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A recent battle in the California Legislature over public records has a lesson for all of us who work with government information. A story in the Los Angeles Times sums up the issue exactly: “In the end it wasn’t really about public records or the people’s right to see them. It was about money.”
- Who pays for all those public records, By Robert Greene, Los Angeles Times (June 21, 2013).
[P]olicymakers will talk about which level of government can serve the public better. But they’ll really be talking, at least in part, about which level ought to pay for it.
Either way, the same taxpayers get the bill.
In the California case, the issue was over whether the state will pay the costs that cities, counties, school districts and other local governments incur in providing public access to their public records.
Regardless of the needs of the public, regardless of the intentions of individual government agencies, and regardless of the value of public records, in the end, whether or not the public will have long-term, free access to the records of its democratically elected governments is largely a question of who will pay.
We at FGI have covered this repeatedly. (See, for example: Privatization of GPO, Defunding of FDsys, and the Future of the FDLP, and GPO’s Budget and Priorities, and Impact of the Sequester on GPO, and GPO Response to NAPA Report’s Recommendation to Charge for FDsys access, and The Technical is Political.)
The lesson for us remains the same: To ensure against loss or corruption of government information, we need more than one copy, more than one technology, more than one constituency, more than one budget. Libraries play an essential complementary role to governments that produce the information. Libraries focus on user communities and use of information whereas governments focus on the producers and the production of information. We need both and that means libraries must select, acquire, organize, and preserve government information and provide access to and services for that information. Otherwise, a government budget cut at one level will result in loss of that information.