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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.

Petition to save the American Community Survey

We’ve been tracking on HR 5326 “Making appropriations for the Departments of Commerce and Justice, Science, and Related Agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013” and more specifically the Webster-Lankford amendment (which passed the House on May 9, 2012 by a vote of 232 – 190) which cuts funding for the American Community Survey. Data collected by the ACS are used by policy makers to determine the distribution of federal funding for everything from schools to roads and bridges, to emergency services and Medicaid benefits — and is of vital interest to researchers, teachers, students and the public to learn more about and track on issues important to their communities.

If you care about this vital program, please sign the Save the American Community Survey petition. It’s crucial that our Federal lawmakers know about the public’s concern, and understand why they need the ACS to do their very jobs!

UPDATE 5/22/12 noon PST: The Sunday NY Times, in an article entitled “The Beginning of the End of the Census?” put it succinctly:

This survey of American households has been around in some form since 1850, either as a longer version of or a richer supplement to the basic decennial census. It tells Americans how poor we are, how rich we are, who is suffering, who is thriving, where people work, what kind of training people need to get jobs, what languages people speak, who uses food stamps, who has access to health care, and so on.

It is, more or less, the country’s primary check for determining how well the government is doing — and in fact what the government will be doing. The survey’s findings help determine how over $400 billion in government funds is distributed each year.

But last week, the Republican-led House voted to eliminate the survey altogether, on the grounds that the government should not be butting its nose into Americans’ homes.

Public Media 2.0

An interesting new white paper contrasts “Public Media 1.0” (public broadcasting, cable access, nonprofit satellite set-asides) with “Public Media 2.0” (multiplatform, participatory, centered around informing and mobilizing networks of engaged users). It says that “the individual user has moved from being an anonymous part of a mass to being the center of the media picture.”

Public broadcasting and other “public media” are facing challenges similar to those that newspapers and libraries are facing in the digital information age. This white paper attempts to re-envision public media, just as many people are trying to re-envision newspapers/journalism and libraries.

The paper focuses more on “content” creation and user-collaboration than on preservation of information, but it does acknowledge the need for funding for what it calls “curation” and archiving. It says that “Commercial platforms do not have the same incentives to preserve historically relevant content that public media outlets do.”

The terms “curation” and “stewardship” are often used in discussion of long-term preservation and access to information, but different writers use the terms differently, even interchangeably. This leads to vague, conflicting, and confusing arguments. This white paper defines “curation” more as presentation and commentary than as preservation. In doing so, they miss an opportunity to address the issues of long-term, free, usable, public access to information.

Curation: Users are aggregating, sharing, ranking, tagging, reposting, juxtaposing, and critiquing content on a variety of platforms—from personal blogs to open video-sharing sites to social network profile pages. Reviews and media critique are popular genres for online contributors, displacing or augmenting genres, such as consumer reports and travel writing, and feeding a widespread culture of critical assessment.

Clark and Aufderheide do include libraries as one of the potential partners for public media projects along with other institutions in the nonprofit sector such as universities, museums, and issue-focused educational and social organizations. They note that these institutions have “assets” that “include archives and databases, issue expertise, legitimacy, and trusted brands.”

This vision certainly fits in with what John Shuler has been describing in his series on libraries as centers for education and civic engagement. I think libraries looking for service ideas could get some good ones from this report.

But I also think that libraries will need to read beyond this report to find their unique role in society and in facilitating and participating in “Public Media 2.0.” Libraries can fill the long-term preservation-and-use gap in the report. Specifically, civic participation needs trusted institutions to select, acquire, organize, and preserve information and provide that information in usable formats in an environment that encourages re-use and the kind of participation described in the white paper. Libraries need to concentrate on those “assets” — not in the economic sense of private property that is owned and controlled for the benefit of the owners, but as valuable community property, managed and maintained for the community by information professionals.

For Public Media 2.0 to succeed and flourish, for citizens to be able to reliably “aggregate, share, rank, tag, and critique,” society needs more than content creators (journalists, broadcasters, writers, analysts, etc.); it also needs institutions that guarantee access and usability of information. It needs libraries.

Thanks to Kevin Taglang, Editor, Communications-related Headlines, Benton Foundation for the pointer to this report!

Digital Infrastructure and Public Interest

Kevin Taglang tracked down (BENTON’S COMMUNICATIONS-RELATED HEADLINES for SATURDAY NOVEMBER 15, 2008) this little gem, which I highly recommend. Thanks Kevin!

“What is the best way to promote a vibrant and diverse exchange of educational information, cultural expression, and political discourse over the Internet? What type of service—commercial enterprise, government agency, or non-commercial organization—can be counted on to insure that quality and diversity are reflected prominently? Recent experience suggests that a new type of hybrid organization, driven by a strong non-commercial mission but operating with success in the consumer marketplace, may offer the optimal balance of financial sustainability and commitment to the public interest.”

Hmmm… a new type of hybrid organization…. non-commerical…. commitment to the public interest…? Hmmm… Ok, say it loud and say it proud! “The Library”