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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.

“New Congress New Legislation.” Hoduski outlines next steps for FDLP legislation

Our pal Bernadine Abbott Hoduski, long-time FDLP advocate extraordinaire, writes a regular column covering lobbying and government information in the U*n*a*b*a*s*h*e*d Librarian newsletter. Her latest, titled “New Congress New Legislation,” describes the undoing of the “FDLP Modernization Act of 2018″ (H. R. 5305) in the 115th Congress and proposes a new, very targeted bill for this Congress. We agree with her that a short targeted bill is more likely to pass. We thought her recommendations for what the FDLP community should focus on for legislation to update the FDLP were just the right target. If you agree, please contact your representative, *especially* if that representative is on the Committee on House Administration (we’re looking at you CA, IL, MD, NC, GA!).

She and U*n*a*b*a*s*h*e*d publisher Mitch Freedman have kindly agreed to let us “reprint” Bernadine’s piece in its entirety on FGI. Please consider subscribing to U*n*a*b*a*s*h*e*d. It’s a practical and valuable newsletter on all things library-related.

Unabashed Librarian 190 New Congress New Legislation

With Democrats taking over control of the House of Representatives we have a new Congress. We also have many new members who know little about laws that support and fund library programs. The American Library Association in order to quickly educate the members about the library community’s priorities has switched from promoting petitions to organizing grass roots lobbying. Instead of the traditional legislative day in DC in May, ALA brought librarians to the Hill in February to talk to members about the library communities priorities for the next 2 years.

ALA is rejoicing that five bills supported by the library community became law during the 115th Congress. Two of those bills were supported for years by the ALA Government Documents Round Table. They are a law requiring LC to provide on line free access to the Congressional Research Office reports and a law promoting open access to government electronic data.

I am relieved that the “FDLP Modernization Act of 2018″ (H. R. 5305) did not pass because it was overly broad, poorly written, and used language that could be interpreted to harm the mission of the federal depository library program. As a former Congressional legislative staffer I learned from Representative Charlie Rose, former chair of the Joint Committee on Printing and the Committee on House Administration, that a smaller and more targeted bill is more likely to pass. A good example is the “GPO Access Act of 1993″, which was introduced by Representative Rose, and Senators Ford and Stevens. That law transformed the depository library program bringing thousands of digital publications and data bases into the program.

I urge the library community to zero in on the issues most important to the survival of the federal depository library program and propose a very targeted bill. Those issues include:

  1. Revise the definition of Government Publication in USC Title 44 to include publications in multiple formats, including paper, fiche, and digital. Keep the term Government Publication because it is term used by publishers, printers, librarians, and library users.
  2. Restructure the federal depository library program to allow regional and selective depository libraries to co-operatively share the task of acquiring, cataloging, and preserving government publications in multiple formats.
  3. Ask Congress to authorize the Government Publishing Office to provide money to libraries that agree to preserve government publications.
  4. Ask Congress to direct the GPO, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives to conduct an inventory of government publications held in those agencies and in the depository libraries so the community can easily identify which publications are in danger of disappearing.

Do not wait for the Committee on House Administration to re-introduce a flawed bill. Develop a bill, which includes the most urgent of solutions to improve the current depository program and take it to the Congress, just as librarians did with the “GPO Access Act”.

Bernadine Abbott Hoduski, Congressional Joint Committee on Printing Professional Staff Member (retired), former depository librarian, and author of “Lobbying for Libraries and the Public’s Access to Government Information,” Rowman Publishing.

Digital Deposit, Good for All: Vision, Myths, Reality

As many of our readers know, Depository Library Council (DLC) recommended the creation of a working group to explore digital deposit and there was a session on digital deposit at the 2019 Spring Virtual Meeting of the DLC:

Digital deposit should be part of FDLP for the same reasons paper deposit has been for two hundred years: it guarantees preservation of the information and provides services to users of that information. Discusions of digital deposit, therefore, should focus on preservation and users and the technologies that can enable the best digital services.

Preservation

We’ve come a long way on preservation. GPO has (more…)

Government shutdown causing information access problems

Twitter and newspapers are buzzing with complaints about widespread problems with access to government information and data (see for example, Wall Street Journal (paywall 😐 ), ZDNet News, Pew Center, Washington Post, Scientific American, TheVerge, and FedScoop to name but a few).

