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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.

Librarians acknowledged in new work on the public domain

James Boyle, professor at Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain(!), has a new book out called, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. There are many reasons to be excited about this new tome. Not only is it an empassioned and highly readable treatise on why it’s important to protect the public domain — which starts with the humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich (read the preface 🙂 ) — but Professor Boyle has put his book out under a creative commons license so you can get a free download in addition to purchasing the book for your library or for your own bookshelves. But best of all, Boyle acknowledges the tireless work of librarians in protecting public access to knowledge (you’re welcome, Professor Boyle 😉 ).

The entire community of librarians deserves our thanks for standing up for free public access to knowledge for over two hundred years. Librarians are my heroes. They should be yours, too. — Acknowledgement p. X

Book review: State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America

We don’t do many book reviews here at FGI, but this one caught my eye and I wanted to let you know about it. State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America caught my eye for 2 reasons: 1) it looks to be the direct descendant of the amazing [w:American Guide Series] published under the auspices of the [w:Federal Writers’ Project] (FWP) during the great depression (in other words, govt documents yo!); and 2) the chapter on Oregon was written by Joe Sacco. Now I don’t claim to be an expert on the graphic novel, but Joe Sacco wrote Palestine, a truly moving graphic journalistic account of Palestine in the early 1990’s (BitTorrent of Palestine). I’ve been interested in this genre of journalism since reading Art Speigelman’s Maus — others that I’ve come across are The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation (another govt doc!) and Pyongyang: a journey in North Korea.

I guess this isn’t really a book review since I haven’t actually read it; rather this is a book shelf recommendation 😉 . I’m sure that all 50 writers are amazing, but the following especially caught my eye: California by William T. Vollmann; Illinois by Dave Eggers; Massachusetts by John Hodgman; North Dakota by Louise Erdrich; Tennessee by Ann Patchett; Vermont by Alison Bechdel. I’m going to grab State by State off our stacks now. I hope you will too!

Without leaving home or spending a cent on gas, readers of this book can enjoy a scenic view of the entire U.S. that is as familiar as it is disorienting. Weiland, deputy editor of the Paris Review, and Wilsey, editor-at-large for McSweeney’s, have gathered a group of 50 disparate voices to explore not just their experience in America, but the way each state was presented in the American Guide series of the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s, in which the Works Project Administration (WPA), as part of F.D.R’s New Deal, put more than 6000 American writers to work creating a portrait of this country. The editors wanted to make a book inspired by the ideals behind the WPA Guides but they also wanted something more personal, more eccentric, and more partial. Obvious heavy-hitters—Dave Eggars (Illinois), Rick Moody (Connecticut), Jhumpa Lahiri (Rhode Island), Barry Hannah (Mississippi), William T. Vollmann (California)—are included, as well as some wonderful surprises. Alison Bechdel’s illustrated story about her life after moving to Vermont brilliantly combines personal history with historical fact, as does Charles Bock’s essay on growing up and working in his parent’s Las Vegas pawnshop. Mohammed Naseehu Ali’s tale of life in Michigan, after moving there from Ghana as a teen, illuminates what the unconditionally generous Michigan nature shares with the traditions of his own Hausa-Islamic culture. And Franzen’s imaginary interview with the state of New York is perhaps the high point among this collection of beguiling summations of something all the writers share: a love-hate relationship with how their chosen state has changed and evolved during the course of their lives. [Review from Publishers Weekly]

Book Review: Made to Stick – Info advocates must read

The book discussed below doesn’t have much to do with government information, but I think it can be a powerful guide to those of us who our passionate about the cause of freely available government information.


Crossposted from Alaskan Librarian:


I feel fortunate that my library participates in a downloadable audiobook project called Listen Alaska through Overdrive, inc. It’s given me the chance to do try out books on my mp3 player that I might not have picked up to read but turned out to be great books.

Such is the case with Made to stick : why some ideas some ideas survive and others die by Chip and Dan Heath. I downloaded the audiobook version from Listen Alaska, and was so impressed I ordered the paper copy for my library. If you’re a librarian, you should too. Then read it. You can read the introduction right now by going to the companion web site at http://www.madetostick.com/.

Why do I think this book should be read by every librarian? Because the authors carefully lay out the elements needed to convey a compelling message and provide many examples of messages that work. Many well-intentioned people tell us librarians to "tell our stories." The Heath brothers show us HOW to tell our stories. Consultants tell libraries it is important to have a mission statement, but the Heath brothers demonstrate how to generate a "core value" that can actually guide decision making.

The authors start the book with a common and unforgettable urban legend and dissect the "stickiness" aspects that keep the legend in circulation. They suggest that every successful message has characteristics that spell out SUCES:


The rest of the book examines how to make messages simple, unexpected, credible, have emotional content and how to tell stories. This is both simpler and more complex than it sounds. The books messages are made clearer by frequent "message clinics" where the brothers provide several ways of getting a message across and let the choose the one that seems most compelling.

Authors Chip and Dan Heath are the first to tell you that this isn’t a cookbook. It’s not a matter of following SUCES and having success every time. But they and I say that if you do put these elements into your messages, they’ll have a fighting chance of being heard and remembered.

One of the things I regret about Library school is that there were no courses in communication or public relations. This is a particularly glaring deficiency because as a group librarians tend to be introverted and self-effacing. We don’t have much experience in getting our stories out and tend to lapse into jargon and statistics, two things guaranteed to lose our audience. Made to Stick could help turn that around and make us effective advocates for our libraries and other causes in our lives.

“Everything is Miscellaneous”

David Weinberger — technologist, speaker, co-author of Cluetrain Manifesto, fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School — focuses on how the Internet is changing human relationships, communication, and society. He’s just published a new book called Everything is Miscellaneous: the Power of the New Digital Disorder. I’m just starting to delve into it, but already am impressed enough to recommend it highly.

In this book, Weinberger delves into the organization of the internet and explains the “digital order” (or the order of miscellany!) — which, because it’s made of bits rather than atoms, can ignore traditional organizational schemes, can be user-organized, can be reshuffled, reorganized and multiply organized to make digital objects easier to find. Weinberger’s not a librarian, but this book will have a great impact on librarians — Karen Schneider called it “dangerous.” Go out today and get a copy or three for your library, borrow it from a friend, buy it from amazon if you have to, but read this book!

(p.22-23)…But now we — the customers, the employees, anyone — can route around the second order. We can confront the miscellaneous directly in all its unfulfilled glory. We can do it ourselves and, more significantly, we can do it together, figuring out the arrangements that make sense for us now and the new arrangements that make sense a minute later. Not only can we find what we need faster, but traditional authorities cannot maintain themselves by insisting that we have to go to them. The miscellaneous order is not transforming only business. It is changing how we think the world itself is organized and — perhaps more important — who we think has the authority to tell us so.