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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 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.

Public Media 2.0

An interesting new white paper contrasts “Public Media 1.0” (public broadcasting, cable access, nonprofit satellite set-asides) with “Public Media 2.0” (multiplatform, participatory, centered around informing and mobilizing networks of engaged users). It says that “the individual user has moved from being an anonymous part of a mass to being the center of the media picture.”

Public broadcasting and other “public media” are facing challenges similar to those that newspapers and libraries are facing in the digital information age. This white paper attempts to re-envision public media, just as many people are trying to re-envision newspapers/journalism and libraries.

The paper focuses more on “content” creation and user-collaboration than on preservation of information, but it does acknowledge the need for funding for what it calls “curation” and archiving. It says that “Commercial platforms do not have the same incentives to preserve historically relevant content that public media outlets do.”

The terms “curation” and “stewardship” are often used in discussion of long-term preservation and access to information, but different writers use the terms differently, even interchangeably. This leads to vague, conflicting, and confusing arguments. This white paper defines “curation” more as presentation and commentary than as preservation. In doing so, they miss an opportunity to address the issues of long-term, free, usable, public access to information.

Curation: Users are aggregating, sharing, ranking, tagging, reposting, juxtaposing, and critiquing content on a variety of platforms—from personal blogs to open video-sharing sites to social network profile pages. Reviews and media critique are popular genres for online contributors, displacing or augmenting genres, such as consumer reports and travel writing, and feeding a widespread culture of critical assessment.

Clark and Aufderheide do include libraries as one of the potential partners for public media projects along with other institutions in the nonprofit sector such as universities, museums, and issue-focused educational and social organizations. They note that these institutions have “assets” that “include archives and databases, issue expertise, legitimacy, and trusted brands.”

This vision certainly fits in with what John Shuler has been describing in his series on libraries as centers for education and civic engagement. I think libraries looking for service ideas could get some good ones from this report.

But I also think that libraries will need to read beyond this report to find their unique role in society and in facilitating and participating in “Public Media 2.0.” Libraries can fill the long-term preservation-and-use gap in the report. Specifically, civic participation needs trusted institutions to select, acquire, organize, and preserve information and provide that information in usable formats in an environment that encourages re-use and the kind of participation described in the white paper. Libraries need to concentrate on those “assets” — not in the economic sense of private property that is owned and controlled for the benefit of the owners, but as valuable community property, managed and maintained for the community by information professionals.

For Public Media 2.0 to succeed and flourish, for citizens to be able to reliably “aggregate, share, rank, tag, and critique,” society needs more than content creators (journalists, broadcasters, writers, analysts, etc.); it also needs institutions that guarantee access and usability of information. It needs libraries.

Thanks to Kevin Taglang, Editor, Communications-related Headlines, Benton Foundation for the pointer to this report!

73 Days to Government Information Liberation

You can imagine how much the Chicago metropolitan culture and political scene is just all abuzz at the realizationn that one of their own is about to move into the White House. Richard Daley is just beaming. Cook County pols look just a bit more polished and respectable — and our governor, who enjoys a lower estimation among Illinois residents than President Bush, appears to savor the political opportunities during the next few weeks.

Though I have only lived in the area for 15 years, there is much about Chicago politics that is visceral, atavastic, and so profoundly grounded in neighborhoods in a way that the old U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Tip O’Neil captured with his classic observation that “All politics is local.”

This elemental truth was hammered home again with an announcement from the Illinois Library Association that all nine library referendums and/or ballot mesaures voted on throughout the state Tuesday went down to defeat. National, even state level, politics may be charged by a renewed sense of energy or purpose, but in the local trenches, the struggle still wins or loses on voters deciding on “how much will it cost me?”

Further, for many of other Illinois libraries (private and public academic, special, law, etc.)funds are being cut for collections, staff, and services.

If a new season of government information services in libraries is to come about, these local institutions need to put their civic values back on top of the agenda.

Here’s a thought — day three discussion point — how about if each state wide library association makes a commitment to hold a “government information summit during the Spring or Fall of 2009 to discuss exactly this point. It can be separate meeting, or part of their annual state wide library association meetings. Further, each state, if not each region that crosses state lines, has a few government information librarians who were involved with earlier revolutionary changes in the how and why of government information services (changes in depository library practices, technology, public education, and teaching future government information professionals.)

And what if they organizers of these statewide summits brought their deliberations and agendas to a nation wide meeting — perhaps to Chicago at the ALA conference in July 2009? Something informal, I am sure, could be arranged that embraces the new technologies and be less bound by the rigidities of ALA scheduling.

In a way, it would close the circle. What began to unravel in Chicago during the the Democratic National Convention, in Grant Park, during the summer of 1968 can be reclaimed…

The hometown of Saul Alinsky and so many other community organizers would be an outstanding place to begin the next information revolution.

