libraries can deliver the data, indeed, and some power users can take that raw data and turn it into knowledge. But the will investment brought to the table is the ability of librarians and libraries to add there own social value to the raw public knowledge — through organization, preservation, community outreach, and civic advocacy to involve the community in critical civic decision points. If a Public Printer’s portfolio does not clearly take advantage of this long-standing local civic value to enliven a national system, then the depository library community needs to put it back at the top of his agenda.

3. The engaged civic aspects of the government’s intellectual property is a wonderful thing. Sustained by the intersection of GPO’s historic purpose to print and publish and the commitment of the library community. It is a collective bargain to keep the democratic discussion open, free, and at least interesting. If federal government is in the public domain, depository libraries are the information commons that thrive not because of the technology du jour, but because of the century long traditions of government information librarians, their home institutions, and the federal government. Any Public Printer worthy of the title would embrace this concept without reservation.

4. The civic operating system is a wonderful thing. Democracy’s “operating system” is not civic technology, it is not GPO, nor is it even the information infrastructure that supports the federal depository libraries. The civic operating system thrives on technology – but it is not of technology. This taps into my earlier blog entries about the comparability between power grids and information distribution. The operating system is really a combination of civic engagement and rhetoric unleashed by the Constitution. It is the electoral and civic conversation sustained between a community and the officials they elect to serve their individual and collective goals. This conversation is expressed through open meetings, robust exchange of information, accessible proceedings/decisions of public organizations that inform the public’s knowledge of services, security and justice. This aspect is further sustained by the constitutional values of a free press, freedom of assembly/petition, and the freedom of speech. What we are really talking about here is civic serendipity – the ability of people to engage their government on their terms and time. As the federal government develops web sites like recovery.gov to explain itself and its complicated policies, librarians must push back against displacement and they need to demonstrate how they can continue to keep people connected to their government.

As we debate, discuss, and move the depository program deeper into America’s 21st century digital age — I hope once and future Public Printers will continue to embrace the indigenous civic culture already thriving throughout the depository library program. At the same time, I hope the depository library community can move beyond its own institutional divisions (academic, public, law, special, government) and reach some kind of national consensus on the program’s future and work with the current GPO administration to get the job done, finish the strategic plan, and start making the necessary changes any future depository librarians and public printers would welcome.

See you on Day 36.

Won’t Get Fooled Again: Day 34

Jim, James, Dan: Dan, you are right, I should have used “fair use” rather than “public use.” in my blog entry. Sorry about the confusion. However, my observations still stand. Libraries do not act on behalf of individuals in terms of “fair use.” It is up to individuals to be responsible custodians of how they might use library material. Most, if not all, libraries warn their community that there are limitations on ways library material can be distributed or duplicated. And these limitations are often embraced by agreements with vendors. These limitations govern how libraries lend material through interlibrary loan, circulate material to non-primary users outside our communities, reproduce or digitize material for reserve collections in academic libraries, and libraries post clear warnings on photocopiers that certain forms of duplication and redistribution are illegal. The burden for responsible license and copyright use still rests with the individual. It is in this context that I frame my comments about the library’s role.

And James, I understand the essential link between the legal and economic nature of licensing and/or copyright — and surprisingly, we both agree libraries abandoned their role and lost an opportunity to recreate a critical public service role in the matrix when their collections began to digitize through a complicated public/private partnerships. And we both agree the future of the FDLP depends on how well we manage this collections/service responsibility.

Jim and James — I think we can all agree that the future of libraries depends on how they deploy the dynamic between collections and services in a digital world. Where reasonable people can disagree, I hope, is the relative importance of one or the other. One faction might argue collections are still paramount; other perspectives may consider collections to be not as important (or differently important) for the future. It is clear the four of us will disagree about where this set point might rest. However, to equate the difference between our two perspectives as a measure of how the opposing perspective advocates the destruction of libraries … well, I do not think we need to go there. My observations, speculations, and rhetoric does not advocate destruction. They are supposed encourage debate, reflection, and exhortation to action. Judging from your thoughtful responses, this goal is being achieved.

I am going to step back from this rhetorical point and get back to commenting on the future possibilities of government information in our libraries. I am sure we will join forces again over these considerations, but I think all of our perspectives have been underscored enough for the moment.

See you on Day 35.

Won’t Get Fooled Again: Day 33

We have a number of community action items to get people engaged in Civic discussions this week. Today, it’s a summit meeting at the White House about fiscal responsibility; tomorrow it is Obama’s first State of the Union address, and Thursday/Friday it is the release of the federal budget.

On another note, interesting article on a university choosing to go without textbooks. An event that has some deeper meaning for libraries I think.

See you on Day 34.

Won’t Get Fooled Again: Day 32

All right, all right. Readers won’t let me get away with the single comment in the last blog entry I had about the article in the New York Review of Books — and I think this feeds into the long-standing conversation I have been having with J A Jacobs. Simply put: I do not think libraries, as institutions, have any role in claiming a “public use” provision within the infrastructure of copyright. In other words, print and paper technology gave libraries a “gap” between those who owned the information and those who want to use it. While library circulation did not threaten the sale of the same material through the private market, information producers were quite comfortable in letting the libraries enjoy the “free ride” of offering their information products without any compensation for the free use. It was good public relations and a “feel good” partnership.

The mass digitization of the information changed that relationship.

I really think what the google technology does, and what the research libraries agreed to when they chose to work with google four years ago to find an “economical” way to digitize their collections, is create a private market version of “public lending right.”

See you on Day 33.

Wont’ Get Fooled Again: Day 31

An interesting editorial item from the New York Review of Books by Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor at Harvard He has actually been tilling these intellectual fields for awhile for NYRB — here is a list of submissions. Goes without saying that I disagree with some of his observations. But with more than 100 days left on the current time clock, I will address those concerns another time….

See you on Day 32.