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I’m still giddy that CRS reports will soon be made public! The Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) of the American Library Association just wrote a letter to the Congressional Transparency Caucus thanking them for their ongoing efforts to make Congressional Research Service reports publicly available.
This comes at an especially opportune time because critics worry that Library of Congress isn’t delivering on the goods. My hope is that this public letter from a large library association, because it’s cc’d to Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden among others, will put a public spotlight on LC and maybe get them to fully deliver all CRS reports in a timely and cost-effective manner.
On behalf of the American Library Association (ALA)’s Government Documents Round Table (GODORT), I am writing to express our gratitude for the Congressional Transparency Caucus’s leadership in ensuring the public availability of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports; and to encourage the Caucus’s continued leadership in ensuring these reports are made available in a timely fashion.
The Congressional Research Service, informally known as the “think tank” of Congress, was founded in 1914. But until now, there has been no systematic, comprehensive, official source that provides all Americans equal access to their reports, even though they have been routinely released to the public by Members of Congress, made available through non-profit websites like EveryCRSReport.com and the Federation of American Scientists, and sold by commercial publishers.
Reports from the CRS are well researched and balanced documents, addressing a wide variety of current issues of importance to the American public. As such, the American Library Association-along with many other library- and open government organizations, grassroots efforts, and individual citizens-has long advocated that they be made public and distributed
through libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), administered by the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO).
The first bills regarding public online access to CRS reports arose in the 105th Congress (1997-1998): S. 1578 was introduced by Sens. McCain (R-AZ) and Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate, and H.R. 3131 was introduced by Reps. Chris Shays (R-CT) and David Price (D-NC) in the House. Though these efforts were unsuccessful, the determination to make CRS reports public never wavered. With the passage of the 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act, CRS reports will now be accessible to the American public. The Library of Congress will begin publishing nonconfidential, non-partisan reports on a publicly accessible Congressional website starting in September 2018. Once these reports are fully available, this achievement will positively contribute to the democratic process and inform citizens of the wide variety of issues before Congress.
GODORT would like to sincerely thank you and your staff for over two decades of hard work and dedication to making public access to CRS reports a reality.
Chair, Government Documents Round Table
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden
CRS Director Mary Mazanec
Steven Aftergood, American Federation of Scientists
Daniel Schuman, DemandProgress
Kevin Kosar, R Street Institute
Josh Tauberer, GovTrack.US
Bernadine Abbott Hoduski, the grande dame of government documents — she’s got a GODORT award named after her for gosh sakes! — sent me this announcement. The Montana library Association, at its annual membership meeting in March, 2017, passed a packet of resolutions including their Resolution on Funding the Preservation of Federal Government Publications (text below). The resolution calls on the US Congress to “fully fund preservation of Federal government publications housed in federal depository libraries.”
The resolution has been sent to Montana’s US Senator Jon Tester, who happens to sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Please consider taking this text and passing the resolution at other state library associations, especially if your state’s senator sits on the Appropriations Committee. I’ve sent the text of this resolution to CA Senator Diane Feinstein.
Thanks bernadine for all your hard work on this and through the many years!
