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[UPDATE #1: Christian James tweeted that besides the National Agricultural Library, we should also credit USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and their National Nutrient Database. So big thanks to USDA-ARS!]
Many Americans don’t think they use government information, but they’re wrong. Many people think that the private sector meets their information needs just fine and government shouldn’t be “wasting resources” by collecting and sharing information. They’re wrong too.
But it’s not entirely their fault. For example, in the last few months Bing and Google both started to provide an impressive amount of nutritional information in response to searches on food names. I’m a fan of kale chips, so I typed “kale” into Google and got this:
The private sector at work, right? Who needs the government to produce nutritional information when we can just Google or Bing it? Right?
Um. No. If you look at the very bottom of the image in both Google and Bing, you’ll find some very important fine print. Here it is from Google:
Notice the tiny “Sources include USDA”? If you think to mouse down to the word “USDA” and click it, you’ll be whisked away to the entry for kale in the US Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, produced by the National Agricultural Library (NAL).
Cut the NAL too much and they’ll have to drop the National Nutrient Database. Then bye-bye to your real time, up to date nutritional data in your search engines results.
The invisible hand of government information shows up in a lot of places if you know to look for it. In the pre internet days you could have not produced an almanac without one. Today, any private website that has any sort of detailed demographic information for states, cities and neighborhoods is almost certainly pulling from the beleaguered Census Bureau. Those private sector sites telling you about the hottest jobs in demand over the next ten years? Likely pulling from the Occupational Outlook Handbook produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And so it goes. If people say, “I don’t use government information, I use Google” show them how they’re actually soaking in government information. Then ask them to write Congress to keep their hands off their favorite information sources.
Video from NPR Digital Services on the value of government information resources in journalism. Provides examples of data driven stories, discusses where to find data and how to effectively use data without making “rookie mistakes.” Also contains information on using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to get data not currently accessible.
If you watch till the end, you’ll see a mention of the usefulness of the State Agency Databases project at about 52:00.
The full text of a letter dated November 2, 2011 from Joyce L. Ogburn, ACRL President to William Boarman, Public Printer of the United States and Mary Alice Baish, Superintendent of Documents is now posted on the ACRL Insider blog.
Before sharing the full text of the letter, Ogburn writes:
We recognize that there are members who fall on both sides of the issues as recently stated by other associations and consortia. Over the past few weeks we have been considering how to proceed – reviewing the current situation, what ACRL has done in the past, and giving careful thought to approach we should take.
We decided that ACRL needs to lend its voice to the conversation and that we have precedent to guide us. Our past actions and letters urged GPO to look to the future and work with libraries to develop collaborative models for managing federal documents. We believe the best approach is to continue in the same vein, an approach that is quite reasonable and measured, as ACRL is known to be.
Here are Two Paragraphs From the Letter Sent to Boarman and Baish:
ACRL believes that the future of libraries will be based in innovative uses of technology and intensive collaboration across geographic boundaries. The multi-state models for managing federal documents that libraries have developed address the pressing issues of the economic climate, the imperative for wider collaboration, and the improvement of access to these critical resources. We view these as necessary and viable partnerships that will sustain library collections and services and will create enduring programs of access and preservation.
We understand that many people in the library community are concerned about the long-term quality of government information services, and ACRL is convinced that the quality of services associated with collaborative efforts will be stronger than stand alone efforts. ACRL urges the GPO to work closely and openly with depository libraries to explore and establish new models. It is essential that we leverage the possibilities inherent in 21st century practices to serve our citizens now and well into the future.
Direct to Complete Blog Post (incl. Letter)
In the course of my work of maintaining the Lost Docs Blog, I came across the following publication:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. After an [suicide] Attempt: A Guide for Taking Care of Yourself After Your Treatment in the Emergency Department. (SMA 08-4355; CMHS-SVP06-0157), Rockville, MD:
Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006. Reprinted 2009.
I noticed it had this public domain notice that I’ve seen on some government publications:
Public Domain Notice
All material appearing in this publication is in the public domain and may be reproduced or copied without permission from SAMHSA. Citation of the source is appreciated. This publication may not be reproduced or distributed for a fee without the specific, written authorization of the Office of Communications, SAMHSA, HHS.
It is a fact that not enough people realize the public domain nature of most government materials and so my reaction to this notice was initially very positive. I instinctively like the idea of labeling govdocs as public domain so that people and organizations (Google, I’m talking to you!) would feel free to reuse and remix without fear of consequences and not lock up content not meant to be locked up.
On the other hand, if only a handful of agencies use such notices for public education, it is conceivable that an environment would be created where only govdocs with public domain notices would be treated as public domain. I’m not sure if that’s a danger, but I worry. The possible danger would be less if a public domain notice was required governmentwide.
What do you think? Are public domain notices on govdocs a good idea? Are they a good idea whether done governmentwide or by a few agencies? Would we be better off if there was a governmentwide policy to label the minority of copyrighted material in govdocs?
Note: Thanks to Vicki Tate for reporting this document to GPO and sending a copy of her receipt to the Lost Docs blog.