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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.

Honk if you love e-Government

One of the presentations I was able to attend at ALA was Libraries & Government: Issues, Services and Strategies. Notes and handouts to this session should eventually be available on ALA’s 2008 Conference materials site at http://presentations.ala.org/index.php?title=Monday%2C_June_30#Monday_10:30am_Start_Time.

The presenters were John Carlo Bertot, Mary Alice Baish, Suzanne Sears and Pat Ball. The presentation was a good mix of policy level and library level ideas on egovernment as it affects libraries. All libraries, not just Federal Depository Libraries.

John Bertot introduced the session and suggested people look at his college’s E-Government for Public Librarians site at http://www.libraryegov.org/.

Suzanne Sears’ part included tips on how to assist people looking to use egovernment services while respect most libraries time limits on Internet computers. The tip that most stood out to me was to have worksheets (like the ones for student aid FAFSA forms) available in the library. Encourage patrons to complete the worksheet prior to getting on the computer. This seems like it would decrease frustration for everyone.

Mary Alice Baish provided an overview of the E-Government Services Act of 2002 and of efforts to renew this expiring Act. Among other things, this is the Act that brought us usa.gov. If the Act ultimately expires, a lot of things could go away, including usa.gov. That would be bad.

There is a good chance that the Act will be renewed, since a recent OMB report said that while e-government initiatives cost agencies $121 million/year, the federal government is collecting $340 million in fees from egovernment sites. So it’s a great deal for the government, if not for taxpayers. That’s why Mary Alice’s organization, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is working with ALA and other stakeholders for improvements in the legislation. She asked librarians to help in the reauthorization movement and offered several suggestions including:

  • Contact your Senator, especially if they serve on the Senate Homeland Security Committee and tell them you support S. 2321
  • Assess government web sites and services and publish your findings.

Pat Ball gave an overview of ALA’s efforts regarding the egovernment issue. Among other things, an association-wide committee on e-government has been formed. You can learn more about its work at http://www.wo.ala.org/egovservices/index.php?title=Main_Page.

This isn’t a complete summary of the session, but hopefully it is interesting enough to inspire. Please keep an eye out for presentation materials at the ALA conference site listed above.

If you were at the e-gov session and would like to add stuff, please leave a comment.

Isn’t it great to be in the depository?

I saw the LITA’s President’s program at ALA on Sunday, June 29, 2008. The program was called “Isn’t it great to be in the library? Wherever that is.” The presenters were Joe Janes and the bloggers from OCLC’s It’s all good blog.

While it was aimed at libraries in general, I think it has special relevance for document depositories of all levels of government.

Joe Janes answered the question, “What does it mean to be in a library?” as follows, “Anywhere, anytime, any way, which people interact with information organized and/or provided that is supported by their own community via their library staff.” Notice that this is a definition that takes in physical as well as virtual transactions. Janes suggested that a library in the 21st Century is both somewhere and everywhere. In terms of how to serve our patrons, Janes asserted, “We must be available, positioned, and ready to support our patrons, to assist and participate with them — on their terms.”

This seems like good advice for depositories, whether federal, state, or international. We need to remain physical places to accommodate the 80 million plus Americans who are not online and may not be joining the net anytime soon. But we also need to be available for the hundreds of millions of Americans who ARE online. Our libraries, our resources and our expertise must be easily discoverable on the web for our local and remote users. How can we do this?

  • Like James Jacobs has suggested, we can blog our answers to interesting reference questions. Especially if the answers are not findable on the public internet.
  • If you are a Federal Depository Library coordinator, stop reading this post right now and e-mail John Shuler about how your library can participate in Government Information Online, the nationwide govdoc chat reference service that now has about two dozen partners, including my library. It’s easy to participate and will only get easier as more libraries join. The service is already been used. I’ve personally helped people locate documents on the 1960s New Left, found HUD info specific to Native Americans and point veterans towards educational benefits.
  • Join Rebecca Blakeley and the Washington State Library in establishing LibraryThing accounts.
  • Join the Alaska State Library in establishing Open WorldCat lists that come with RSS feeds.
  • Join the growing number of libraries offering RSS feeds for new fed docs.
  • Survey your users and see where they like to find information online. Then try to be in at least one of those places.

You don’t have to do everything. No one can do everything, but please try to do just one thing this coming month to expand your online visibility. If you live in a community where most people aren’t online, you’re excused.

Have other ideas? Did something work especially well for you? Let us know in a comment.

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