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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).
Maybe when/if the government opens again, we should scrape the NIST and CSRC websites, put all those publications somewhere public. It’s worrying that *every single US cryptography standard* is now unavailable to practitioners.
— Matthew Green (@matthew_d_green) January 12, 2019
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.
James A. Jacobs, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Stanford University
The Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress conducted a survey for GPO and its report is now available.
- Disseminating and Preserving Digital Public Information Products Created by the U.S. Federal Government: A Case Study Report. Library of Congress. Federal Research Division. (Prepared under an Interagency Agreement with the Library Services and Content Management Directorate, U.S. Government Publishing Office). Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, August 2018.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
Compare this to the report’s enumeration of the extent of government web presence:
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."
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.)
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.
Please join the PEGI Project for their May webinar. There’s a great list of speakers who will be talking about various efforts and projects to identify, collect, and preserve born-digital government information. Please RSVP and forward on to any of your colleagues and networks who may be interested. See you there!
Please join the PEGI project for a webinar on Monday, May 14th, 2018 at 12:00pm EDT to hear directly from trailblazing organizations about projects underway to identify, collect, and preserve born-digital government information. Leading figures from these organizations will be on hand to discuss the advocacy and coordination necessary to make an impact, and they can answer your questions about more ways to contribute to national efforts at a local level.
To hear about the current state of preservation efforts and contribute your ideas and priorities, please RSVP at the following link: http://bit.ly/PEGIMayWebinarRSVP.
Heather Joseph, Executive Director, SPARC
Brandon Locke, Director of LEADR at Michigan State University & Founder & co-organizer of Endangered Data Week
Rachel Mattson, Curator of the Tretter Collection for GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota Libraries & Founder/co-leader of the Digital Library Federation’s interest group on Government Records Transparency & Accountability
Bernard F. Reilly, President, Center for Research Libraries
Justin Schell, Director, Shapiro Design Lab & Member of EDGI (Environmental Data & Governance Initiative)
Bethany Wiggin, Founding Director, Penn Program in Environmental Humanities (PPEH)
Shari Laster, PEGI Project Steering Committee
If you have any questions or comments, please direct them to [email protected]
I had the distinct honor to be invited to give the keynote last week at the 20th anniversary of Canadian Govinfo Day held at Simon Fraser University in beautiful downtown Vancouver, BC. It was 2 days of a program chock full of a workshop, updates from Canadian and provincial government information providers, other presentations and roundtable discussions.
There were two presentations of note:
- Melissa Adams, a Librarian and Archivist at the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, gave a presentation on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report which included a good discussion on what libraries and archives were doing in response to the report; and
- Carla Graebner gave a heartfelt presentation honoring several Canadian leaders in improving access to government information:
- Percilla Groves (SFU Library, retired)
- Nancy Hannum (BC Legal Services Society, retired)
- Gay Lepkey (Depository Services Program Canada, retired)
It was so nice to hear about, and then hear from, these librarians and their tireless efforts at providing access to government information. Kudos to Percilla, Nancy, and Gay for professional lives well led!
My talk was entitled, “The State of US Government Information: Toward a Sustainable Ecosystem.” If you click on the gear at the bottom or the slides, you can open the speaker notes. Alternatively — and for when google slides inevitably goes away! — you can download my slides and presenter notes (and just an aside, the cute baby seal was a last minute addition based on Carla Graebner’s offhand comment along the lines that “government information is not the cute baby seal of the library world” 🙂 ).
The long and short of my talk was that I argued that we need to build a government information ecosystem (see image below). This ecosystem needs to deal with the five petals of publishing output, collections/curation, preservation, metadata/description, and access and be publicly controlled and funded, collaborative, interoperable, and sustainable, and be built on open standards like OAIS, with version control and links resolving. Perhaps most importantly, it must be based on public policy which requires .gov entities to produce open, findable, collectible, re-usable information.
This ecosystem must include well-curated archives of interconnected, well-described, preservable govt content in re-usable formats, have a ubiquitous metadata layer that can be shared among and between archives, search engines, and the public, and allow libraries to build discovery layers that contain .gov and non-governmental materials (ie books etc) for their designated communities, either ongoing or on the fly. The big thing in libraries these days is “service,” but, as I have argued many times, a library can’t build services without collections, and these well-curated archives form the basis of library services going forward, not just for .gov content but across the library.
We’re moving in the right direction, but more work is needed to make the government information ecosystem a reality. Onward!