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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.

Montana Library Association passes Resolution to fund US govt publications preservation

Bernadine Abbott Hoduski, the grande dame of government documents — she’s got a GODORT award named after her for gosh sakes! — sent me this announcement. The Montana library Association, at its annual membership meeting in March, 2017, passed a packet of resolutions including their Resolution on Funding the Preservation of Federal Government Publications (text below). The resolution calls on the US Congress to “fully fund preservation of Federal government publications housed in federal depository libraries.”

The resolution has been sent to Montana’s US Senator Jon Tester, who happens to sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Please consider taking this text and passing the resolution at other state library associations, especially if your state’s senator sits on the Appropriations Committee. I’ve sent the text of this resolution to CA Senator Diane Feinstein.

Thanks bernadine for all your hard work on this and through the many years!

Resolution on Funding the Preservation of Federal Government Publications

Whereas, Democracy depends upon the public’s access to information from and about the United States federal government; and

Whereas, to preserve the historic record of our country, the United States Congress established a distributed system of Federal depository libraries to safeguard government information from dangers ranging from bit-rot to fire; and

Whereas, the United States Federal depository libraries provide public access to federal government publications and information without charge; and

Whereas, Federal depository libraries spend millions of dollars collecting, housing, cataloging, and providing public access to federal government information, and

Whereas, Federal depository libraries lack enough money to preserve millions of federal government publications in paper, microform, and digital formats; and

Whereas, the U. S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) established FIPNet (Federal Information Preservation Network) as part of the “National Plan for Access to U. S. Government Information” – a strategy for a collaborative network of information professionals working in various partner roles to ensure access to the national collection of government information for future generations. FIPNet contributes to the preservation of both tangible and digital government information, and elevates the public awareness and prestige of local initiatives, specific collections of government information, and the institutions and agencies that have stewardship over them; and

Whereas, GPO is not authorized to provide funding directly to depository libraries that agree to preserve federal government publications; and

Whereas, the United States Congress can authorize GPO to provide funding to depository libraries; and Whereas, GPO needs additional funding and staff to provide on-site support for libraries in the building of an inventory and catalog of all their federal government publications in order to plan for preservation;

Therefore, be it resolved that:

The Montana Library Association urges the U. S. Congress to fully fund preservation of Federal government publications housed in federal depository libraries; and

The Montana Library Association urges the U. S. Congress to authorize the U. S. Government Publishing Office to provide funds directly to libraries for the preservation of the federal government publications (paper, microform, and digital) housed in their libraries; and

The Montana Library Association urges Congress to provide funding to the Superintendent of Documents (GPO) so agency librarians can travel to depository libraries to advise librarians in preservation activities, including inventorying, cataloging, and planning for preservation of government publications.

Adopted by the Montana Library Association Membership March 31, 2017

Depository Library Council class of 2017 named

Congratulations to the Depository Library Council class of 2017: Erik Beck, Jane Canfield, Mary Clark, Donna James, Celina McDonald.

These five new DLC members will serve from June 1, 2017 – May 31, 2020

Erik Beck: Digital Services Librarian, University of Colorado Law School, William A. Wise School of Law, Boulder, CO. Eric is the Digital Services Librarian and Depository Coordinator. He has been active in the AALL community and has led the development of digital collections of Government publications in his library. He has written many articles on digitization and the digital experience.

Jane Canfield: Depository Coordinator, Pontificia Universidad Católica, Biblioteca Encarnación Valdés, PR. Jane has many years’ experience as a depository coordinator and is responsible for reorganizing the collection at Puerto Rico’s Pontificia Universidad Católica from a small section of technical services to a new and thriving area which combines Federal documents with a learning commons.  She brings non-Continental U.S. geographic coverage and a primarily Spanish speaking patron base to Council.