Matthew Green, a professor at Johns Hopkins, said “It’s worrying that every single US cryptography standard is now unavailable to practitioners.” He was responding to the fact that he could not get the documents he needed from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) or its branch, the Computer Security Resource Center (CSRC). The government shutdown is the direct cause of these problems.

Others who noticed the same problem started chiming in to the discussion Green started, noting that they couldn’t find the standards they needed in Google’s cache or the Wayback machine, either. Someone else suggested that “Such documents should be distributed to multiple free and public repositories” and said that “These documents are “Too important to have subject to a single point of failure.” Someone else said that he downloads personal copies of the documents he needs every month, but had missed one that he uses “somewhat often.” One lone voice wondered about “Federal Depository Libraries, of which I believe there is at least one in every state.” (James responded to that one, letting people know about the FDLP and End of Term crawl!)

There are at least two reasons why users cannot get the documents they need from government servers during the shutdown. In some cases, agencies have apparently shut off access to their documents. (This is the case for both NIST and CSRC.) In other cases, the security certificates of websites have expired — with no agency employees to renew them! — leaving whole websites either insecure or unavailable or both.

Regardless of who you (or your user communities) blame for the shutdown itself, this loss of access was entirely foreseeable and avoidable. It was foreseeable because it has happened before. It was avoidable because libraries can select, acquire, organize, and preserve these documents and provide access to them and services for them whether the government is open or shut-down.

Some libraries probably do have some of these documents. But too many libraries have chosen to adopt a new model of “services without collections.” GPO proudly promotes this model as “All or Mostly Online Federal Depository Libraries.” GPO itself is affected by this model. Almost 20% of the PURLs in CGP point to content on non-GPO government servers. So, even though GPO’s govinfo database and catalog of government publications (CGP) may still be up and running, during the shut-down GPO cannot ensure that all its “Permanent URLs” (PURLs) will work.

This no-collections-model means that libraries are too often choosing simply to point to collections over which they have no control — and we’ve known what happens “When we depend on pointing instead of collecting” for quite some time. When those collections go offline and users lose access, users begin to wonder why someone hasn’t foreseen this problem and put “all those publications somewhere public.”

The gap between what libraries could do to prevent the kind of loss of access the shutdown is causing and what they are doing is particularly notorious in the area of government information. Most federal government information is in the public domain and is available without technical or copyright restrictions or fees. There is nothing preventing libraries from building collections to support users except the will to do so.

Many library administrators are eager to proclaim that pointing to collections they do not control is the new role of libraries in the digital age. Those who promote this new model of services without collections then struggle to demonstrate the value of libraries to their user communities. This is difficult when those communities go directly to collections of information, bypassing libraries and, perhaps, wondering why libraries still exist at all.

This represents a failure by libraries to fulfill their role in society and in the digital information ecosystem.

When the shutdown ends, access will, presumably, be restored. In the wake of the many other problems caused by the shutdown (many of them immediate and even dangerous), this temporary loss of access to some government information may not seem pressing. But librarians should see this as another wake-up call. Hopefully, Depository Library Council’s recent recommendation regarding digital deposit will answer that call. Libraries should not focus on bemoaning the short-term problem. We should, instead, focus on making the next crisis impossible. We can do this by focusing on the long-term problems of digital collection development, preservation and access. The current crisis may be temporary, but when we rely only on the government to provide access to these important resources, access will remain vulnerable to the next crisis or misstep or conscious decision to cut off access. We need to recognize that government agencies do not always have the same priorities as our users.

Today, libraries cannot ensure long-term access to government information because they do not control it. But, if libraries select, acquire, organize, and preserve the government information that is vital to their user communities, then they can ensure long-term access to it. You will not have to persuade your users of the value of your library when you do what they value.

Authors:
James A. Jacobs, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Stanford University

New Report on Disseminating and Preserving Digital Government Information

The Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress conducted a survey for GPO and its report is now available.

Although FRD only interviewed 12 agencies, the report is packed with interesting tables and facts and references. It should be required reading for government information professionals.

Dissemination

The findings with regard to disseminating public information will not surprise you, but they do document what we know:

  • Government "publishing" no longer provides a linear path from a central agency communications office to GPO to FDLP libraries.

  • Despite statutory mandates and Federal information policies, fugitive documents are a huge problem, with FDLP missing 50 to 85 per cent of them.

  • Agencies indicated they have limited knowledge of the Title 44’s applicability to providing digital information to GPO and FDLP.

