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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.

Distributed Globally, Collected Locally: LOCKSS for Digital Government Information

Since Daniel mentioned yesterday about LOCKSS and digital deposit as recession insurance (which BTW is a GREAT oogly hook for open govt!!) I thought I’d mention a hot new article that Daniel and I wrote for the February 2009 issue of Against the Grain about the new U.S. Government Documents Private LOCKSS Network (citation below). The issue has not officially been released, but we got permission to post to FGI as a preprint.

The article describes the LOCKSS model of digital preservation and why that model is beneficial to apply to the realm of digital government information. We describe Carl Malamud‘s herculean efforts toward better access to government information; Then talk more specifically about the new USDOCS Private LOCKSS Network (USDocsPLN) using those documents harvested by Malamud. The paper concludes with a call to action.

Let us know what you think. and by all means, help us move forward with the USDocs network by participating. LOCKSS is great recession insurance and SO much more!

Citation: Distributed Globally, Collected Locally: LOCKSS for Digital Government Information. Daniel Cornwall and James R. Jacobs. Against the Grain, 21(1) February, 2009. p.42-44 (p.5-7 of the PDF)

The preservation of federal documents is too important to be left to the federal government alone; we have the makings of a viable system to preserve digital government publications. There are several ways you can help.

Join our private LOCKSS Network. Join the LOCKSS alliance, get a server for under $1,000, and contact us. The more servers in the USDocsPLN, the merrier.

Notify us of collections of electronic federal documents. LOCKSS staff can show you how easy it is to allow LOCKSS to ingest and preserve your materials.

Attack the root problem. Demanding your Members of Congress legislate and FUND a system that will ensure that GPO proactively deposits publications and data through the FDLP and other interested partners. While the USDocsPLN project is a good start and an excellent ad-hoc effort, it should be the government’s responsibility to put information in the hands of taxpayers. We should not have to be prying it out of the government’s hands. A distributed digital FDLP benefits everyone.

The Technical is Political

As much as we’d like to think that information policies are free from politics, it just isn’t true. It is not often that the press deals with how politics affects information policy, but it is increasingly easy for the press to deal with the issue when it comes to issues of technology. And so we have an article in this week’s Government Computer News:

Karrie Peterson and I wrote about this in some detail:

  • The Technical is Political by James A. Jacobs and Karrie Peterson, Of Significance… 3(1) 2001, p.25-35. Association of Public Data Users. (Full text PDF file)

In the realm of government information, technical decisions about data format, access software and public distribution methods are inherently political decisions. They affect what kind of data can be accessed, how, by whom, and for how long into the future it will be available. To evaluate and respond appropriately to policy changes by government producers of data, technical issues must also be looked at in the light of social values shared by the data-using community.

How does a newly decked-out data product fare with regard to open access? Privacy of individuals? Documentation that allows the data to be correctly cited, tested for reliability, re-used in the future? Social and political concerns also come into play when the flexibility offered by distributing raw data is balanced against locking the data into a “user-friendly” software, and when products traditionally produced by the federal government are privatized.

As private industry pushes harder for information to become a commodity – something that can be sold for profit – it is important for data users to push back with a strong philosophy of information as a social good, and to evaluate data products and access in light of their value to society, rather than on strictly narrow technical grounds.

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