Mary Clark: Director, Acquisitions and Access Management, Library of Virginia. Richmond, VA. She is a Charter member of the innovative Government Information Online chat references service (GPO is a partner with this service). Under her direction, the Library of Virginia has cataloged all of the state and Federal documents in the collection, and the Library has transitioned to an almost entirely digital program. Mary also has led an effort to catalog well over 250,000 pre-1976 Federal documents.

Donna James: Library Director/Federal Depository Coordinator, Valley City State University, Allen Memorial Library, Valley City, ND. Donna has been Library Director of Allen Memorial Library for over 10 years. She was instrumental in moving the VCSU collection to a mostly digital selective depository. Donna advocates for and regularly teaches workshops for school librarians encouraging the use of free Government resources in schools. Donna is a member and past President of the North Dakota Library Association and a member of the North Dakota-Manitoba Chapter of Association of College & Research Libraries.

Celina McDonald: Regional Depository Coordinator, University of Maryland, College Park, McKeldin Library, College Park, MD. Celina serves as the regional depository coordinator for Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia.  She belongs to a number of committees including Regional Government Information Librarians, Government Documents Round Table Nominating Committee, and is currently the chair of the American Library Association’s Committee on Legislation, Subcommittee on Government Information.

via GPO Director Names New Members to the Depository Library Council.

Review of 2016 in anticipation of 2017

It is January and time once again to review what last year brought to libraries and the FDLP and where we should put our energies in the coming year.


In 2016 GPO issued a series of policies that express its intentions to enhance both access to and preservation of government information. While we applaud GPO’s intentions, we are dismayed because the policies are fatally flawed and will endanger preservation and access rather than protect and sustain them.

The biggest threat to long-term free public access to government information is government control of that information. Regardless of the good intentions of the current GPO administration, and regardless of the hopes of government information librarians, GPO cannot guarantee long-term free public access to government information on its own.

There are many reasons for this, but they all boil down to the simple fact that, when digital government information is controlled solely by the government that created it, it is only as secure as the next budget, the next change in policy, and the next change in administration. We have written about this repeatedly here at FGI and elsewhere for sixteen years, so we will not repeat all of those arguments (philosophical, technical, legal, economic, and professional) here today. (For those who wish to catch up, please see the FGI Library or the selected links below.)

GPO has come a long way since its first early attempts to deal with the shift from paper-and-ink publications to born-digital information. To its credit, GPO today emphasizes in its policies (including the new ones) its intent to preserve as much digital government information as it can through its own actions as government publisher, through harvesting agency content, and through partnerships with others. GPO has also wisely reversed an earlier policy and is now partnering with LOCKSS to create copies of FDsys in thirty-seven Federal depository libraries. Indeed, supporting the LOCKSS partnership which puts copies of FDSys/govinfo.gov in the hands of FDLP libraries is the most positive step GPO has taken. The LOCKSS archives are not, however, publicly available, so this is only a first step.

These are good intentions and positive steps. But we must ask: Are these steps sufficient? We must ask not only how good they will be if they succeed but how bad can the damage be if they fail? Can GPO really guarantee long-term free public access to government information?

The simple answer to these questions is: No, GPO cannot guarantee long-term free public access to digital government information. Why? First, regardless of its current intentions, GPO does not have a legislative mandate for long-term preservation. The wording of the law (44 USC 4101) does not mention long-term preservation or specify any limitations on what can be excluded or discarded or taken offline. It is limited to providing “online access to” and “an electronic storage facility for” two titles (the Congressional Record and the Federal Register). Everything else is at the discretion of the Superintendent of Documents. Previous SoDs have had completely different priorities and those bad policies could easily return. Federal agencies may request that GPO include agency information, but GPO is only obliged to do so “to the extent practicable.” This means that GPO’s commitment to long-term preservation is subject to changes in GPO administrations. Further, regardless of the intentions of even the most preservation-minded GPO administration, it can only do what Congress funds it to do and there are ongoing and repeated efforts to reduce GPO funding and privatize it.

Second, GPO does not have a legislative mandate to provide free public access. In fact, the law (44 USC 4102) explicitly authorizes GPO to charge reasonable fees for access. GPO’s current intentions are noble, but, alas, they lack the legislative and regulatory foundation necessary to provide guarantees.

