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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.

PEGI Project publishes Environmental Scan of Government Information and Data Preservation Efforts and Challenges

I’m happy to announce that today the PEGI Project released their Environmental Scan of Government Information and Data Preservation Efforts and Challenges. PEGI commissioned the most capable Sarah Lippincott as consultant to write this report, a multimodal environmental scan of at-risk federal digital content. This free, open publication describes the landscape of initiatives within and outside of government that aim to disseminate and preserve government information and data. It describes government-led initiatives, from dissemination through official agency websites to publication on third-party platforms, and reviews a range of initiatives that have emerged in recent years outside of government, both those intended to address perceived gaps and vulnerabilities in the federal government’s curation initiatives and those that add value to publicly available information and datasets. The report also addresses existing policies and infrastructure undergirding both government-led and non-government initiatives. Each section contains representative examples of initiatives relevant to federal government information.

Preserving government information is a long-term responsibility that requires ongoing coordination and commitment. By surveying the current environment, defining key features of the problem space, and identifying gaps and pressing needs, this Environmental Scan contributes to the resources available to all who seek to plan cooperative solutions.

The Preservation of Electronic Government Information (PEGI) Project is a two-year IMLS grant-funded initiative to address national concerns regarding preservation of born-digital government information by cultural memory institutions for long-term public access and use.

via Educopia and the PEGI Project Announce Publication of Environmental Scan of Government Information and Data Preservation Efforts and Challenges — PEGI Project.

Montana Library Association passes Resolution to fund US govt publications preservation

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

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

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.”

Strategic Planning, Part I: A Workable Plan for GPO and FDLP

The GPO’s Office of the Superintendent of Documents released its National Plan for Access to U.S. Government Information: A Framework for a User-centric Service Approach To Permanent Public Access in February. Our colleague Shari Laster has written a really thorough overview and background of the document, so we will use this post to analyze the Plan in more detail and suggest how it can (and should) be improved. In a follow-up piece, we’ll then move from strategic planning to an environmental scan and Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis of the current FDLP as it relates to the Plan, including more context of what’s in place and what we feel is missing in order to build a sustainable digital FDLP ecosystem.


GPO’s National Plan for Access to U.S. Government Information: an overview

Last month, the Government Publishing Office (GPO) released the National Plan for Access to U.S. Government Information: A Framework for a User-centric Service Approach to Permanent Public Access. The National Plan is the culmination of four years of study and planning activities conducted by GPO’s Library Services & Content Management (LSCM) in response to a range of factors that include directives from the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP) and the National Academy of Public Administration; seismic changes in government publishing and user information access practices; and the shifting mission of large academic research libraries.

For those interested in the background to the National Plan, I summarized some of the available information a few months ago. While a detailed development process is not included in the final document, GPO repeatedly solicited quantitative and qualitative data from depository libraries, most notably in its 2012 FDLP Forecast Study, as well as through the Biennial Survey process. GPO has already shared much of the information found in the National Plan in presentations to the community over the past year. As of this writing there is no public comment or feedback process; however, several of the sessions on the preliminary schedule for next month’s Depository Library Council virtual meeting pertain to the implementation of the National Plan, including presentations on public libraries, regional models, and the regional discard pilot project.

I recognize that there can be some hesitance in the depository librarian community in discussing a document like this in detail. After all, criticisms of the National Plan are functionally critiques of LSCM’s strategic direction, and by extension can be (mis)interpreted as criticisms of GPO and its leadership. In preemptive response, I agree with the FGI team: respectful, timely discourse makes our community stronger. I believe wholeheartedly that we all want a similar future: one in which government information is available for all to use and reuse, whenever and wherever it is needed. The vision and mission for the National Plan reflects this desire, as do the words and actions of the GPO staff who put the words into action. LSCM has been and continues to be uniquely positioned to coordinate and accomplish this work, and they have made commendable progress on many initiatives that will contribute to public access to government information for generations to come.

Like all FGI occasional contributors, I’m speaking only for myself, not my place of work, my library consortium, or the FGI team. But with that disclaimer out of the way, I think this document is an opportunity for depository librarians and others who care about future access to government information to identify where voices from the community can and should speak up to ensure that planned activities and initiatives are in alignment with the aspirational goals of sustaining permanent no-fee public access to government information. Our responsibility as a community to make sure that the promise of access is one that will be fully met through collaborative work with each other and engagement with GPO.

Structure and Format

GPO should be commended for producing a document that we can read, discuss, and share with others who care about government information. This is GPO’s plan for action and activities undertaken by LSCM: the National Plan contextualizes current priorities and initiatives, and provides a roadmap for where to expect LSCM’s focus to be going forward. It is also described as a ‘flexible framework,’ which suggests that the exact work to be conducted is yet to be determined, although several projects are underway and some are in the planning stages.

The core of the National Plan is the section of “Desired Outcomes and Actions,” which are based on a list of “Drivers of Change” that include the results of the 2012 FDLP Forecast Study, recommendations from the 2013 NAPA report on GPO commissioned by Congress, and a short but wide-ranging list of external influences. Each outcome is mapped to one of the “Principles of Government Information” adopted by GPO in 1996. Additional assumptions are also articulated that reflect the list of external influences.

The National Plan also presents three strategic priorities: lifecycle management of government information within LSCM to ensure permanent public access to digital government information; development of a sustainable structure for the FDLP; and the delivery of services that support depository libraries in providing accurate government information to the public in a timely fashion. While the strategic priorities relate to the “Drivers of Change,” they are not explicitly mapped to the vision and mission of the National Plan.


The language used throughout the National Plan is that of access rather than preservation. It is clear that enabling permanent public access to information is not the same as preserving information products, though the two go hand in hand. In general, the National Plan references concepts already in common usage in the community without further explanation. For example, there are no assumptions explicitly defining key terms like ‘access’ and ‘sustainability,’ but the concepts are used throughout the document.

