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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.

Won’t Get Fooled Again: Day 14

The Obama administration is well into the civic wilderness of administration at the national level. Several nominations have faltered and failed. The extremely critical , and massive, economic recovery legislation is wallowing in the half-century
long trench philosophical warfare between democrats and republicans. Obama attempts to include the republicans in the discussion, they continue to hold their approval. So far the age of bipartisan tranquility is still aborning. Though the election in November clearly pointed the way to a desired change, our political parties do not want to follow the suggestion.

While the quick cannon shot of opportunity fades with time, the Government Printing Office announced today the first public release of FDsys. Described as

“a one-stop site to authentic, published government information. FDsys allows GPO to receive information from federal agencies in all three branches of government and create a repository for permanent, public access. More than 154,000 documents are currently accessible, with additional documents being added daily. FDsys offers incredible search capabilities for users such as: searching by Congressional Committee, a Member of Congress, keyword and date. FDsys will replace GPOAccess in mid-2009 and releases with additional functionality will occur throughout the next several years.”

The upshot for this small milestone on the journey to ALA’s summer conference — the more things change, the more they stay the same. We have our work cut out for us. While the GPO continues to evolve in many good ways, and while we have a President whose rhetoric and policy perspective mirrors our own civic sensibilities, we should not be too surprised by the staying power of partisan muck to gum up the civic machinery of hope and change.

See you on Day 15.

Won’t Get Fooled Again: Day 9

One of the future problems for a proactive system of depository libraries is to wrestle with the shift from a model based passive receipt of material sent from a central public authority (regardless of the format)to one where the art of collections and service are more directed and determined by a deliberative plan by the local institution.

It always struck me that the model the depository library program should consider is one that uses a coordinated approach and use of the Freedom of Information Act to pry information from the federal government (or the various state governments, for that matter.) In one of my thought experiments I try to imagine a depository library program based on this mechanism of information release — how would it be different from the century old traditions of our current depository program?

The National Security Archives release of its basic FOIA handbook just might move this speculation to reality…if a few libraries are will to pull together.

See you on Day 10

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.