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This is definitely bad. Government data collection has always been political and driven by legislative requirements. The FBI has published uniform crime reports since 1930. but FiveThrirtyEight’s report about missing data in the 2016 FBI Crime Report is a new and troubling turn of events. The Trump administration is just ignoring long standing data collection and publication for blatantly political reasons. According to the report, approximately 70% of the tables from the FBI’s most important crime report have been taken offline. For example, there were 51 tables of arrest data in the 2015 report, and there are only seven in the 2016 report.
The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) curates and archives this data for the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). In fact, I’m told it’s usually the most downloaded data from their site. But they can’t collect and archive what’s not there. Hopefully someone will FOIA the FBI for the missing data, but get ready to have to explain to our users about data gaps across the US government from 2016 – 2020. 😐
These removals mean that there is less data available concerning a perennial focus of Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions: violent crime. Trump and Sessions have frequently talked about MS-13, a gang with Salvadoran roots, as a looming problem in the country. MS-13 has been cited in 37 Department of Justice press releases and speeches in 2017, compared to only nine mentions in 2016 and five in 2015. Sessions gave a speech on the organization last month, while Trump gave a speech on Long Island in July, saying the gang had “transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields. They’re animals.” Trump also frequently refers to gun violence in Chicago, and at the beginning of his presidency, he established a Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office, which aims to study and promote awareness of crimes committed by immigrants who entered the country illegally.
Although the removal of the tables makes it more difficult to get information on one of the White House’s most prominent causes, it also seems like part of a trend in the Trump administration: the suppression of government data and an unwillingness to share information with the press and public. About two weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the FEMA website stopped displaying key metrics relating to island residents’ access to drinkable water and electricity. The data was later restored. The early days of the Trump administration were marked by reports that federal agency employees had been instructed not to talk to the press and to restrict social media postings.
Since Trump took office, government watchdog groups have been concerned about access to government data and maintaining the integrity of that data.
Please tune in next Wednesday, March 29, 2017 from 9am – 10am Pacific / 12:00 – 1:00pm Eastern for the next Help! I’m an Accidental Government Information Librarian Webinar “Saving government data: A conversation with the future.” You’ll need to RSVP for the session in order to get the link to the WebEx live session. “See” you there!
Help! I’m an Accidental Government Information Librarian presents … Saving government data: A conversation with the future, on Wednesday, March 29, 2017 from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. (Eastern).
In recent months, the DataRefuge project has collaborated with hundreds of volunteers around the United States to collect, describe, and store federal data that support climate and environmental research and advocacy. This project, and others like it, works in conjunction with the End of Term Web Archive to capture and make available federal web content during administrative transitions.
Our discussion will explore the fragility of digital information, and expand on ideas about what data is. We’ll talk about current projects and efforts, and explore the future of this work. Finally, we’ll address the concept of sustainability, and propose a paradigm of empowered experimentation that aligns with our values and roles within libraries.
We will meet together for Session #69, online on Wednesday, March 29, 2017 from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. (Eastern). Please RSVP for the session using this link: http://bit.ly/GRS-Session69
We will use WebEx for the live session. Information on testing and accessing the session will be made available when you register.
The session will be recorded and available after the live session, linked from the NCLA GRS web page (http://www.nclaonline.org/government-resources).
Laurie Allen is the Assistant Director for Digital Scholarship in the Penn Libraries, where she leads a group working to expand the capacity of researchers at Penn to create and share scholarship in new forms. The group engages in digital project development, data management and curation, mapping, experimentations with emerging research methods, and open access publishing. In late 2016, Allen was part of the group that started Data Refuge, and has been involved in bringing together a group of collaborators to form a network of libraries, open data activists and open government efforts.
James A. Jacobs is Data Services Librarian Emeritus, University of California San Diego. He has more than 25 years experience working with digital information, digital services, and digital library collections. He is a technical consultant and advisor to the Center for Research Libraries in the auditing and certification of digital repositories using the Trusted Repository Audit Checklist (TRAC) and related CRL criteria. He served as Data Services Librarian at the University of California San Diego and co-taught the ICPSR summer workshop, “Providing Social Science Data Services: Strategies for Design and Operation”. He is a co-founder of Free Government Information.