So, even if GPO policies are successful in the short-term, the policies make the preservation and long-term free access ecosystem vulnerable to budget shortfalls and political influence because they are designed to consolidate GPO’s control of that information.

The shortcomings of such an approach have become more apparent to more people after the recent presidential election. Scientists, scholars, historians, news organizations, politicians, and even some government information librarians have announced their fears that government information is at risk of being altered, lost, or intentionally deleted because of drastic policy changes and leadership of the incoming presidential administration. (See a list of articles about this issue.)

To be clear, no one has suggested (yet) that information will be deleted from FDSys/govinfo.gov. And we are not predicting that the new President and his executive branch agencies will erase any valuable government information. We are simply saying that they have the authority to do so and, if we keep all our eggs in one GPO/government-agencies basket, they have the technical ability to do so. This is not a new problem. Agencies and politicians have a long history of attempting to privatize, withdraw, censor, and alter government information. Between 1981 until 1998, Anne Heanue and the fine folks at the Washington Office of the American Library Association (ALA) published an amazing series called Less Access to Less Information by and about the U.S. Government that chronicled such efforts to restrict access to government information.

What is new to this problem is the ability of a government that controls access to that information to remove access with the flick of a switch. Here at FGI we have written about this specific problem again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.

To make matters worse, by explicit intent and inevitable effect, the new GPO policies will further consolidate GPO power and control and further weaken every individual FDLP library and the FDLP system as a whole.


What can government information librarians do in 2017? How should we focus our resources and actions?

  • Monitor implementation of the Discard Policy. If successful, the new Regional Discard Policy (along with GPO’s National Plan and other policies) will, by design, further shift both access and preservation away from the FDLP into GPO. In addition, although the Policy claims that the digital surrogates it will rely on will be “complete and unaltered,” it lacks procedures to ensure this. At this point, the best we can do is hold GPO (and the Regionals that will be discarding documents) to their claims and not let the policy do even more harm than it is designed to do.
  • Participate in PEGI. A loose group of individuals and organizations met last Spring and Fall to organize an effort called Preservation of Electronic Government Information (PEGI). Watch for developments and opportunities to participate in actions developed by this group.
  • Support the EOT Crawl. 2016 will be the third national End of Term Crawl. The goal of the EOTs is to document the change in federal administrations by harvesting as much government information from .gov, .mil, and other domains before and after the inauguration. Follow their activities, contribute “seeds” and databases that need to be harvested, and promote their activities and visibility within your own communities.
  • Support changes to OMB A-130. The Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-130 lays out regulations for “Managing Information as a Strategic Resource.” The government policies that have done the most to affect preservation of information collected with government funding have been those that required “Data Management Plans” of those who get government research grants. These policies have prompted the creation of many new positions and programs to support data preservation in libraries. Oddly, there is no parallel regulation that requires government agencies to guarantee the preservation of the information they create. FGI recommended amending A-130 to require every government agency to have an “Information Management Plan” for the public information it acquires, assembles, creates, and disseminates. We will continue to push for this change. Watch for opportunities to support it.
  • Support changing SOD 301. GPO’s Dissemination/Distribution Policy for the Federal Depository Library Program (“SOD 301”) is the policy that allows GPO to deposit digital government information with FDLP libraries, but limits the deposit to only those “products” that are the least preservable and most difficult to access. This policy actively impedes preservation and access and is the policy that GPO uses to enforce its consolidation of power and control over digital government information within the scope of the FDLP. Demand that GPO change this policy to allow FDLP libraries to select and acquire all digital government information.
  • Support a truly digital FDLP. GPO’s policies since the mid-1990s have systematically minimized the participation of FDLP libraries in both preservation and access. At a time in which it is more obvious than ever that GPO needs legislatively mandated partners to guarantee long-term free public access to government information, support a truly digital, collaborative FDLP that uses new methods to support the traditional values of the FDLP.