Resolution on Funding the Preservation of Federal Government Publications
Whereas, Democracy depends upon the public’s access to information from and about the United States federal government; and
Whereas, to preserve the historic record of our country, the United States Congress established a distributed system of Federal depository libraries to safeguard government information from dangers ranging from bit-rot to fire; and
Whereas, the United States Federal depository libraries provide public access to federal government publications and information without charge; and
Whereas, Federal depository libraries spend millions of dollars collecting, housing, cataloging, and providing public access to federal government information, and
Whereas, Federal depository libraries lack enough money to preserve millions of federal government publications in paper, microform, and digital formats; and
Whereas, the U. S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) established FIPNet (Federal Information Preservation Network) as part of the “National Plan for Access to U. S. Government Information” – a strategy for a collaborative network of information professionals working in various partner roles to ensure access to the national collection of government information for future generations. FIPNet contributes to the preservation of both tangible and digital government information, and elevates the public awareness and prestige of local initiatives, specific collections of government information, and the institutions and agencies that have stewardship over them; and
Whereas, GPO is not authorized to provide funding directly to depository libraries that agree to preserve federal government publications; and
Whereas, the United States Congress can authorize GPO to provide funding to depository libraries; and Whereas, GPO needs additional funding and staff to provide on-site support for libraries in the building of an inventory and catalog of all their federal government publications in order to plan for preservation;
Therefore, be it resolved that:
The Montana Library Association urges the U. S. Congress to fully fund preservation of Federal government publications housed in federal depository libraries; and
The Montana Library Association urges the U. S. Congress to authorize the U. S. Government Publishing Office to provide funds directly to libraries for the preservation of the federal government publications (paper, microform, and digital) housed in their libraries; and
The Montana Library Association urges Congress to provide funding to the Superintendent of Documents (GPO) so agency librarians can travel to depository libraries to advise librarians in preservation activities, including inventorying, cataloging, and planning for preservation of government publications.
Adopted by the Montana Library Association Membership March 31, 2017
On behalf of the 40 volunteers who made it possible, I (Daniel) am pleased to announce that all content with working links from the State Agency Databases Project has been moved from the GODORT Wiki to GODORT LibGuides. See http://godort.libguides.com/statedatabases for lists of agency produced databases from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Questions about a particular page should be directed to the documents specialist in charge of that page. Use the “e-mail me” link on the page to contact them.
One of the benefits of moving to LibGuides is the capability to create self-updating subject guides – that is, whenever a volunteer updates a link on their state guide, the link in the subject guide changes automatically.
The following 50-State (Plus DC) subject guides are now fully functional:
Broad Subject Guides
Single Subject Guides
Rare & Endangered Government Publications committee (REGP) panel discussion at ALA Annual: GPO’s National Plan for Access to U.S. Govt Information
At the 2016 ALA Annual Conference, held in Orlando in late June, GODORT’s Rare & Endangered Government Publications committee hosted a panel discussion about GPO’s National Plan for Access to U.S. Government Information. The discussion responded to four questions:
- How can depositories ensure preservation of their tangible collections while still providing access for users?<
- What do you see as one pro and one con of GPO’s new Regional Discard Policy?
- In your opinion, is digital deposit by depository libraries a viable option for preserving born-digital government information?
- Is it feasible to assume that the Government can guarantee the preservation of all government information “in perpetuity to ensure the continued accountability of the Government to its present and future citizens”?
Kirsten Clark, Daniel Cornwall, and Shari Laster addressed these questions along with those posed by attendees. Daniel and Shari have put together summaries of their remarks here (Daniel) and here (Shari). Below are some key points:
From Daniel’s remarks:
Aside from being chronically underresourced for preserving and dissemination, the strong natural incentives for government are to hide or destroy information, not to preserve it. There are least four circumstances when the government has a strong incentive to destroy information:
- When information becomes outdated. This is particularly true with web sites. The majority of users benefit from only having the most current information. Having to sift through older reports – unless you are a historical researcher is wading through clutter. So a gov’t web designer looking for the most benefit for the highest number, will ensure that only a short crisp menu of the latest information is available.
- When information was generated by a previous Administration. It’s a known fact that after the end of term of a federal or state executive, all reports and other information productions belonging to the predecessor’s office are wiped clean off the government website and not normally preserved by the incoming administration.
- When information is perceived as embarrassing. A few Administrations bravely admit their mistakes and learn from them. Most try to sweep them under the rug.
- When information is perceived as a threat to national security. It only takes one terror attack to get the government going “OMG! OMG! Mosaic Theory!” to get them going about the perceived dangers of having some material in the public record – even it had been in the public record for years. Witness the withdrawal of some USGS Water Supply CDs and the attempted removal of long public Treasury money laundering reports after 9/11. The second withdrawal would have happened if not for the loud outcry of librarians and financial researchers. In an all digital, government centric server world, the reports would have been deleted from access as a fait accompli.