So, as the Grahm Nash song goes:

Won’t you please come to Chicago
For the help that we can bring.
We can change the World.
Rearrange the World.
It’s dying
to get better.

74 Days to Government Information Liberation

When I first thought of this particular blog thread — driving home on Wednesday from work, my government information librarian brain still snapping and sparking from the electoral charge of Tuesday’s events — it felt as if I rediscovered some long lost sensibility.

For so long, at least since the late 1990s, my research and public service seemed burdened with such struggle and cynicism when talked to students and faculty about government information sources. I had to temper my remarks with observations that understanding the import and impact of government information was never going to be easy; they would have to wade through a ocean of muck, obscurity, and partisanship.

The partisanship drumbeats (from both major political parties) of “government is not the solution, it is the problem”, quite frankly took the joy out of the whole civic engagement story.

So, for my second koan I suggest we ride this wave of civic renewal and put our libraries back into the center when people want to wrestle with the social, economic, and political issues of the day. Lets not wear the mantle of disengagement out some percieved notion we would no longer be neutral. We should argue on behalf of civic engagement and debate in our buildings as passionately as we defend the right to shelve all those books other people want to ban or keep out of the hands of those they perceive to need protection.

What better mechanism to reconnect with our communities than through a spirited discussion of what our future governments might promise in the coming months. The bitter political partisanship over the last forty years (sparked, I think after the 1966 congressional elections if I read the history rightly) drained the civic ecosystem of any sense of good will or trust. As a valued institution, I think libraries can begin to restore that trust and engagement.

There you are, a new slogan for an old value — libraries the original social software….

See you at the forum for tomorrow’s thought of day.

And James, thanks for the connective tissue among the different blog posts trying to weave these many threads into a more complete picture.

74 days and counting.

Using government information to encourage civic engagement

On Tuesday, I received several exhortations to vote – via e-mail, Facebook, and other social networking sites. I found it somewhat amusing – since I received most of these exhortations after I voted. I also found it somewhat frustrating, because while voting is arguably the most powerful tool citizens have to engage with their governments, I think people are often ignorant of other ways to be civically engaged.

I should clarify that by “civic engagement,” I’m referring to active dialogue with one’s government. Political blogs such as DailyKos and Instapundit have hundreds of thousands of subscribers. I’m willing to bet that far more people read political news and blogs than read government publications like the Federal Register – and actually respond to its requests for comments.

I’ve been thinking about U.S. government publications people can read and respond to in order to be more actively involved. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • The Congressional Record. A daily record of the debates, committee meetings, and other goings-on of Congress, the Congressional Record seems the best way to stay aware of both current legislative issues, and the actions of one’s duly elected representatives. Although the Congressional Record itself does not solicit feedback, communicating with one’s Senators and Representatives (or their offices) seems to be a popular way for people to participate in their government. This document can help citizens identify what they should be talking to their Senators and Representatives about.
  • Congressional Calendars & Schedules. Like the Congressional Record, these calendars may be of use to people in helping citizens identify topics they may want to discuss with their Senators and Congresspersons.
  • The Federal Register. I became intrigued with the Federal Register after listening to a presentation about it at this year’s Interagency Depository Seminar. While many people might find this daily record of proposed regulations and policy dull, I think FGI’s own James R. Jacobs put it best a few months ago – “Regulations and regulatory law are the implementation of legislated law and make all the difference in how laws are enforced and how activities of all citizens are, well…, regulated.” I think the National Archives & Records Administration has also done a lot to make the Register more accessible to the average user – they’ve set up a separate site where a user can search the regulations and contribute comments on them, and they’ve also set up an RSS feed so people can receive updates to the Federal Register from the comfort of their own RSS readers.
  • Government blogs. While many of the blogs on this list seem very specific and may not be of interest to the citizenry-at-large (sorry, Future Digital System, I’m looking at you), others seem to capture an active conversation between government agencies and citizens. For example, take a look at Evolution of Security, a blog written by several employees at the Transportation Security Administration. A recent entry about carrying liquids through security checkpoints received over 150 comments – some from the bloggers, some from citizens, and even some from Transportation Security Officers.
  • Contact Your Government (By Topic). Another web page compiled by USA.gov, this page can help citizens locate contact information for government officials on the federal and state levels.

I’ve also been considering what kind of state and local government publications can encourage civic engagement. I found this wonderful page from the State of Maine, which includes schedules of public meetings and hearings and online discussion forums. The site also includes several sets of instructions and tips, on topics ranging from running for office to initiating petitions and referendums to communicating effectively with one’s legislators.

What are some other federal, state, and local government publications that solicit citizen engagement?