James R. Jacobs is the US Government Information Librarian at Stanford University Libraries where he works on both collection development as well as digital projects like LOCKSS-USDOCS. He is a member of ALA’s Government Documents Roundtable (GODORT) and served a 3-year term on Depository Library Council to the Public Printer, including serving as DLC Chair. He is a co-founder of Free Government Information (freegovinfo.info) and Radical Reference (radicalreference.info) and is on the board of Question Copyright, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that promotes a better public understanding of the effects of copyright, and encourages the development of alternatives to information monopolies.
Shari Laster is the Government Information Librarian and Data Services Librarian at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She currently serves as Assistant Chair/Chair-Elect for the Government Documents Round Table of the American Library Association, and is a past chair of the Depository Library Council, the advisory body for the Federal Depository Library Program.
(Editor’s note: this post is the second of two guest editorials on Libraries Network, a nascent collaborative effort of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) spurred by the work of the DataRefuge project, End of Term crawl, and other volunteer efforts to preserve data and content from the .gov/.mil domain. The first post was pointed to libraries, the second to govt agencies. Please leave a comment of what you think! JRJ)
This moment in history provides us with a rare opportunity to go beyond short-term data rescue and set the much needed foundation for the long-term future of preservation of government information.
Awareness of risk. At the moment, more people than ever are aware of the risk of relying solely on the government to preserve its own information. This was not true even six months ago. This awareness goes far beyond government information librarians and archivists. It includes the communities that use government information (our Designated Communities!) and the government employees who devote their careers to creating this information. It includes our colleagues, our professional organizations, and library managers.
This awareness is documented in the many stories in the popular press this year about massive “data rescue” projects drawing literally hundreds of volunteers. It is also demonstrated by the number of people nominating seeds (URLs) and the number of seeds nominated for the current End of Term harvest. These have increased by nearly an order of magnitude or more over 2012.
Awareness of need for planning. But beyond the numbers, more people are learning first-hand that rescuing information at the end of its life-cycle can be difficult, incomplete, and subject to error and even loss. It is clear that last minute rescue is essential in early 2017. But it is also clear that, in the future, efficient and effective preservation requires planning. This means that government agencies need to plan for the preservation of the information they create at the beginning of the life-cycle of that information — even before it is actually created.
Opportunity to create demonstrable value. This awareness provides libraries with the opportunity to lead a movement to change government information policies that affect long-term preservation of and access to government information. By promoting this change, libraries will be laying the groundwork for future long-term preservation of information that their communities value highly. This provides an exceptional opportunity to work with motivated and inspired user communities toward a common goal. This is good news at a time when librarians are eager to demonstrate the value of libraries.
A model exists. And there is more good news. The model for a long-term government information policy not only exists, but libraries are already very familiar with it. In 2010, federal granting agencies like NSF, National Institutes of Health and Department of Energy started requiring researchers who receive Federal grants to develop Data Management Plans (DMPs) for the data collected and analyzed during the research process. Thus, data gathered at government expense by researchers must have a Plan to archive that data and make it available to other researchers. The requirement for DMPs has driven a small revolution of data management in libraries.
Ironically, there is no similar requirement for government agencies to develop a plan for the long-term management of information they gather and produce. There are, of course, a variety of requirements for managing government “Records” but there are several problems with the existing regulations.
Gaps in existing regulations. The Federal Records Act and related laws and regulations cover only a portion of the huge amount of information gathered and created by the government. In the past, it was relatively easy to distinguish between “publications” and “Records” but, in the age of digital information, databases, and transactional e-government it is much more difficult to do so. Official executive agency “Records Schedules,” which are approved by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), define only a subset of information gathered and created by an agency as Records suitable for deposit with NARA. Further, the implementation of those Records Schedules are subject to interpretation by executive agency political appointees who may not always have preservation as their highest priority. This can make huge swaths of valuable information ineligible for deposit with NARA as Records.
Government data, documents, and publications that are not deemed official Records have no long-term preservation plan at all. In the paper-and-ink world, many agency publications that did not qualify as Records were printed by or sent to the Government Publishing Office (GPO) and deposited in Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) libraries around the country (currently 1,147 libraries). Unfortunately, a perfect storm of policies and procedures has blocked FDLP libraries from preserving this huge class of government information. A 1983 court decision (INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 952) makes it impossible to require agencies to deposit documents with the Government Publishing Office (GPO) or FDLP. The 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. §§ 3501–3521) and the Office of Management and budget (OMB)’s Circular A-130 have made it more difficult to distribute government information to FDLP libraries. The shift to born-digital information has decentralized publishing and distribution, and virtually eliminated best practices of meta-data creation and standardization. GPO’s Dissemination and Distribution Policy has severely limited the information it will distribute to FDLP libraries. Together, this “perfect storm” has reduced the deposit of this class of at-risk government information into FDLP libraries by ninety percent over the last twenty years.
