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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.

If It Is Too Inconvenient, I’m Not Going After It

This research shows how much users value convenience and quick access. That will probably not surprise you, but it should help inform choices for libraries. The choices libraries make will increase their value to users or drive users away.

  • Connaway, Lynn Silipigni, Timothy J. Dickey, and Marie L. Radford. 2011. ‘If It Is Too Inconvenient, I’m Not Going After it:’ Convenience as a Critical Factor in Information-Seeking Behaviors. Library and Information Science Research, 33: 179-190. Pre-print available online at: http://www.oclc.org/research/publications/library/2011/connaway-lisr.pdf (.pdf: 275K/46 pp.).

    It can be argued that in the not-too-distant past, resources were scarce, and libraries were one of the only sources of trustworthy information. Users were obliged to conform to library practices and standards in order to successfully meet their information needs. Now, users’ time and attention are scarce, while resources are abundant with the development of the Internet and Web-based services (blogs, chat, social media sites, etc.) and easily accessed, digitized content. This article provides an overview of findings from two multi-year grant-funded projects. These projects address the questions: “Why do people choose one information source instead of another?” and “What factors contribute to their selection of information sources?” Specifically, the emergence of the concept of convenience as a critical factor in information-seeking choices among a variety of different types of people, across a period of several years, and in a variety of contexts, is explored.

Exploring MetaLib

For Dr. Rabina’s Government Information Sources term paper that Johanna mentioned in her last post, I’ll be researching the Navy’s establishment on Vieques, an island part of Puerto Rico, for naval training and munitions testing, from 1941 until 2003. The purpose of the assignment is to use government information to thoroughly research a topic, so when I saw in the DLC Fall Meeting Conference Proceedings that Marianne Ryan from Northwestern University and Catherine Jervey Johnson from LexisNexis Academic presented “1960 at Fifty: An Historic Year in Hindsight – Using Government Information to Discover the Past”, it caught my eye. Through some whimsical and some serious comparisons, the slideshow demonstrates how some issues are ongoing throughout the lifecycle of government, and how drastically some change. (Of course, a lot of the resources in the slide show were understandably taken from LexisNexis collections, which makes it easy to view and use historical government documents!)

Since we’ll be doing all our research in materials freely available to the public, and since I know a lot of online material currently available from FDsys will only take me back so far in time, I thought I’d start with the Catalog of Government Publications, and use my term paper as a chance to critically review MetaLib, their new federated search tool. My training thus far at SILS has taught me to always click the “Advanced Search” screen, and I quickly found one small complaint. The interface gave me options to choose a “quick set”, resources bundled by subject area, but how great would it be to select two areas in the “quick sets”? For my search, I knew there would be material on Vieques in both Environment and Defense & Military, at least, but I had to search one at a time. But by starting with Defense & Military, I found a CRS Report from 2001, with background and information on the Vieques training operation (and CRS reports, we have learned, are like gold.) I also found a hearing from the Committee on Armed Services from 1980, which I bookmarked as interesting. So far, so good.

With 66 records in MoCAT for just this area, Defense & Military, my search results were also sortable by topic, date, and author. I found myself wishing there was a way to search by type of resource, and when I backed up a little, I noticed an “Expert” search setting. Expert allowed me select which resources within each “quick set” but also to switch to Agencies, where I could select and deselect which resources might be most relevant to a targeted search, which I think is pretty useful. For each resource, I could click the info icon for more details about the collection. Even more intriguingly, I had the option to add an individual collection to the clipboard, and then create my own research set, which I could name. Then (somewhat unintuitively) I could return to Advanced Search, and use my own research set as a basis for my search.

All these initial fumblings in MetaLib did feel like they were going to pay off – I was slowly building a familiarity with the resources I needed, and MoCAT, which had previously seemed like a catalog siloed by department or agency, was starting to feel more like a database. If nothing else, I have some titles that I know I can walk into my local Depository Library and someone can help me locate them on a shelf.

Even with MetaLib making MoCAT easier for me to navigate, and even with FDsys taking full rein online over GPO Access, researching a topic across many government agencies and years is bound to mean wading through a lot of unhelpful material before finding what I need, and what will help me speak authoritatively about the Navy presence in Vieques over a span of sixty years. I can only construct an incomplete picture from in front of my computer; FDsys and MoCAT are only the beginning. Which means I’ll be coming to a Federal Depository Library soon, research question in hand, hoping for some perspective and some guidance. And maybe if I’m lucky, a CRS report or two.

– Krissa Corbett Cavouras, Pratt SILS

5.2 Million 19th Century Passenger Arrival Records Now Online at NARA

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) announced the online availability of over 5.2 million records of passengers who arrived at the ports of Baltimore, Boston, New Orleans, New York, and Philadelphia in the 19th century. These records were transcribed from original ship manifests into databases by Temple University’s Center for Immigration Research and donated to NARA.

