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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.

Google moves some .gov sites to page 2

Here Are the Agency Websites Google Doesn’t Think are Mobile Friendly, By Hallie Golden NextGov (April 22, 2015).

Google’s newly implemented policy to adjust mobile search rankings based on a website’s mobile friendliness could leave some federal websites on a Google search engine’s dreaded second page — at least when users search from a smartphone.

Eleven sites were deemed “not mobile friendly” by Google including the EPA, the IRS, and NARA.

Jessamyn West: Never Trust A Corporation to Do a Librarian’s Job

  Never Trust A Corporation to Do a Librarian’s Job (via lifeguardlibrarian.tumblr.com)

We were having our own doubts, of course. How could you not? The Google Books project seemed to be letting itself go. Things any librarian would notice: bad scans; faulty metadata; narrowing the scope of public domain; having machines do jobs that should be done (or at least overseen) by humans. They seemed to be restricting and worsening access to cultural content, not expanding and improving it. Maybe we were going in different directions?” [full article]

I too have come across an increasing number of  messy and illegible Google Books. Indeed, Google is a corporation, not an archivist, and we can’t rely on them to create preservation-worthy documents–especially Gov Docs. Don’t get me wrong–I have met really awesome and accomplished people who work on the Google Books project, but at the end of the day, Google[‘s] Books privilege/s commodity over content.   Considering Gov Docs are instrumental to our Democracy, we need folks who will ensure scans are absolutely perfect. (On that note: GPO is embarking on a much-needed preservation project [announcement is  the gov-info.tumblr queue]; I urge archivists to get get involved.)

However-as we know, digital files are much more fleeting & fragile than paper, so they should never, ever replace hard copy.


QOTD: Google on lots of copies keeping stuff safe


QOTD: Google agrees that “Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe.”

Though Google at one time tried to offer customers the ability to store their data in one location in response to requests, it does not offer that feature now because it determined it was illogical, the person said. Google decided data is more secure if it is stored in multiple locations and that storing it in one location slows Google services and makes accessing the data less convenient for customers, the person said.

— a person briefed on Google’s policy who would speak only anonymously. Google Pushes Back Against Data Localization, by Claire Cain Miller, New York Times, Bits Blog (Jan 24, 2014).

Finding Current, but not original, documents on the web

An interesting perspective on the limitations a simple web search comes today from an Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He notes that “The contested history of Executive Order 11246 is an important aspect of the history of the modern women’s rights movement and of the presidency of Lyndon Johnson,” but that a simple search for it yields the revised, not the original, version of the order:

  • The Perils of Internet Research: The Case of LBJ and Affirmative Action, By Samuel Walker, History News Network (5-28-12).

    A standard Google search for “Executive Order 11246” yields multiple web sites, including those of the U.S. Department of Labor (which enforces the federal contractor provision), the National Archives, and Wikipedia. These sites post the current revised version of E. O. 11246. While it duly notes the many revisions over the years, only historians who are specialists on the subject and some employment law attorneys (but only those interested in history), will realize that it is not the original. Consequently, they will gain no hint of the contested initial history of affirmative action regarding sex discrimination or of LBJ’s record on women’s rights.

    This is not an insignificant issue. Wikipedia is widely used by average Americans as a research tool. College undergraduates use it routinely, as do many graduate students. Only PhD or some MA students who are closely supervised by their faculty are likely to know they are missing some important history. Few people, moreover, are likely to question the National Archives as an authoritative source on American history. Executive Order 11246, finally, is hardly the only document where the original does not immediately appear through a Google search. Try finding the original text of the 1966 Freedom of Information Act, for example.

Experienced government information specialists will not be surprised by this and will recognize the need for sophisticated searching (and careful interpretation of search results) in general.

But this is also an example of the importance of our historical collections. Because government information is a record of the activities and attitudes and knowledge of a government at particular points in time, it retains historical value even when it is “out of date” — as in the above example. Different versions of laws, old censuses, series of annual reports, early maps, photographs: all these are important historical records which require the same attention and care we devote to the most current information.

Too often, however, I hear librarians focus on “currency” as a value to such an extent that they seem to deprecate the value of historical records. I feel this is the case when library administrators refer to our historical paper collections as “legacy” collections.

The word “legacy,” when used as an adjective, comes from computing and means superseded, no longer useful, difficult to use, and in need of replacement. In this way the use of “legacy” as an adjective as a description of our historical collections is both incorrect and demeaning. Those who call our historical collections “legacy collections” are diminishing the value of those collections. I don’t know if they do this intentionally or not, but I do know that this use carries an implication that cheapens the value of these collections. That can lead to bad decisions.

If we must use the term “legacy” to describe our historical collections, we should use it as a noun. The noun “legacy” means bequest, heritage, endowment, gift, and birthright. Our historical collections are a legacy from the past to us and to our children and must be treated with respect.

Google Docs: Insert Footnotes Easily With New “Research” Feature

Google introduced a new features to Google Docs, its cloud-based word processor, recently. It allows you to quickly do a google search on a word or phrase that you highlight in a document you are editing and then insert a footnote to a web page you find. Here is what a footnote to an item in FDSys looks like:

1. “Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster And The Future Of Offshore …” 2011. 22 May. 2012 <http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/GPO-OILCOMMISSION/content-detail.html>

And here is a cite to the same item in WorldCat:

2. “Deep water : the Gulf oil disaster and the future of offshore drilling …” 2011. 22 May. 2012 <http://www.worldcat.org/title/deep-water-the-gulf-oil-disaster-and-the-future-of-offshore-drilling-report-to-the-president/oclc/696156233>

The Chronicle has an article about the new google feature here:

Incidentally, I chose the Deep Water example because it is highlighted in a GPO press release about GPO teaming with Barnes & Noble to sell federal eBooks.

GPO makes eBooks available in partnership with Google’s eBookstore, OverDrive, Ingram, Zinio, and other online vendors.

That’s right: you can buy an ebook or download a PDF from FDsys for free. I’m not sure who is getting the worse deal: the vendors or the public…