GPO’s new policies 2016

  • SOD PPS 2016-1. Scope of Government Information Products Included in the Cataloging and Indexing Program and Disseminated Through the Federal Depository Library Program (Superintendent Of Documents Public Policy Statement 2016-1) (02/05/2008).
  • SOD PPS 2016-2. Content Scope for GPO’s System of Online Access (Superintendent Of Documents Public Policy Statement 2016-2) (03/29/2016).
  • SOD PPS 2016-3. (Regional Discard Policy) Government Publications Authorized for Discard by Regional Depository Libraries (Superintendent Of Documents Public Policy Statement 2016-3) (“SOD-PP-2016-3”) (May 31, 2016).
  • SOD PPS 2016-4. Permanent Public Access to U.S. Government Information through Preservation. Superintendent Of Documents Public Policy Statement 2016-4. (07/05/2016).
  • Collection Development Plan. U.S. Government Publishing Office. Office of the Superintendent of Documents. GPO’s System of Online Access Collection Development Plan. (September 30, 2016).
  • National Plan for Access to U.S. Government Information: A Framework for a User-centric Service Approach To Permanent Public Access. (February 2016).
  • Preservation Policy. Permanent Public Access to U.S. Government Information through Preservation Superintendent Of Documents Public Policy Statement 2016-4 (07/05/2016).
  • Articles

  • Azimuth Backup Project (December 16, 2016).
  • Blumenstyk, Goldie. 2016. Why a ‘Guerrilla Archiving’ Project Seeks to Preserve Climate Data Before Trump Takes Office. The Chronicle of Higher Education (Dec 15, 2016).
  • Climate Mirror an open project to mirror public climate datasets
  • Dennis, Brady. 2016. Scientists are frantically copying U.S. climate data, fearing it might vanish under Trump Washington Post (December 13, 2016).
  • DoE’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) shut down without comment. Data in preservation danger (October 9, 2016)
  • Gerstein, Josh. 2016. Fears rise of Trump-era ‘memory hole’ in federal data. Politico (12/13/16)
  • Holthaus, Eric. 2016. Why I’m trying to preserve federal climate data before Trump takes office Washington Post (December 13, 2016).
  • Issues & Advocacy Roundtable of the Society of American Archivists. 2016. What Can Archivists Do about Concerns Regarding Federal Climate and Environmental Data? (December 14, 2016)
  • Koebler, Jason. 2016. Researchers Are Preparing for Trump to Delete Government Science From the Web, Motherboard (December 13, 2016).
  • Lemery, Christopher P. WaPo Article about Climate Data Preservation govdoc-l (13 Dec 2016).
  • O’Brien, Kathleen. 2016. Guerrilla Archiving Event: Saving Environmental Data from Trump University of Toronto (Decembrer 12, 2016).
  • Sawers, Paul. 2016. The Internet Archive aims to preserve 100 terabytes of government website data… just in case. Venture Beat (December 15, 2016).
  • Tobias, Jimmy. 2017. As Trump Takes Power, Scientists Scramble to Secure Wildlife Data Pacific Standard (Jan 12, 2017).
  • Authors

    James A. Jacobs, UCSD
    James R. Jacobs, Stanford

    FGI Podcast: Building a Collaborative FDLP

    Today’s lunchtime listen is FGI’s first podcast(!), a conversation recorded on July 25, 2016, with James A. Jacobs, James R. Jacobs, and Shari Laster discussing “Building a Collaborative FDLP.” If you missed that post, here’s an excerpt:

    FDLP libraries can work together to provide, collectively, more than GPO — or any one library — can provide on its own. A collaborative FDLP is not one mega-library with one huge collection of only those documents that GPO can get. A collaborative FDLP consists of many curated collections that include Title 44 content, fugitive content (which GPO cannot force agencies to deposit), and non-Title-44 content that is out of GPO’s scope (e.g., FOIA’d documents, state/local/international government information, non-government information etc.). And each curated collection will have accompanying services tailored to that content for a community of users.

