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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.

Digital Deposit, Good for All: Vision, Myths, Reality

As many of our readers know, Depository Library Council (DLC) recommended the creation of a working group to explore digital deposit and there was a session on digital deposit at the 2019 Spring Virtual Meeting of the DLC:

Digital deposit should be part of FDLP for the same reasons paper deposit has been for two hundred years: it guarantees preservation of the information and provides services to users of that information. Discusions of digital deposit, therefore, should focus on preservation and users and the technologies that can enable the best digital services.

Preservation

We’ve come a long way on preservation. GPO has (more…)

Government shutdown causing information access problems

Twitter and newspapers are buzzing with complaints about widespread problems with access to government information and data (see for example, Wall Street Journal (paywall 😐 ), ZDNet News, Pew Center, Washington Post, Scientific American, TheVerge, and FedScoop to name but a few).

Matthew Green, a professor at Johns Hopkins, said “It’s worrying that every single US cryptography standard is now unavailable to practitioners.” He was responding to the fact that he could not get the documents he needed from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) or its branch, the Computer Security Resource Center (CSRC). The government shutdown is the direct cause of these problems.

Others who noticed the same problem started chiming in to the discussion Green started, noting that they couldn’t find the standards they needed in Google’s cache or the Wayback machine, either. Someone else suggested that “Such documents should be distributed to multiple free and public repositories” and said that “These documents are “Too important to have subject to a single point of failure.” Someone else said that he downloads personal copies of the documents he needs every month, but had missed one that he uses “somewhat often.” One lone voice wondered about “Federal Depository Libraries, of which I believe there is at least one in every state.” (James responded to that one, letting people know about the FDLP and End of Term crawl!)

There are at least two reasons why users cannot get the documents they need from government servers during the shutdown. In some cases, agencies have apparently shut off access to their documents. (This is the case for both NIST and CSRC.) In other cases, the security certificates of websites have expired — with no agency employees to renew them! — leaving whole websites either insecure or unavailable or both.

Regardless of who you (or your user communities) blame for the shutdown itself, this loss of access was entirely foreseeable and avoidable. It was foreseeable because it has happened before. It was avoidable because libraries can select, acquire, organize, and preserve these documents and provide access to them and services for them whether the government is open or shut-down.

Some libraries probably do have some of these documents. But too many libraries have chosen to adopt a new model of “services without collections.” GPO proudly promotes this model as “All or Mostly Online Federal Depository Libraries.” GPO itself is affected by this model. Almost 20% of the PURLs in CGP point to content on non-GPO government servers. So, even though GPO’s govinfo database and catalog of government publications (CGP) may still be up and running, during the shut-down GPO cannot ensure that all its “Permanent URLs” (PURLs) will work.

This no-collections-model means that libraries are too often choosing simply to point to collections over which they have no control — and we’ve known what happens “When we depend on pointing instead of collecting” for quite some time. When those collections go offline and users lose access, users begin to wonder why someone hasn’t foreseen this problem and put “all those publications somewhere public.”

The gap between what libraries could do to prevent the kind of loss of access the shutdown is causing and what they are doing is particularly notorious in the area of government information. Most federal government information is in the public domain and is available without technical or copyright restrictions or fees. There is nothing preventing libraries from building collections to support users except the will to do so.

Many library administrators are eager to proclaim that pointing to collections they do not control is the new role of libraries in the digital age. Those who promote this new model of services without collections then struggle to demonstrate the value of libraries to their user communities. This is difficult when those communities go directly to collections of information, bypassing libraries and, perhaps, wondering why libraries still exist at all.

This represents a failure by libraries to fulfill their role in society and in the digital information ecosystem.

When the shutdown ends, access will, presumably, be restored. In the wake of the many other problems caused by the shutdown (many of them immediate and even dangerous), this temporary loss of access to some government information may not seem pressing. But librarians should see this as another wake-up call. Hopefully, Depository Library Council’s recent recommendation regarding digital deposit will answer that call. Libraries should not focus on bemoaning the short-term problem. We should, instead, focus on making the next crisis impossible. We can do this by focusing on the long-term problems of digital collection development, preservation and access. The current crisis may be temporary, but when we rely only on the government to provide access to these important resources, access will remain vulnerable to the next crisis or misstep or conscious decision to cut off access. We need to recognize that government agencies do not always have the same priorities as our users.

