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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’s Goddard Space Flight Center to close two physical libraries

In an apparently leaked memo, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, says that as of Jan 1, 2012 they will no longer maintain a physical library facility at the two GFSC locations.

  • Goddard Libraries Transition to Electronic Services, From: GSFC-Communications, To: GSFC-DL-ALL, Sent: Monday, October 31, 2011 11:20 AM, signed by Marilyn C. Tolliver, Chief Information and Logistics Management Division, and Robin M. Dixon, Head Knowledge Resources and Library Branch The Goddard Library; reprinted at SpaceRef.com (Oct. 31, 2011).

    Beginning January 1, 2012, the NASA Goddard libraries at Greenbelt and Wallops will transition to an all-electronic activity. In response to changes in the research environment and to Center-driven resource priorities, we will no longer maintain a physical presence but will focus on supporting the research needs of the Goddard community electronically. Our digital presence will remain as a portal to our vast collection of electronic material and our research specialists will continue to be available to support evolving requirements of Goddard’s researchers.

Our colleague Gary Price at INFOdocket has some pointed questions about what will happen to the printed collection and the librarians who staffed the physical facilities:

Gary also has lots of good links including links to a bunch of NASA libraries and list of 50+ specialty libraries that are a part of Goddard.

We’ve all heard of libraries without books, but it is less often we hear of libraries without facilities at all. Certainly in the digital age it should be possible to have excellent and even enhanced services without requiring information-users to visit a physical space. A link in the memo to a FAQ goes to a non-public web page and the brief memo raises more questions than it answers:

  • Will the library be building and preserving a collection or just linking to and licensing access to information resources held by others?
  • Will the “new services” the memo mentions be in addition to or instead of older services?
  • Is this just a “realignment of resources” within the libraries or is it a reduction in funding to libraries?

Government Information Online: Ask a Librarian — National Digital Reference Service Launched



Government Information Online: Ask A Librarian

I am pleased to announce the improved and evolved national digital reference project that began almost three and half years ago as a volunteer effort and collaboration with the Illinois State Library, OCLC, and my institution, University of Illinois at Chicago. For the next two and half years, as the project evolved through three phases, over thirty libraries from around the country contributed their time and expertise to learn what it takes for state libraries, public libraries, private and public university libraries, and special libraries to cooperate answering the public’s government information questions using OCLC’s QuestionPoint software and working across geographic and institutional boundaries. 

By Spring 2007, following further discussions with the government information librarians of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (essentially the Big 10 universities and the University of Chicago) and the Government Printing Office, all agreed to make the project’s next phase a more formal organization. The library participants  would underwrite the purchase of the OCLC software subscriptions and the CIC would form a management structure to assure a consistent set off policies and procedures among the participating libraries. To coordinate the with the Government Printing Office (which has been involved in the project since its beginning), a formal partnership was formed between GPO and UIC (who is acting as on behalf of CIC interests in the partnership) to explore the implications of national digital reference services and the fully digital depository library system now planned over the last 12 years. Furthermore, 9 other non-CIC libraries agreed to join the effort, bringing the total number of libraries that actively support the effort with both personnel and fiscal resources to 19. Here is the complete list —  which is a pretty good cross section of libraries that participate in FDLP.

Indiana University
Library of Virginia
Michigan State University
Newark Public Library
Northwestern University
Ohio State University
Penn State University
Purdue University
San Francisco Public Library
State Library of Pennsylvania
Southern Illinois University
Tennessee State Library
University of Hawaii at Manoa
University of Illinois Chicago
University of Illinois Urbana
University of Iowa
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Minnesota
University of Missouri –Columbia

The project seeks other government information library folks (and their institutions) who want to discuss the project and its goals — and who might want to join the project. If you have questions about this, drop me a line at alfred@uic.edu. I want publicly acknowledge the resources and time and support the 19 libraries listed above for their support and cooperation — without which this project would not happen.  And to the folks at GPO, when they saw another partnership idea coming out of the Midwest might have rolled their eyes just a bit, I want to thank them for agreeing to join this effprt in a formal way to figure what all the opportunities might mean in our shared digital depository future.

I also want to publicly thank the good folks here at freegovinfo who long kept a link to the project on their pages over the past three years, and happily borrow Mr. Cornwall’s hat for a tip and public high five to James Staub at the Tennessee State Library for gently reminding me every week to get off my professional butt, think outside of the box, and make this happen. It is good to have colleagues that share a vision and have the reserves to talk through the more difficult moments. To further this public moment of thanks, I want to particularly acknowledge the support of the library administration at UIC, and especially Mary Case, the director, for keeping the resource lines open during the long months of transition last year — proving once again that collaboration is the one true article of faith in our profession.    

Here is a formal announcement of the project.

Government Information Online (GIO): Ask a Librarian – national digital reference service that focuses on government information

What is GIO: Ask a Librarian?
Through Government Information Online (GIO) any one can ask government information librarians who are experts at finding information from government agencies of all levels (local, state, regional, national international) on almost any subject from aardvarks to zygomycosis. GIO is a free online information service supported by nearly twenty public, state and academic libraries throughout the United States. All participants are designated Federal depository libraries in the U.S. Government Printing Office’s Federal Depository Library Program. Many are also official depository libraries for their other types of governments and public agencies.

Who is answering the questions?
Government information librarians with a specialized knowledge of agency information dissemination practices — as well as expertise in how to use government information products, resources and or publications — answer all the questions submitted to GIO. These librarians are dedicated to helping users meet their government information needs. While the librarians will assist you in any way they can, you may be communicating with a librarian who does not work at your local library and therefore does not have access to your personal library card records.

Who provides support for the GIO?
Each of the participants provides resources and personnel to answer the questions. The project’s current phase and overall management is handled through the Committee on Institutional Cooperation and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The project also benefits from a formal partnership between UIC and the U.S. Government Printing Office to explore how federal depository library reference services could be extended through the World Wide Web.

Where to Find Government Information

If you are looking for information from the government, you are not quite in the right place. The Free Government Information site is devoted to raising awareness of issues related to government information policy, especially those regarding the easily restricted/malleable/trackable digital realm.

But since FGI is run by volunteer librarians, we are happy to offer you some starting points for your government information resources:

  • Places to Ask Questions
  • Places to do your own research
    • General GPO Federal Digital System – One stop access to thousands of publications from the Government Printing Office.
    • General USA.Gov – Web portal with information by topic for citizens, researchers, government employees and others.
    • Science Science.gov – a gateway to authoritative selected science information provided by U.S. Government agencies, including research and development results.
    • Census American Factfinder – Where you want to go for population and demographic information and anything to do with Census EXCEPT Genealogy.
    • Statistics Fed Stats – Numbers on nearly everything.
    • Congress THOMAS – current federal legislation
    • GAO Reports Government Accountability Office Topic Search – Nonpartisan reports on government operations browseable by topic.
    • CRS Reports Open CRS – Brings together reports on many topics of interest done by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.
    • Directory US Government Manual – Learn more about the structure of our government and locate government contacts.

    And more…

In addition to this NOT comprehensive list of outside web sites, Free Government Information has a few pages with government resources that are only here because they represent interesting uses of free, fully functional electronic information, or they represent interesting government-to-citizen communication tools. Please see our remixes page, government podcasts page and RSS directories page for examples.

Good luck in your government information research! When you’re done, please come back and read about the issues that might make your research harder in the future!