Intrigued, I went to NARA’s Access to Archival Databases (AAD) and searched “Records for Passengers Who Arrived at the Port of New York During the Irish Famine” between 1846-1851 (over 607,800 records!), and I found several of my Troy clan ancestors that arrived in 1851. I’ll have to compare the names with the extensive family tree that my grandfather made. If he was alive today, he’d be searching this database for hours!

Other record sets include: Data Files Relating to the Immigration of Germans to the United States, 1850-1897; Data Files Relating to the Immigration of Italians to the United States, 1855-1900; and Data Files Relating to the Immigration of Russians to the United States, 1834-1897.

FGI Research: Projects and Ideas

Since its inception in 2005, we at Free Government Information have envisioned this group conducting and promoting research of various types into government information. This page is dedicated to that goal.

This page is divided into two sections: 1) The research that the FGI volunteers themselves are conducting or have completed and 2) Ideas that we do not currently have the resources to carry out but which we hope will inspire others.


Current and past FGI conducted projects

  • EPA Document Tagging Project (started 1/18/2008) – Can document users and others improve the findability of government documents and add value via del.icio.us? Join us in finding out! We are planning to compile results on this project in early May 2008.



Ideas for Research

These are for anybody, but especially for LIS students looking to improve knowledge in the field of government information. If you know of a project that already covers an idea below, please let us know!

  • Calculate the storage space for a year’s worth of FDLP documents
  • Analyze agency robot.txt files to see which agencies exclude search engines from all or part of their web sites.
  • Estimate the percentage of an agency’s PDF files that have keyword and description metadata.
  • Estimate amount of agency documents in older formats (wordperfect, etc)
  • Survey non-internet users on how (or whether) they access government information.

If you’ve got other government information research oriented ideas, please send them our way, either in comments or by e-mail admin AT freegovinfo DOT info.

GAO: Some federal scientists feel hemmed in by policies

The General Accountability Office was recently asked to look into whether federal scientists were being muzzled into media silence. They produced the report:

Federal Research: Policies Guiding the Dissemination of Scientific Research from Selected Agencies Should Be Clarified and Better Communicated, GAO-07-653, May 17, 2007

Here is the abstract for your consideration (emphasis mine):

Researchers at federal agencies disseminate their research results through a variety of approaches, including scientific publications, presentations, press releases, and media interviews. Because of recent concerns about some federal researchers possibly being restricted from disseminating their research on controversial topics, GAO determined (1) the policies that guide the dissemination of federal research at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); (2) how effectively these agencies have communicated their policies to researchers; and (3) the extent to which researchers have been restricted in disseminating their research. GAO conducted a survey of 1,811 researchers randomly selected at the three agencies, and had a 66 percent response rate.

Most of the NASA, NIST, and NOAA policies that guide the dissemination of federally funded research generally facilitate the dissemination process, but some do not. GAO found that overall NASA’s policies, including its recently revised media policy, are clear and should help facilitate dissemination regardless of the dissemination approach used. At NIST and NOAA, GAO found that the agencies’ policies for dissemination through publications and presentations were generally clear and should facilitate dissemination; but their policies for disseminating research through media interviews and press releases may hinder it. For example, because both NIST and NOAA are part of Commerce, researchers at these agencies must comply with department-level policies to disseminate their research results through media interviews or press releases, but Commerce’s policies are outdated and can prevent researchers from meeting media schedules. Moreover, requests by NOAA researchers to share their research via media interviews and press releases may be further hampered because these researchers must also comply with their own agency’s media interview and press release policies in addition to the Department of Commerce’s. NOAA officials told GAO that because its media interview and press release policies lack clarity, they have been inconsistently interpreted by NOAA public affairs officials. According to GAO’s survey, NASA, NIST, and NOAA have made efforts to communicate their dissemination policies to their research staff, but many researchers are not confident that they know how to comply with some of the policies. The agencies have communicated their dissemination policies through staff meetings, on agency Web sites, and in limited formal training. While 90 percent of researchers are confident that they understand the policies for publications, only about 65 percent are confident they understand their agency’s media interview and press release policies well enough to comply with them. Similarly, almost half of the researchers across the agencies are unsure whether their agency’s policy allows them to discuss their personal views on the policy implications of their research. Finally, only 25 percent of researchers across the agencies are aware of a process to follow to appeal denials of requests to disseminate their research. On the basis of responses to GAO’s survey, 6 percent–or about 200 researchers–across NASA, NIST, and NOAA had dissemination requests denied during the last 5 years. One of the most common reasons researchers mentioned for these denials was that the topic of the research was sensitive or restricted for security reasons; in some cases, no reason was given. Most researchers at these agencies believe that their agency is more supportive of dissemination of research through publications and presentations, than dissemination through the media. Most NIST and NOAA researchers believe that their agency consistently applies the dissemination policies for each route of dissemination, while more researchers at NASA believe the agency consistently applies its policies for publications than believe the agency consistently applies its policies for press releases and interviews.

The full report is available at the link above.