To a certain extent, the National Plan is difficult to unpack and discuss because it is deeply non-specific. This lack of specificity has a particularly strong effect on action items pertaining to preservation. Of the six action items, three simply reference new programs (FIPNet, an LSCM Preservation Program, and a project to inventory “copies of record”), one pertains to access rather than preservation (working with partnerships to digitize the historical tangible collection), one relates to the development of guidelines, and one is to increase the profile of government information preservation at the national level. So although the reciprocal relationships between preservation and access are addressed in some ways, outcomes that reflect the government’s obligation to preserve its information are not fully articulated or supported.

Actions categorized as pertaining to right of access, dissemination of information, and authenticity are more specific, but the mapping of outcomes to principles is unclear. If this were to be the only public documentation guiding LSCM’s activities, then the community would have little insight into what GPO is trying to accomplish and why. As more detailed strategies and implementation plans are developed — I hope in consultation with the community at large — and disseminated, it should be possible to more confidently identify the extent to which a given action item will contribute to any given desired outcomes that can be mapped to shared goals and expectations.

The National Plan continues to frame depository libraries as supporters of public access rather than participants in the long-term management of government information, reflecting a broad and ongoing shift of framing libraries as service providers rather than collectors and organizers. Because the Regional discard policy has been approved and is currently in the implementation phase, we know that publications with authenticated digital versions in FDsys (and its successor, govinfo.gov) are eligible for Regional depository libraries to withdraw and discard under the oversight of the Superintendent of Documents. Other action items in the National Plan will lead to the ingest of more content into FDsys from depository libraries and third parties, and the authentication of this digital content, which makes more collections digitally accessible but also eligible for discard in print, a shift that could have a substantially negative effect on long-term access. An additional action item investigates the possibility that Regionals could decline to select certain materials in print/microformat altogether, and another identifies the development of requirements to facilitate pushing or depositing digital content to libraries.

While increased access to authenticated digital surrogates is a laudable measure for public access, taken as a whole the actions identified in the National Plan are framed by a continued shift of the responsibility for collection-building and preservation away from FDLP libraries, without introducing a clearly defined and workable alternative for the long-term preservation of print collections, and without adding the expectation of a meaningful role in digital preservation for these same institutions. (FIPNet is intended to fill this role, but as of this writing, this program is still mostly undefined.) The only action item directly addressing print collections in depository libraries is the development of collection care training for depository staff, and it is categorized as an action related to authenticity and integrity rather than preservation.

In general, changes to the FDLP are incorporated in the National Plan under the principle of disseminating government information, with a specified outcome of forming a sustainable network structure and governance process for the efficient management of depository collections and services. Depository libraries are only a small segment out of many potential public access channels, albeit a segment best poised to serve both marginalized and specialized users, and the National Plan identifies the need for LSCM to play a greater part in lifecycle management of information dissemination products within the federal government. However, under the National Plan, the alternatives for preservation outside of the depository library system are, at present, unclear.


Because the document is describing the role LSCM will adopt and the work it will accomplish, rather than a revised strategy for the FDLP as a program, the National Plan is not GPO’s definitive statement on the future of the FDLP. Based on this document, however, it seems reasonable to predict that GPO’s articulation of its vision for the future FDLP will reflect the priorities established in this document. With that understanding, presenting the National Plan as a document is in itself a significant step in the right direction because it gives the government information community a shared frame of reference in discussing GPO’s priorities and evaluating its accomplishments, and provides us with the opportunity to determine how our libraries and organizations, as well as the community as a whole, can respond to and engage with GPO initiatives as they move forward.

Selected bibliography

James A. Jacobs. “NAPA Releases Report on GPO.” http://freegovinfo.info/node/3862. Updated February 6, 2013.

James A. Jacobs and James R. Jacobs. “What You Need to Know About the New Discard Policy.” http://freegovinfo.info/node/10525. Updated November 30, 2015.

James R. Jacobs. “DLC Responds to Open Letter Regarding the New Regional Discard Policy” http://freegovinfo.info/node/10736. Updated January 18, 2016

Library Services & Content Management. “FDLP Forecast Study.” http://www.fdlp.gov/377-projects-active/1686-fdlp-forecast-study. Updated August 12, 2015.

—. “Federal Information Preservation Network.” http://www.fdlp.gov/project-list/federal-information-preservation-network. Updated April 13, 2015.

—. “Federal Information Preservation Network (FIPNet) – Answering Your Questions.” http://www.fdlp.gov/all-newsletters/featured-articles/2349-federal-information-preservation-network-fipnet-answering-your-questions. Updated December 21, 2015.

—. “JCP Approves Regional Discard Policy.” http://www.fdlp.gov/news-and-events/2403-jcp-approves-regional-discard-policy. Updated October 22, 2015.

National Academy of Public Administration. Rebooting the Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed in the Digital Age. https://www.gpo.gov/pdfs/about/GPO_NAPA_Report_FINAL.pdf. January 2013.

Office of the Superintendent of Documents. National Plan for Access to U.S. Government Information: A Framework for a User-Centric Service Approach to Permanent Public Access. http://www.fdlp.gov/file-repository/about-the-fdlp/gpo-projects/national-plan-for-access-to-u-s-government-information/2700-national-plan-for-access-to-u-s-government-information-a-framework-for-a-user-centric-service-approach-to-permanent-public-access. February 2016.

Shari Laster. “Information Sharing and the National Plan.” http://freegovinfo.info/node/10569. Updated November 12, 2015.

—. “One Year Later…What’s Happening with Regionals and Discards?” http://freegovinfo.info/node/10285. Updated September 8, 2015.