Today, libraries cannot ensure long-term access to government information because they do not control it. But, if libraries select, acquire, organize, and preserve the government information that is vital to their user communities, then they can ensure long-term access to it. You will not have to persuade your users of the value of your library when you do what they value.

Authors:
James A. Jacobs, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Stanford University

Agenda for 2019: Exploring Digital Deposit

As 2018 ends, it is time to start setting the agenda for the FDLP for 2019. This year has a lot of potential despite (or because of) the failure of Title 44 reform, the shutdown of the government, and the general political gridlock of Congress.

2018: The Year of "Modernizing"

The biggest FDLP news in 2018 was the progress of the FDLP Modernization Act of 2018. Although it failed to pass during the 115th Congress, there is a good chance that (more…)

Recommendations from the DLC to GPO – including Digital Deposit!

Happy holidays from FGI! Seeing as many are not at work or checking their email, you might have missed that Depository Library Council recently released their recommendations to GPO. Under the tree this year is a recommendation to create a digital deposit working group! We’ve been talking for over a decade about the need for digital deposit – whereby GPO would actually deposit digital files to libraries just as they do currently with paper documents. Digital deposit will ensure the preservation and access of digital government information disseminated by GPO and allow libraries to continue to build collections for their designated communities. This is a huge step forward!

Recommendation #3: Council recommends the creation of a working group to explore current and future needs related to digital deposit – both dissemination of content and acceptance of content by GPO. At a minimum, two appropriate members of GPO staff, two members of DLC, and two members of the FDLP community should be appointed to serve on the Digital Deposit Working Group for one year. Composition of the working group should be chosen by DLC in consultation with GPO staff. The Working Group should report findings and recommendations – either initial or final – at the Fall 2019 FDLP annual meeting.

Justification: Council believes that such a Digital Deposit Working Group is a critically important and inclusive step in reaching consensus on how federal information in digital forms should be disseminated to and amongst the FDLP community for the benefit of all our users.

GPO releases comments on draft Title 44 reform bill

The Government Publishing Office (GPO) has recently made public their comments regarding the draft title 44 reform bill (PDF) currently working its way through the Congressional Committee on House Administration (CHA). GPO’s comments are broken into the following sections:

  • Contracting out congressional printing
  • Decentralizing agency printing
  • Work produced in agency plants
  • Economic impact on GPO
  • Regulatory authority
  • Government Printing Office / Public Printer
  • Joint Committee on Printing
  • Elimination of duplicating from statutory definition of printing
  • Increased discretionary expenditures
  • FDLP Improvements

We certainly appreciate GPO’s analysis of the draft bill and its impact. It mirrors and reiterates much of what we and many others have been saying about this bill. That is, the bill as written would have extreme negative effects on GPO’s budget, infrastructure and staff — which would have a drastic impact on GPO’s ability to manage FDLP services for the nation’s libraries downstream! — it would re-decentralize and deregulate printing and public information access across the government, thus driving up the costs of public information provision and greatly expand the issue of fugitive government information. If this bill is enacted, the public, libraries and the government itself would suffer as the long-standing FDLP system providing access to and preservation of government information would crumble.

We recommend that you read GPO’s analysis as well as our “Suggestions for Revisions to Chapter 5 of the Title 44 Bill” and contact Chairman Greg Harper and your representatives on the CHA as well as your Senators on the Joint Committee on Printing.

“Comments on Draft Legislation to Amend Title 44, U.S.C. (December 11, 2017 version)” to the Committee on House Administration on January 31, 2018.  This document relays all comments, observations, and concerns with the draft revision to Title 44 as it relates to the Federal Depository Library Program, other Superintendent of Documents programs, and to GPO as an organization. 

via Comments on Draft Legislation to Amend Title 44, U.S.C. (December 11, 2017 version; Comments submitted January 31, 2018).

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