The Solution: Information Management Plans. To plug the gaps in existing regulations, government agencies should be required to treat their own information with as much care as data gathered by researchers with government funding. What is needed is a new regulation that requires agencies to have Information Management Plans (IMPs) for all the information they collect, aggregate, and create.
We have proposed to the OMB a modification to their policy OMB Circular A-130: Managing Information as a Strategic Resource that would require every government agency to have an Information Management Plan.
Every government agency must have an “Information Management Plan” for the information it creates, collects, processes, or disseminates. The Information Management Plan must specify how the agency’s public information will be preserved for the long-term including its final deposit in a reputable, trusted, government (e.g., NARA, GPO, etc.) and/or non-government digital repository to guarantee free public access to it.
Many Benefits! We believe that such a requirement would provide many benefits for agencies, libraries, archives, and the general public. We think it would do more to enhance long-term public access to government information than changes to Title 44 of the US Code (which codified the “free use of government publications”) could do.
- It would make it possible to preserve information continuously without the need for hasty last-minute rescue efforts.
- It would make it easier to identify and select information and preserve it outside of government control.
- It would result in digital objects that are easier to preserve accurately and securely.
- It would make it easy for government agencies to collaborate with digital repositories and designated communities outside the government for the long-term preservation of their information.
- The scale of the resulting digital preservation infrastructure would provide an easy path for shared Succession Plans for Trusted Digital Repositories (TDRs) (Audit And Certification Of Trustworthy Digital Repositories [ISO Standard 16363]).
IMPs would provide these benefits through the practical response of vendors that provide software to government agencies. Those vendors would have an enormous market for flexible software solutions for the creation of digital government information and records that fit the different needs of different agencies for database management, document creation, content management systems, email, and so forth, while, at the same time, making it easy for agencies to output preservable digital objects and an accurate inventory of them ready for deposit as Submission Information Packages (SIPs) into TDRs.
We believe this is a reasonable suggestion with a good precedent (the DMPs), but we would appreciate hearing your opinions. Is A‑130 the best target for such a regulation? What is the best way to propose, promote, and obtain such a new policy? What is the best wording for such a proposed policy?
We believe we have a singular opportunity of awareness and support for the preservation of government information. We believe that this is an opportunity, not just to preserve government information, but also to demonstrate the leadership of librarians and archivists and the value of libraries and archives.
James A. Jacobs, Librarian Emeritus, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Federal Government Information Librarian, Stanford University
(Editor’s note: this post was a guest editorial on Libraries Network, a nascent collaborative effort of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) spurred by the work of the DataRefuge project, End of Term crawl, and other volunteer efforts to preserve data and content from the .gov/.mil domain. This is the first of 2 posts for the Libraries Network. The second one will be posted tomorrow. JRJ)
Now that so many have done so much good work to rescue so much data, it is time to reflect on our long-term goals. This is the first of two posts that suggest some steps to take.
The amount of data rescue work that has already been done by DataRefuge, ClimateMirror, Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) projects and the End of Term crawl (EOT) 2016 is truly remarkable. In a very practical sense, however, this is only the first stage in a long process. We still have a lot of work to do to make all the captured digital content (web pages, data, PDFs, videos, etc) discoverable and understandable and usable. We believe that the next step is to articulate a long-term goal to guide the next tasks.
Of course, we do already have broad goals but up to now those goals have by necessity been more short-term than long-term. The short-term goals that have driven so much action have been either implicit (“rescue data!”) or explicit (“to document federal agencies’ presence on the World Wide Web during the transition of Presidential administrations” [EOT]). These have been sufficient to draw librarian-, scientist-, hacker-, and public volunteers who have accomplished a lot! But, as the EOT folks will remind us, most of this work is volunteer work.
The next stages will require more resources and long-term commitments. Notable next tasks include: creating metadata, identifying and acquiring DataRefuge’s uncrawlable data, and doing Quality Assurance (QA) work on content that has been acquired. This work has begun. The University of North Texas, for example, has created a pilot crowdsourcing project to catalog a cache of EOT PDFs and is looking for volunteers. This upcoming work is essential in order to make content we rescue and acquire discoverable and usable and to ensure that the content is preserved for the long-term.
