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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.

Survey of (academic) research on Twitter in politics

There has been a lot of research done by academic and consulting institutions regarding Twitter adoption in politics. Between February 2010 to now, I think that there have been at least a dozen circulated studies on this topic. The fact that this topic is studied by consultants, economists, marketers, and political scientists suggests that the topic is important; or at the very least, a trend. A number of interesting results have emerged. Collectively, all of these studies give us a refined picture of a typical politician who Tweets.

Williams and Gulati (2010) find that those who adopt Twitter are politicians who have received a lot of contributions. Well funded politicians often have better access and information about “trendy” communication technologies. Alternatively, well funded politicians may have more connections and benefit more from technology that (presumably) maintains these connections.

Lassen and Brown (2010) find that politicians in less competitive districts are more likely to adopt Twitter. It is hard to say why this pattern emerges. However, our well publicized paper (Chi and Yang, 2010) may provide a hint.

Our study finds that the positive effect on adoption associated with the lack of competitiveness (i.e. electoral support) is largest for inexperienced politicians. This pattern seems to fit with the story which links the benefit associated with transparency and electoral support. Those with strong support have an incentive to maintain their constituents’ trust. This incentive is strongest for those who are new to the game and have yet to solidify their positive reputation.

Now, this leaves the plethora of studies that seem to be fixated on showing: Republicans are more likely to Tweet (or have higher “Digital IQ”). You can find some of these studies here, here and here.

There are probably more studies floating around. But these are the ones that I believe have gained the most traction in the public arena.

What does the public know about the FDLP? Not much.

The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) has launched a set of videos on the FDLP Desktop, “What Does the Public Know About the FDLP? GPO Takes to the Streets“. Staff members of GPO “took to the streets” of D.C. to ask the public what they know about the FDLP and Government Publications. What do they know? Not much, as evidenced by these videos! These videos can be embedded on your website, so let’s take a look at them here, shall we?

The marketing plan website states that “As evidenced by the Person on the Street videos, promoting the FDLP to the public is essential and necessary”.

I agree. However, is the FDLP Marketing Plan as it stands now, up to the job? Feedback was requested and the results of these findings were published. I think they need to ask for more feedback and publish more results soon, especially for those that did not get to take part in this feedback opportunity before.

One problem I have with the marketing plan is the slogan itself, “Easy as FDL: Free Dedicated Limitless” which I believe means absolutely nothing to the average person, which they proved in these videos! They don’t know what a FDL stands for. They don’t know what a Federal Depository Library is. So why use Easy as FDL as one’s slogan to market itself?

Case in point: A couple of months ago, I left a bunch of the most recent “Easy as FDL” marketing promotional materials on our library brochure table for patrons to take, but I also left a bunch of the older GPO/FDLP promotional materials on the table as well (i.e. the brochures that have images of our nation’s capitol building, stating “Make the Connection for Government Information”, etc). Which ones were completely gone by the end of the week? The older materials. Which were left still sitting on the table? The newer “Easy as FDL” materials. From what I can deduce, patrons grabbed the visuals that had the “government information” phrase on it and the visual of a capitol building or an American flag because those images and phrases “spoke to them” more and they knew exactly what the brochure was about. Hopefully they took the time to read the brochure and learn more about what an FDL is, but I feel the term “government information” grabs their attention a whole lot more!

The marketing plan website also states that “GPO designed The FDLP Marketing Plan to empower Federal depository libraries with the tools they need to market their valuable services to all audiences in the most effective way possible.”

I disagree. I don’t think they designed the marketing plan to empower Federal depository libraries in the most effective way possible and I don’t think we did a very good job of giving them enough feedback. I think that we (“we” meaning librarians, patrons, GPO, FDLP, etc) still need to improve and redesign the marketing plan in a more effective way. What do you think? Let’s give GPO our feedback and ideas! A lot of work was put into this but lets make this a labor of love and really work to improve it even more.

More on Outreach – When is a door more than a door?

One of my favorite low-tech ways to get users at my library interested in the vast arena of government information available online is to feature different electronic items on my office door. I’ve just put up a display with some highlights from American Memory’s collections about Abraham Lincoln. My previous display was on teaching tools related to Saturn from the Cassini mission, and prior to that, I featured educational materials about the food pyramid from USDA (editor’s note 1/19/2015: mypyramid.gov became choosemyplate.gov in 2012. For an archived look at mypyramid.gov see the Wayback machine.).

I like these displays because they take almost no effort to assemble (I look for items that will print well and will hook the interest of a casual audience – teaching tools are great for this), and because they’re in a location where nothing else competes for attention. These items are clearly “from the internet”, and yet they are high-quality materials that could be of use to our library stakeholders, both in their academic and personal lives.

I don’t expect to build a legion of government information enthusiasts, but what I hope to do is interest some of my many daily passers-by in a tiny slice of what’s available, in the hopes that they will do some exploration on their own and perhaps someday become interested in exactly how much is available, and why it’s available, and who works to keep it available. Is it working? I have no way of knowing directly, but the chance that it might is worth the time to locate the resources and the few sheets of paper to print it out. Besides, it makes my office door that much more interesting.

Black History Month Resources

As a librarian working in reference services, I am always looking for resources that can capture the interest of everyone who use my library and its website. After all, what better way to build grassroots support for the availability and preservation of government information?

The Library of Congress is exploring The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas as its theme this year in its galleries and presentations. The website includes webcasts, photographs, and learning tools on African American history and the Civil Rights movement. One featured item is the National Park Service’s Tuskegee Airmen exhibit, which may be of particular interest to those who watched the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Another resource to highlight is the Black History Month section of America.gov. This website includes articles and photo galleries on contemporary topics and defining moments in American history. There’s an RSS feed for articles so you can stay updated throughout the month.

Through Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE is a great discovery tool for digital collections) I was reminded of the Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress. This enormous collection, part of the American Memory project, includes a diary Douglass kept on a tour to Europe and Africa, and correspondence with prominent abolitionists and political figures.

One other fascinating resource for Black History Month is, unsurprisingly, the Federal Bureau of Investigation FOIA Reading Room. While only about one percent of the entire FBI file for Martin Luther King, Jr. is available for viewing here, the file includes some information on surveillance practices and informants. Other files available in the reading room are on Paul Robeson and his wife Eslanda, and Jackie Robinson.

I’ll be back throughout the month with more on topics and tools to build interest in government information resources.