    In such a collective approach, every community has access to the content and services it needs and every library provides a small slice of all those customized collections and services. In this approach, each library’s local-institutional community benefits from the contributions of every library.

    This approach requires libraries to make one big change in the way they think of “communities.” In this approach, a “community” is a group of people who have common information needs — they need not live and work near any particular library or even near each other. In this approach every library focuses on one or more Designated Communities.1 In this approach every institution benefits from the collective work of all FDLP libraries rather than the individual work of only its own local-institutional library.

    This approach will result in an FDLP collection that is more complete than GPO can build and maintain on its own and more comprehensive than Title 44; it will have much better functionality, and it will be more secure for the long-term.

    Stream or download the podcast from the Internet Archive.

    Do you have ideas for more conversations and podcasts you’d like to hear? Please share your feedback in the comments!

    “Flexibility” and the collaborative FDLP

    There’s something that has been sticking in my craw for quite some time. That something is the term “flexibility” that has been used as a bludgeon by regional FDLP libraries to push the Government Publishing Office (GPO) to create its potentially disastrous regional discard policy. Over the last 5 years at least, some FDLP librarians — primarily those in Regional libraries — have argued that, because of dire space issues at their libraries, they need “flexibility” to manage their collections. In other words, they want to discard documents to gain floor space. Regionals have argued that Title 44 of the US Code, the underlying law of the FDLP, does not give them this “flexibility.”

    It’s always bothered me that this demand for “flexibility” has come from a few regionals but the policy change will affect the whole FDLP. When GPO asked regionals what they wanted to do, more than half of the 47 current Regionals said they wanted to retain their current tangible collections and sixty percent said they wanted to continue building their tangible collections. When, in the same survey, GPO asked which of 60 specific titles Regionals might want to discard, only two titles were selected by more than a third of regionals.

    So, if a few Regionals want to get rid of a few titles, why do we need a policy that turns the FDLP commitment to preservation upside down and encourages rather than prohibits discarding at all 47 Regionals?

    It seems to me that there are three problems with the argument that Regionals need “flexibility:”

    1. The FDLP system already has flexibility. There are two kinds of depository libraries: Regional libraries that are required to receive all publications that GPO distributes in order to ensure long term preservation and access to the entire FDLP corpus and support the work of Selective libraries in their state or area, and Selective libraries that tailor their collections to match their size and the needs of their local communities and which may withdraw documents they’ve selected after 5 years’ retention. It is the very rules that the Discard Policy circumvents (Title 44 and the The Federal Depository Library Handbook) that create and support the flexibility of the system as a whole. The retention requirement of regionals is the very reason that all selective FDLP libraries can discard and manage their collections “flexibly.”
    2. Flexibility is built into the FDLP. Indeed, the words “flexibility” and “flexible” are mentioned more than a dozen times in the FDLP Handbook. This new (mis)use of the term to mean only one thing — discarding paper copies by Regionals — is a red herring that implies that flexibility is needed (it is not) and does not exist (it does). If a few regionals need “flexibility” perhaps they should just become selectives.
    3. Giving Regionals the “flexibility” to discard parts of their collections actually reduces the flexibility of the system as a whole because it puts new burdens on the Selectives — thus reducing their flexibility.

    Is the current Regional/Selective FDLP system perfect? No, there’s lots more work to be done by all FDLP libraries to assure preservation of the historic national collection and better support the program, and more that GPO could do to support cataloging and curation of the national collection. But I really wonder if the FDLP even needs this new designation of “preservation stewards” brought about by the introduction of the Federal Information Preservation Network (FIPNet) and the Regional Discard Policy. We already have 47 of them in the form of Regional libraries! If a few regionals choose to become selectives, FDLP would still have all those other Regionals (maybe as many as 40?). And we would also have those few former-regionals that would probably maintain most if not all of their historic collections. This would be much better for preservation and better for users than these temporary preservation stewards.