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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.

Could Pass-The-Hat Kill Open Government?

Could Pass-The-Hat Kill Open Government?, By Joseph Marks, NextGov (05/18/11).

With the E-Gov fund, which paid for open government websites such as data.gov and usaspending.gov, severely trimmed and unlikely to be restored, the open government group OMB Watch speculated in an article Wednesday that those sites may have to turn to the so-called pass-the-hat funding model to stay in business.

The Trouble with the “Pass-the-Hat” Funding Model for Government Technology Projects, OMB Watch (May 17, 2011).

Rather than using funding expressly designated by Congress, a project under a pass-the-hat model is funded by contributions from other purpose accounts of multiple agencies, frequently prorated based on agency size or use. This model is different from “fee for service,” which also involves agency payments but is usually in return for specific services, such as payroll.

Maryland initiates New Funding Accountability website

The state of Maryland has initiated the new Maryland Funding Accountability website that “allows citizens of Maryland and visitors to search and view summary information on payments made to vendors that received $25,000 or more for the respective fiscal year.” Using this new website, the public can view how their tax money is being spent by the government. At present, information is available only for the 2008 fiscal year. Governor Martin O’Malley stated that the main objective in creating the website was to promote government accountability and transparency.

Funding Collections and Services in the Public Interest

Do you ever worry about funding for your library? Have you ever thought about how to get a grant to help your library? Do you wonder about how you might attract grant funding to a library in the age of Google and the Web?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, I recommend the article Digital Infrastructure and Public Interest by Vince Stehle, in Grantmakers in the Arts Reader, Fall 2008.

(I posted a link to this article a few days ago but, after John referred to it in his 66 Days to Government Information Liberation post, I wanted to follow up a bit and mention why I think the Stehle article is important for libraries. This also gives me an opportunity to contribute some more to the excellent discussion that John is facilitating about Government Information Liberation.)

Stehle is a program director at the Surdna Foundation, which makes grants in the areas of environment, community revitalization, effective citizenry, the arts, and the nonprofit sector, and he was writing for Grantmakers in the Arts Reader. In addressing his audience of grantmakers, foundations, and people who support non-profits he says that there is an opportunity and even “an imperative” for foundations to support non-commercial work and help build “a public interest infrastructure” that will “promote the free exchange of knowledge over the Internet.”

In specifically emphasizing the need for non-commercial support he says that we cannot rely on the private sector to operate in the broad public interest except as that interest translates into profit:

“While there are billions of dollars in Silicon Valley venture firms seeking to invest in the next Google, Facebook, or YouTube, there is no equivalent capital pool available for investment in the expansion of social enterprises operating in the public interest.”

We often make that point here at FGI and extend it to those in government who see their information content as an “asset” and a source of needed dollars and not as a public good that should be in the public domain, freely and openly available for use and reuse. As Stehle says:

“So the real challenge is for grantmakers to figure out how to effectively identify, vet, and support promising new media and information services that put the public interest before commercial profits.” [emphasis added]

I believe we in libraries should listen to Stehle’s message and think about what it means for grant support for libraries. After all, most (all?) libraries are non-profits, and so many of our best libraries (and certainly our FDLP libraries) explicitly support the public interest, and libraries need funding to do their work.

To put this in a library context, I think we need to think about what libraries have to offer that other institutions and grant seekers do not. As I mentioned in an earlier post, libraries — because of their values of free, equitable, open public access to information — are better positioned than anyone else to seek and get funding for those very kinds of activities that Stehle describes.

But, how do we differentiate libraries from others? What are our unique roles? Many libraries are struggling to define their roles and purposes in society. John picks up on this and says that Stehle is one of those who “argue from the perspective, the library/web morphing together into some kind of global resource is a done deal.” (I disagree with John on this; I don’t see where Stehle says this or anything like it.)

John seems to be saying (correct me if I am wrong) that the center of libraries’ responsibilities has shifted because there are new distribution mechanisms and because we have new abilities to make better use of information. He says that it (the role of libraries?) “is something no longer centered on possession and/or control….”

I think this is a grave mistake. While I agree strongly with John that libraries can and should use technology to “knit together the medium of governance (politics, policy, law, and programs) with how our communities use the civic message to inform their daily lives,” I also believe that possession and control of information is an essential, primary role for libraries. If we do not possess copies of information and control where it is and control its very existence (keep it from disappearing or being altered or lost), we cannot do the exciting mashups that we want to do.

