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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.

Curtains for the Library? A Tale of Preservation

I’ve enjoyed my time as a guest blogger for FGI. To wrap up, I’d like to share a story.

This summer, my household ran smack in to a preservation problem. It all started with fresh paint. My husband started to paint the living room and dining room. A color even, moving us away from 15 years of sensible beige. We were embracing the future. It seems like a good opportunity to have the drapes cleaned. They were old, came with the house, and had a vintage floral theme. They were perfect. But not perfectly preserved, as it turned out. The cleaner called, after testing one panel, to say the lining shredded. Too much sun damage (yes, even here in Seattle). We fussed a bit – considered and abandoned a variety of salvage schemes (for example, cutting the linings out, until we learned the hems shredded as well) – and eventually retrieved the drapes from the cleaner. They have been in the trunk of the car ever since. The rooms are painted now – and look lovely – but the windows are bare.

Our technical services librarian has an interest and expertise in preservation. She’s also a sister crafter, so I consulted her about my dilemma. After telling her the story, she laughed and said “this is just like our library.” And she’s right. The UW Gallagher Law Library has a rich print historical collection of legal and government information. Much of it is falling apart. We are a public institution with a shrinking materials budget. We don’t have the funds to preserve all of the collection, and we can’t afford most of the available digital collections as a substitute for print. So how do we decide? What parts of the collection do we preserve and what do we digitize? Can we salvage anything? Should we buy acid free boxes or just tie volumes? Can some of the fabric become throw pillows? What can we afford to license? Are we headed for a big box store purchase when our heart longs for something we truly cannot afford? Should we go the DIY route, if we can’t afford commercial services? Do we keep our old volumes on the shelves or do we need to empty the trunk of the car to make room for the next thing?

And what do the users want, and how does that impact our decision-making? Our household users (the dogs) didn’t like the disruption of the painting, but they really like looking out the unobstructed window. It’s great for them, actually, since they no longer have to wait for an intermediary with opposable thumbs to open the drapes. They can investigate the world of our street whenever they choose. The intermediaries are fretful, however. We pay the heating bills and know something needs to be done before the damp chill sets in. We think about the future, and the budget. Plus we liked the old drapes. We own them, and we know how to operate them. We don’t like this change, forced upon us by the passage of time.

I’m still wrestling with the drapery dilemma. As for the library dilemma, there is the global picture, which includes digital preservation and consortial arrangements such as LIPA: Legal Information Preservation Alliance, and has been well articulated here on FGI. But I’m interested in the local picture of our library.

I do like the idea that if each individual library works to serve our patron base, and shares what we have, it will, in the end, all work out. My hope is that libraries like ours will ask the right questions. That we’ll thoughtfully consider the answers. That we’ll be good stewards of our resources and try to preserve what’s unique in our collections. That we’ll think about today’s users, and tomorrow’s users, and our role as the largest public law library in the Northwest. Easier said than done, just like a household project. But in the end, it could work.

The Day the Server Died

The library’s server was out of commission for two days last week. Luckily, we were closed one day, fall quarter hasn’t started, and we have a back up for the circulation system. Plus we could search (sort of) our collection on WorldCat.

Dead servers are one of the reasons why distributed digital deposit is a key element in providing access to information. But, we don’t have much technology money (thus the old server). Collecting our own copies of electronic content is an aspiration, yet given our fiscal reality, it’s not going to be practical for a while. After three years of budget cuts, the University of Washington has lost half of its state funding. We are all feeling the effects.

So I’ve been printing out documents, as a very small way of contributing to the greater good and serving our patrons. At least that’s what I think I’m doing. It’s not something I hear a lot about, but I can’t imagine that other librarians don’t do this. Maybe we’re too embarrassed to admit we print electronic documents?

Our policy is to very selectively print documents for the collection. The selection decisions need to be consistent with our collection development policy, but also take into account the ease of printing and binding (not too long, not too short, PDF preferred). We also consider the ease of use by the public. The perfect example is Washington State judicial benchbooks, which are guides used by trial judges, but often used by patrons without lawyers. For many years, because we are a public law library, we received the benchbooks, and other publications from the Administrative Office of the Courts, in paper, for free. Now the benchbooks are on CD ROM and we have to pay (not much, and I’m not complaining about this given the state budget).

We recently acquired the Manual for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction on CD ROM, and chose to have it printed, even though we had to spend scarce staff time to put all the documents in one PDF file so it could be send to the copy center. The Courts of Limited Jurisdiction handle a wide variety of traffic violations and misdemeanors, including reckless driving, driving under the influence, and driving with a suspended license. These courts also issue domestic violence protection orders and no-contact orders.

It is a much smoother reference transaction (for both patron and public service staff) if the staff has a book to put in the hands of a patron with an issue in traffic, family, or juvenile court. Although we have many public workstations, these patrons are often challenged, and challenging. “It’s on the computer” can be a barrier to access.

In a perfect world, we’d have the Manual for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction in print, on the original CD ROM, and downloaded to our local server, which will never die. But for now, two out of three will have to do.

Federal Depository Library User Survey Report Released

via INFOdocket.com

From the Federal Depository Library Program Web Site:

In its efforts to address the value of Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) membership and to determine baseline outcomes-based performance measures, the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), working with Outsell, Inc. and the Depository Library Council, developed a survey for depository library users. The survey ran from October 10, 2010 through March 4, 2011 and garnered over 3,300 responses from users of nearly 550 depository libraries. Submissions were well distributed both geographically and across different library types.

Direct to Report: FDLP Users Speak: The Value and Performance of Libraries Participating in the Federal Depository Library Program (61 Pages; PDF)

Recommendations From the Report

* Undertake more promotional activity, not just on the web, but also through library help desks and other local facilities in participating libraries;
* Increase training/tutorial activities both on the web and in participating libraries to assist users in finding Government documents on the web;
* Make more materials available in library collections and online; and
* Develop new tools to enhance access to and discoverability of Government information.

Direct to Full Text Report (Results, Charts, and Analysis for Each Question)

Video: What maps can tell us

While not specifically about government maps, this five minute video from the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library is a nice overview of the different uses of maps and why old maps remain important. It also makes a decent case for why at least some maps ought to continue in a physical format.

Wikileaks panel discussion at ACRL

Unfortunately, I won’t be going to ACRL 2011 in Philadelphia next month. But I’d recommend that folks go to this session on Wikileaks and libraries. If anyone is going, we’d love it if you’d volunteer to send us a summary of the panel (which is confusingly listed under “Roundtables”.

Session Title: Wikileaks, war, and the web: where do academic libraries fit?

When Wikileaks released the Iraq and Afghan War Diaries it raised ethical questions for academic libraries. Join the discussion and help provide guidance to such questions as: What are libraries’ responsibilities regarding leaked classified information? Should libraries link to leaked classified materials? How might Wikileaks be used in an instruction session?

Date: 04/01/2011
Time: 8:30AM – 9:30AM
Location: Roundtable 3 (Exhibit Hall A, Pennsylvania Convention Center)