That leads to one finding that is a doozy:

  • GPO’s reporting mechanism for digital content, the Document Discovery submission form, relies on voluntary manual entry — a method that is not easily scalable and lacks accountability.

Preservation

With regards to preservation:

  • Several agencies reported submitting static copies of the agency website to NARA. But the report notes that this does not meet the requirements established by Title 44 of the U.S. Code to make their publications accessible to the public and the FDLP on a permanent basis.

  • Most of the agencies maintain an online archive of older website content but each agency uses its own approach to this. "Some retain older content on the main website, some designate a separate archival page for older content from across the agency, and some maintain multiple archives for different types of content. Each agency also applies its own standard for how far back in time the archives go. Some retain decades-old content, while others retain content from only the past few years."

  • GPO has used the subscription-based web harvesting tool Archive-It since 2011 to capture, catalog, and provide access to the Federal digital landscape, including websites, blogs, and social media feeds. The FDLP Web Archive holds approximately 145 agency collections, encompassing 1,600 websites.

  • Compare this to the report’s enumeration of the extent of government web presence:

    • 1,316 top-level.gov domains.
    • 2,297 two-level .gov
    • 627,478 three-level .gov domains.
    • 203 two-level .mil domains
    • 181,244 three-level .mil domains.
    • 6,000 websites containing 32 million webpages and a total of 12 terabytes of data.
    • 265,000 datasets

Recommended Actions:

The report recommends that GPO continue — and “where possible” — expand its direct outreach to agencies. Some other recommendations:

  • GPO should consider developing an automated or semi-automated notification system for Federal agency product releases to replace its manual Document Discovery submission form.

  • OMB should release "a detailed memorandum on the FDLP provisions in Title 44." It also notes that "The OSTP memorandum on federally funded research might be considered an appropriate model for such a directive."

FDLP Libraries

Although the report was not designed to recommend actions by FDLP libraries, it does provide some information that could help FDLP direct its activities.

  • Concentrate on Designated Communities. The report reminds us also that "agencies serve the information needs of specialized audiences" as well as the general public and "tailor many of their products to customers in specific fields or sectors of the U.S. economy, including financial and industry analysts; lawyers; medical professionals; scientists; publishers, academic educators and researchers; and natural resources managers." As FDLP libraries develop their own digital collections, they could focus on specific communities based on subject, discipline, and how they use information. Libraries could build collections of such information from many agencies making the information easier for the communities to discover, identify, and use the information they need. Concentration on Designated Communities also helps libraries identify OAIS-compliant preservation plans.

  • Work with agencies. Librarians who have good contacts with agencies should promote GPO and FDLP to those agencies to help GPO’s outreach program.

  • Lobby for Legislation and Policies. Librarians should lobby for the best possible version of a revised Title 44 and for changes to OMB A-130 that will require agencies to provide digital information to GPO and FDLP.

(For more on these actions, see our recent post: Preserving What’s Gone — The Healthcare Guidelines Case.)

 

CBO scores FDLP Modernization Act

the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released its scoring or cost estimate of H.R. 5305, FDLP Modernization Act of 2018. CBO is required by law to provide a formal cost estimate for nearly every bill approved by Congressional committees to show how the bill would affect the Federal budget over the next five to 10 years, compared with what future spending or revenues would be under the current law.

CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 5305 would cost $13 million over the 2019-2023 period, assuming appropriation of the necessary funds. Further, CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 5305 would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2029. The complete scoring report is available on FDLP.gov.

H.R. 5305 would amend the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), the part of the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) that provides government publications to the public at no cost. Specifically, H.R. 5305 would ensure the continued availability of no-cost public access to government information in various formats, reform and modernize the FDLP, and authorize the activities of the Superintendent of Documents.

CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 5305 would cost $13 million over the 2019-2023 period, assuming appropriation of the necessary funds.

Enacting H.R. 5305 could affect direct spending by agencies that use fees, receipts from the sale of goods, and other collections to cover operating costs. The bill also could affect direct spending by allowing GPO to accept and retain gifts. Therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures apply. Because most of the affected agencies can adjust the amounts collected as their operating costs change, CBO estimates that any net changes in direct spending by agencies would be insignificant. CBO expects that gifts to GPO would be nonmonetary and thus have no effect on the budget. Enacting the bill would not affect revenues.

CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 5305 would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2029.

H.R. 5305 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act.

via H.R. 5305, FDLP Modernization Act of 2018 | Congressional Budget Office.

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