As we look to the long-term, we turn to the two main international standards for long-term preservation: OAIS (Reference Model For An Open Archival Information System) and TDR (Audit And Certification Of Trustworthy Digital Repositories). Using the terminology of those standards our current actions have focused on “ingest.” Now we have to focus on the other functions of a TDR: management, preservation, access, and use. We might say that what we have been doing is Data Rescue but what we will do next is Data Preservation which includes discovery, access and use.
Given that, here is our suggestion for a long-term goal:
Create a digital government-information library infrastructure in which libraries collectively provide services for collections that are selected, acquired, organized, and preserved for specific Designated Communities (DCs).
Adopting this goal will not slow down or interrupt existing efforts. It focuses on “Designated Communities” and the life-cycle of information and, by doing so, it will help prioritize our actions. By doing this, it will help attract libraries to participate in the next stage activities. It will also make long-term participation easier and more effective by helping participants understand where their activities lead, what the outcomes will be, and what benefits they will get tomorrow by investing their resources in these activities today.
How does simply adopting a goal do all that?
First, by expressing the long-term goal in the language of OAIS and TDR it assures participants that today’s activities will ensure long-term access to information that is important to their communities.
Second, by putting the focus on the users of the information it demonstrates to our local communities that we are doing this for them. This will help make it practical to invest needed resources in the necessary work. The goal focuses on users of information by explicitly saying that our actions have been and will be designed to provide content and services for specific user groups (Designated Communities in OAIS terminology).
Third, by focusing on an infrastructure rather than isolated projects, it provides an opportunity for libraries to benefit more by participating than by not participating.
The key to delivering these benefits lies in the concept of Designated Communities. In the paper-and-ink world, libraries were limited in who they could serve. “Users” had to be local; they had to be able to walk into our buildings. It was difficult and expensive to share either collections or services, so we limited both to members of our funding institution or a geographically-local community. In the digital world, we no longer have to operate under those constraints. This means that we can build collections for Designated Communities that are defined by discipline or subject or by how a community uses digital information. This is a big change from defining a community by its institutional affiliation or by its members’ geographical proximity to an institution or to each other.
This means that each participating institution can benefit from the contributions of all participating institutions. To use a simple example, if ten libraries each invested the cost of developing collections and services for two DCs, all ten libraries (and their local/institutional communities) would get the benefits of twenty specific collections and services. There are more than one thousand Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) libraries.
Even more importantly, this model means that the information-users will get better collections of the information they need and will get services that are tailored to how they look for, select, and use that information.
This approach may seem unconventional to government information specialists who are familiar with agency-based collections and services. The digital world allows us to combine the benefits of agency-based acquisitions with DC-based collections and services.
This means that we can still use the agency-based model for much of our work while simultaneously providing collections for DCs. For example, it is probably always more efficient and effective to identify, select, and acquire information by focusing on the the output of an agency. It is certainly easier to ensure comprehensiveness with this approach. It is often easier to create metadata and do QA for a single agency at a time. And information content can be easily stored and managed using the same agency-based approach. And information stored by agency can be viewed and served (through use of metadata and APIs) as a single “virtual” collection for a Designated Community. Any given document, dataset, or database may show up in the collections of several DCs, and any given “virtual” collection can easily contain content from many agencies.
For example, consider how this approach would affect a Designated Community of economists. A collection built to serve economists would include information from multiple agencies (e.g., Commerce, Council of Economic Advisors, CBO, GAO, NEC, USDA, ITA, etc. etc.). When one library built such a collection and provided services for it, every library with economists would be able better serve their community of economists. And every economist at every institution would be able to more easily find and use the information she needs. The same advantages would be true for DCs based on kind of use (e.g. document-based reading; computational textual-analysis; GIS; numeric data analysis; re-purposing and combining datasets; etc.).
We believe that adopting this goal will have several benefits. It will help attract more libraries to participate in the essential work that needs to be done after information is captured. It will provide a clear path for planning the long-term preservation of the information acquired. It will provide better collections and services to more users more efficiently and effectively than could be done by individual libraries working on their own. It will demonstrate the value of libraries to our local user-communities, our parent institutions, and funding agencies.
James A. Jacobs, Librarian Emeritus, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Federal Government Information Librarian, Stanford University