These incentives were present in the print era, but much harder to act upon. Once physical items were in the hands of federal depositories, a public recall order had to be issued. If the order seemed to be made for reasons 2-4 above, such orders were often publicly disputed. But when all government information resides on federal servers, “recalls” can happen at the push of a button without debate. We cannot risk that happening to the public record.
From Shari’s remarks:
Dark archives are a sterile approach to preservation. You keep the “concatenation of atoms” of the original object, but collections under lock and key are counter to the spirit of no-fee permanent public access: they privilege access to the few who are positioned & resourced to navigate permissions. They’re also vulnerable to the winds of political and economic change. When you have an information source that by definition can’t have a user, the justification of the resources it takes to protect it becomes a lot harder.
I’d like to advocate for an active, adaptive, and messy approach to preserving tangible collections. After all, we already know that these collections are secure for the long term to the extent that we rely on redundancy. If my local user spills her coffee all over my collection’s copy of a publication, I’d like to be able to obtain or make a high-quality reproduction and give it right back to her so she can dig back in!
By building collections for users, we focus our work where it’s most likely to be fruitful. I know there’s an argument that all government information should be saved for posterity because we don’t know for sure what will be important to the future. In truth, we are already make judgments about ephemera, filing updates, superseding, and so on. We also know the core documents of democracy are not in real danger, and saving every pamphlet from every federal agency is beyond the power of all of us. The space between these two approaches is filled by all of us working collaboratively to maintain collections that meet the needs of our communities, both broadly and uniquely construed.
More background and discussion:
- The National Plan for Access to U.S. Government Information
- Strategic Planning, Part I: A Workable Plan for GPO and FDLP
- Strategic Planning, Part II: SWOT Analysis for the FDLP
- Strategic Planning, Part III: Building a Collaborative FDLP
Following the conference, GPO made more information available about the Regional Discard Policy, and launched a new site: Implementing the Regional Discard Policy. This addresses much of the need for clarification identified by all three panelists, and has been explored in more depth in a recent post, “Analysis of the Regional Discard Policy: What you need to know about implementation.”
A few weeks ago, I posted on FGI my part of a collaborative feature article in the Spring 2015 issue of Documents to the People (DttP) (What are we to keep? thoughts on the National Collection). The other writers (Shari Laster, Aimée C. Quinn, and Barbie Selby) have given me permission to post their segments of our piece. We hope that this will spur some positive discussion and move the community toward a sustainable future for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) and for government information in libraries.
Thoughts on the National Collection
In August 2014, at the request of outgoing Federal Documents Task Force Chair, Jill Vassilakos-Long, several GODORT members met via conference calls and e-mail to discuss the GPO proposal to enable regional depository libraries to discard tangible material by substituting digital documents if they met specific criteria. Shortly after this group’s work was completed (FGI Editor’s note: see the GODORT letter in re this proposal as well as those of other library associations), a general call for articles was announced on GOVDOC-L by the editors of DttP, and we thought it would be interesting to offer our personal opinions on one of the questions in the announcement which related to our work from the task force. We agreed to each limit our contributions to 2-3 pages. The following pieces are our individual perspectives about who is responsible for the preservation of government information and the feasibility of setting a target for an optimal number of tangible copies for preservation purposes.
James R. Jacobs, Stanford University
Shari Laster, University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB)
Aimée C. Quinn, University of New Mexico
Barbie Selby, University of Virginia
- What are we to keep? thoughts on the National Collection. James R. Jacobs
- Segmenting the Government Information Corpus. Shari Laster
- Who Is Responsible for Permanent Public Access? Aimée C. Quinn
- Where Do We Go From Here?: Some Thoughts. Barbie Selby