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- Four easy steps to reporting “unreported” publications
- Strategies for finding “unreported” documents (more tips and tricks!)
- Historically “Unreported” materials of particular interest
- History of the problem
- Appendix: how to fill out the askGPO form
“Unreported” publications (which were, until recently, called “fugitive” publications) are those that are within scope of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) but for various reasons have slipped through the cracks and not been collected and cataloged by the Government Publishing Office (GPO), distributed to FDLP libraries, or included in the “National Collection” (See a partial list of historically “unreported” publications below).
We here at FGI consider “unreported” publications as the paramount problem facing the FDLP today. FDLP librarians, with their critical information skills and expertise about the structure and publishing activities of the federal government, are a vital piece of the solution to this vexing problem. The National Collection is at the core of what FDLP libraries have done for the last 200+ years, so “unreported” publications erode that very foundation. During the spring 2021 virtual Depository Library Conference, I challenged every FDLP librarian to search for, find, and report to GPO five “unreported” documents every month. I’d like to reiterate that challenge here on FGI. If every one of the 1100+ FDLP librarians were to find and report 5 documents each month, through this iterative process we’d soon put a dent in this existential “unreported” documents problem.
To that end, we’d like to share some simple steps for how to find and report “unreported” documents to GPO:
- find an interesting federal document or information product like a report, data set, video, or slide deck (see the “strategies” section below for tips and tricks for finding documents);
- Search the Catalog of Government Publications (CGP) to see if GPO has cataloged it;
- If it’s NOT in the CGP, go to askGPO and fill in the “unreported document” form. See appendix for how to fill out the askGPO form;
- Rinse and repeat!
- Read the news with an eye toward those news items and sources which cover federal policies; (See for example, https://federalnewsnetwork.com, https://www.govexec.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com, etc.)
- Set up Google search and news alerts for publications from your favorite agency(ies), especially the Inspector Generals’ offices of those agencies (Inspector General reports are an especially critical and long-standing type of “unreported” document! Only a portion are even posted publicly on Oversight.gov);
- Find and report documents you use to answer reference/research consultations;
- Bookmark and visit the publications- and/or press release page of your favorite agency(ies);
- Follow on social media your favorite agency(ies), heads of agencies, your state’s Congressional delegation, known people within the executive branch, and Federal watchdog groups. New publications are often announced on government social media accounts.
- Agency Inspector General reports;
- Executive branch agency publications. See the LostDocs project for examples of documents that have been reported to GPO;
- Communication/Letters from members of Congress to executive branch agencies;
- Communication/Letters from federal officials to a Presidential administration;
- Public datasets;
- Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports* (*CRS reports were, until 2018, considered “privileged communication” between Congress and the Library of Congress and were therefore never released via the FDLP. Here’s the back story).
Since 1813 when the FDLP started, there have always been “unreported” documents which slipped through the cracks and were lost to the sands of time (until very recently, these were termed “fugitive” documents) [Footnote 1]. This problem has grown exponentially as executive agencies’ publishing operations have exploded, now that they can easily and freely distribute content online, and very few if any of them follow Title 44 regulations and send their documents to GPO as they are required to by law. Only a minuscule fraction of born-digital executive branch information is cataloged in the Catalog of Government Publications (CGP) or makes it into the “National Collection.” This means that every year, thousands — if not hundreds of thousands! — of Federal documents, datasets, maps, and other born-digital materials [Footnote 2] — are never preserved and are lost to the fog of history as websites are updated and historical content removed [Footnote 3].
Depository librarians reporting found publications are a critical part of a holistic solution to the “unreported” documents problem. By identifying federal information resources that are important to their local constituents, librarians are making sure that these documents will be cataloged, captured, and made accessible to a wider audience. Reporting documents also adds to a National Collection pipeline for long-term access and helps to make sure that what is collected and preserved reflects the needs and interests of the wide-ranging communities and the public which libraries serve.
Many hands make light work. Won’t you join in the effort? Please contact us if you have questions or comments at freegovinfo AT gmail DOT com.
1. See “‘Issued for Gratuitous Distribution:’ The History of Fugitive Documents and the FDLP.” James R. Jacobs. Article in special issue of Against the Grain: “Ensuring Access to Government Information”, 29(6) December 2017/January 2018.
2. My back of the napkin estimate is that well over 1/2 of the “National Collection” is unreported! The executive branch is far and away the largest portion of the National Collection, and is almost completely “unreported.” See slide 5 of my 2018 Canadian Govinfo presentation for some context. Jim Jacobs’ chart cites the 2008 End of Term crawl for context on how many born-digital government publications are on the Web. The 2016 End of Term crawl nearly doubled the 2008 crawl and went from 160 million URLs to 310 million URLs harvested. I expect the 2020 End of Term crawl happening at the time of this post’s publication to far surpass 310 million!
3. FGI has written about “link rot,” “content drift,” and other issues which make it difficult to collect and preserve born-digital information.
The AskGPO form can be used for single documents or for reporting multiple documents, for example, those listed on an agency’s publications index page. See below for the steps to filling out the askGPO form. If a site is extremely large and/or complex (eg., the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reports site) send the URL and description of the site to the GPO Web archiving team at FDLPwebarchiving AT gpo DOT gov.
- Log in to ask.gpo.gov (This will automatically fill in your contact information and depository library number in the form if you have used the system before);
- Click on “Federal Depository Library Program”;
- Select category “Fugitive Publications” (which will soon be changed to “unreported publications”);
- Choose single publication or multiple publications (there’s an excel template if you prefer to collect multiple documents and submit them all at once!);
- Enter title, publishing agency, publication URL, format (other fields are not required). Use your best guess if you are not sure;
- Upload PDF file as attachment (not required but helpful for GPO staff to have the document “in hand” when cataloging);
- Add any additional context that you think may aid GPO staff;
- Do the reCAPTCHA “I’m not a robot” test;
- Submit the document(s)!