I also think that, while libraries can and should use technology to “knit” and “weave” information from a lot of different sources (see: collections, services, and “mini-libarians”), I don’t think that this is a unique role for libraries — nor should it be. What libraries can do that is unique, though, is select, acquire, organize, and preserve information and ensure that our services for that information make it possible for others to do their own “knitting and weaving.”

In short, libraries can make the case that one of their roles in society is to maintain digital collections that others can use and reuse and mix and mashup. We can make the case that society will lose information if it relies only on information-producers to preserve information for the long term and we can argue that society will lose free, open access if we rely on those who see their “content” as an “asset.” We can make the case that libraries are non-profit, public-interest organizations that will guarantee long term preservation and free access to information. We can argue that if the information is not preserved, there will be nothing to share and knit and mash-up. We can argue that libraries facilitate information use and reuse.

But, don’t take my word for it. Re-read the excellent article Managing Digital Assets in Higher Education: An Overview of Strategic Issues by Donald J. Waters from 2005 (or my brief summary and comment of it). Or read the paper that Stehle refers to, Sustainable Public Media Infrastructure which describes non-profit organizations that are creating permanent, sustainable public knowledge and communications infrastructure that is designed for public benefit. Then reflect on the primary, central importance of permanent digital collections in libraries.

Digital Infrastructure and Public Interest

Kevin Taglang tracked down (BENTON’S COMMUNICATIONS-RELATED HEADLINES for SATURDAY NOVEMBER 15, 2008) this little gem, which I highly recommend. Thanks Kevin!

“What is the best way to promote a vibrant and diverse exchange of educational information, cultural expression, and political discourse over the Internet? What type of service—commercial enterprise, government agency, or non-commercial organization—can be counted on to insure that quality and diversity are reflected prominently? Recent experience suggests that a new type of hybrid organization, driven by a strong non-commercial mission but operating with success in the consumer marketplace, may offer the optimal balance of financial sustainability and commitment to the public interest.”

Hmmm… a new type of hybrid organization…. non-commerical…. commitment to the public interest…? Hmmm… Ok, say it loud and say it proud! “The Library”

BPE 2007 – It’s not about you – Jeff Hatch-Miller

We had a double keynote at Best Practices Exchange 2007: Former legislator and current Arizona Corporation Commissioner Jeff Hatch-Miller and Internet Archive Founder Brewster Kahle.

Both gave such good presentations that they deserve separate blog entries. This is Jeff’s.

Jeff Hatch-Miller was an engaging speaker who was invited to help us figure out to build support for our various state initiatives. His experience as a legislator provided an insider’s perspective. His talk centered on three themes:

  1. Getting noticed – in a good way
  2. Getting Legislative attention
  3. Getting into the “recommended budget”

My notes aren’t complete enough for a section-by-section recitation of Jeff’s points, so here are some impressions:

Jeff started his talk by reading us mission statements from three organizations. He wanted us to pick out the one that best described “who they are and what they do.” The only one that stuck with me was the one chosen by the audience “At Sheldon Clinic, we give people back the use of their hands.” Jeff told us that we have to be that clear about who we are and what we do because there are MANY agencies and organizations doing quite good work competing for legislative time and attention.

Another statement that really resonated with me and the rest of the group was Jeff’s statement (paraphrased) – “It’s not about you. People give to you because you MEET needs, not because you have them.” He also said it was more important to communicate the “why” rather than the “what”. Funding is about relationships, which you need to build while being subtle.

A major tip for getting favorable attention is relating yourself to K-12 education. How can your collections relate to k-12? Are there stories about students and teachers using your resources and services that you can pass along to your funding authority?

Programs tend to be part of yearly recommended budgets if they have constitutional or statutory authority behind them. Some funding efforts can take years. It’s important to visit legislators in their home districts for relationship building, which is hard to do in the pressure cooker of a legislative session.

Finally, never ever burn bridges. Your enemy today maybe the ally you need tomorrow.

If you are organizaing a conference that needs a speaker to talk about raising money from legislative bodies, I highly recommend Commissioner Jeff Hatch-Miller. He can be reached through his web page at http://www.azcc.gov/commissioners/hatch-miller/index.htm.