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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.

NASA releases eBook on communicating with aliens

NASA‘s just published “Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication” in MOBI, EPUB and PDF. I think I know how we’re all spending this long memorial day weekend!


Addressing a field that has been dominated by astronomers, physicists, engineers, and computer scientists, the contributors to this collection raise questions that may have been overlooked by physical scientists about the ease of establishing meaningful communication with an extraterrestrial intelligence. These scholars are grappling with some of the enormous challenges that will face humanity if an information-rich signal emanating from another world is detected. By drawing on issues at the core of contemporary archaeology and anthropology, we can be much better prepared for contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, should that day ever come.

via “Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication” | NASA.

Free Government eBooks Now Available From GPO

The Government Printing Office (GPO) announced today that it is now making eBooks available in the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP). Catalog records include descriptive information, as well as Persistent Uniform Resource Locators (PURLs) and the ebooks are available in .mobi, (Kindle) .epub (most other eBook readers) formats as well as other formats such as PDF.

This is really big news. For a while GPO has only sold eBooks and some eBooks were available free from the agency, but not from GPO. There are still some limitations (will we know when eBook formats are added to existing titles?), but GPO is to be commended for treating eBooks equitably.

You can browse a list of all ebooks here or search the main CGP catalog adding the phrase “gov ebook” to your list of keywords.

Kathryn Bayer, Outreach Librarian at GPO said that GPO is harvesting Federal Government eBooks from agency Web sites and that all eBook titles available through the CGP are Federal publications of public interest or educational value within the scope of Title 44, United States Code, sections 1902-1903. She added that new eBook titles will be added to the CGP on a monthly basis. These FDLP eBooks are not being created by GPO.

Using the CGP works as usual with several steps:

  • Search to get a list of search results.
  • Click on a selection to get a cataloging record.
  • Click on the PURL in that record to get a list of file format directories.
  • Click on an directory link to get a link to the file in the format of your choice.
  • Click and download the file.

I compared a PDF and epub file of the document: High seas buffer : the Taiwan Patrol Force, 1950-1979. The content appears to be identical and there is no DRM in either format.

Here is a side-by side comparison of the two formats (epub on the left, pdf on the right):

[click on image for full size]

The illustration appears different in the two formats above, but it is the same, just reversed in the epub.

The illustration also shows one of the short-comings of current ebook production. Because the reader controls such things as font face, size, and color, line spacing, and so forth (limited only by the functionality of the hardware and software the reader uses), the content-creator cannot guarantee how the text will appear or whether the layout chosen for 8.5×11 will work. Illustrations such as the ones above, when displayed on small hand-held e-readers (like the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo), may be too small to read at all.

[click on image for full size]

These are not GPO-specific or government-information-specific problems. All publishers are in the early stages of trying to understand and adapt to the flexible eBook format and user-control of the design. Eventually, designers will learn to make this flexibility into a feature of ebooks, but, so far, what we get is little more than the text in a format that we can, we hope, read easily and portably.

CIA publishes its first audio book

The audiobook “Getting to Know the President” was recently released by the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence (CSI). It’s available on GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) in MP3 format, broken into several chapters. It’s also available in PDF on the CIA site.

CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence (CSI) has released its first audio book, Getting to Know the President (Second Edition). The audio book takes listeners inside the history of CIA briefings to presidential candidates and presidents-elect from 1952-2004, all through the eyes of former CIA Inspector General and Director for Intelligence John Helgerson. This second edition of Getting to Know the President updates Helgerson’s 1996 book with reflections on the transition to President George W. Bush in 2000 and the briefings provided to his Democratic challengers in 2004.

The book offers a look into the interactions of political figures and intelligence professionals across 10 presidential transitions. Helgerson relies on internal documents, public memoirs and interviews with four former presidents, several former Directors of Central Intelligence and Directors of National Intelligence. The result is a highly engaging account, providing both anecdote and analysis.

[HT to Gary Price at InfoDocket!]

Interesting: Provenance of eBooks

This is a bit off-topic, but so interesting that I couldn’t resist mentioning it. James Moushon did a little investigation into the absence of basic provenance information in eBooks and what he discovered was not encouraging. He discovered that almost none of the eBooks he examined had any indication of “where the book’s content originated from or how we got to the digital format.” He asks, rhetorically, how we will be able to accurately cite eBooks and differentiate between editions.

  • eBook Publishers: Are eBook Copyright Pages Missing Information?, by James Moushon, The Self-Publishing Review (February 15, 2011).

    I picked 30 ebooks and analyzed their copyright pages. Somebody must have missed the memo about what information is required and what format it should be presented in because we had a variety of formats and information, to say the least. Although 30 ebooks is not a very big sample, only one of them came close to what is needed to ID the source.

I have always been sensitive to this issue because, for years, I dealt with numeric social science data files and they were seldom adequately cited in the literature — partly because the necessary information was not easy to obtain or identify. As we move to a more and more born-digital world for all information, we mustn’t overlook the basics that we took for granted in the paper and ink world. Alas, as publishers seek to subsume all the roles of producer, distributor, and “library” (the term some of them use for their role as long-term gate-keeper and access-regulator), they don’t always keep these little details in mind….

Incompatible DRM for ebooks

Digital Rights Management (DRM) techniques are bad enough when applied to digital content, but this article notes that when there is not even a standard for DRM, the difficulties and problems that DRM creates are multiplied:

  • E-books need a common language, By Troy Wolverton, San Jose Mercury News, (02/14/2010)

    I never need to worry about whether I can read a book. As long as a book’s a book, that is — printed on paper, in English. I know I can pick it up and read it no matter how long it sits on my shelf after I bought it. But as we move into the era of e-books, that assumption no longer holds.

There is more on Apple’s decision to impose DRM on ebooks, after dropping DRM from music, here:

  • Digital handcuffs for Apple ebooks?, by Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times “Jacket Copy” blog. (February 16, 2010)

    Apple’s old digital rights management software (DRM), FairPlay, is slated to make a comeback with the e-books it will be selling on its iBook Store. While music users have been free of these “digital handcuffs” for the last year, Alex Pham reports that readers will not be.