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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.

Lunchtime listen: LC National Jukebox, Smithsonian Folkways and Animal Cams

Just finishing up the first Webinar hosted by the ALA Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) entitled “Lions, and Podcasts, and Videos! Oh My!” Kathryn Yelinek from Bloomsburg University did a great job in showcasing audio-visual resources available from the US Government. Check out the following:

While tangible print documents have dominated traditional government sources, the United States government has always produced information in a variety of formats. This session is intended to introduce librarians to the rich variety of online government audiovisual material. Come and learn how
to point your patrons to folk music recordings, historical videos, and more (there might be lions!)

About the Presenter: Kathryn Yelinek received her MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh and her MSIT from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. For the past seven years, she has served as Coordinator of Government Documents for Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. While still a bibliophile at heart, she’s becoming more aware of the educational benefits of audiovisual material.

New Website for Smithsonian Institution Archives

The Smithsonian Institution Archives has a redesigned website. The home page says “the old website is archived” but I could find no information if old links will work or if old pages are still online.

The Smithsonian Institution Archives siarchives.si.edu

The Smithsonian Institution Archives captures, preserves, and makes available to the public the history of this extraordinary Institution. From its inception in 1846 to the present, the records of the history of the Institution—its people, its programs, its research, and its stories—have been gathered, organized, and disseminated so that everyone can learn about the Smithsonian. The history of the Smithsonian is a vital part of American history, of scientific exploration, and of international cultural understanding.

The Archives New Website and Blog!, by Effie Kapsalis, The Bigger Picture [blog] (September 12, 2011).

some of the features of the new site:

  • a new Collections Search feature that provides online access to all of the Archives’ records catalogued to date with the ability to download media for free personal and educational use, as well as to make reference requests directly from the Archives’ collection guides;
  • dedicated pages on the history of each Smithsonian museum, research center, as well as resources on the overall history of the Smithsonian including a timeline of major events in Smithsonian history, and historic pictures of the Smithsonian;
  • access to over 4,000 Finding Aids, which serve as guides to the Archives’ collections, that have been optimized for search to help the public more easily explore the 35,000 cubic feet of records held by the Archives;
  • new online forums for the public to ask reference questions, and get tips on collections care and records management, from Archives staff.
  • Take a tour by watching the video

    See also Smithsonian Institution.

    Smithsonian digitization strategic plan

    The Smithsonian has just released their digitization strategic plan for fiscal years 2010 – 2015 called “Creating a Digital Smithsonian” — executive summary and full report.

    I’m in 2 minds about this as well as similar digitization plans. On the one hand, the digitization of Smithsonian collections — books, research reports, data, music, film and other sounds (like frog vocalizations!) — will mean potentially a boon to online access to some really amazing materials.

    On the other hand, this quote from the executive summary worries me:

    To preserve our collections, the Smithsonian constantly battles the destructive forces of time and environment. Despite our best efforts, plastics discolor, wax cylinder recordings distort, and botanical specimens become brittle. Digitization offers a way to make objects — and the valuable information they contain — available without jeopardizing their integrity by handling or by exposure to the elements.

    While they mention a “life cycle-management approach to digitization,” there doesn’t seem to be a serious amount of thought given to the fact that digital objects degrade faster than physical objects, and that digital preservation is an ongoing and potentially more expensive effort. I worry that SI.edu will broker the same kind of disastrous deal that GAO did with Thomson-West whereby a whole swath of public domain information was privatized.

    I would call on SI.edu and ALL .gov agencies to insert a clause into ANY digitization contract that ALL digital files and metadata will be accessible via free and open sites. That means where applicable, copies of all digital content would be ingested into GPO’s FDsys, Library of Congress, NARA and/or publicly accessible non-profit sites (eg. UNT digital library or Internet Archive). Please help us get this message across to your friends in the .gov sector. Public information should remain public!

    Malamud calls for a national scan center public works project

    Carl Malamud posed this question over on twitter: “What if our national cultural institutions all worked together on a common problem, attracted White House support?” In his post on the O’Reilly blog, “A National Scan Center: A Public Works Project”, Malamud scopes out the issues and calls for Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Government Printing Office, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Technical Information Service to come together and make the compelling case for funding a 5-year $500 million effort to create a National Scan Center. Here here Carl!

    In the U.S., we face a similar deluge of paperwork that we faced in the 1930s. A huge backlog of paper, microfiche, audio, video, and other materials is located throughout the federal government. Little money has gone from Congress for digitization, and bureaucracies have resorted to a series of questionable private-public partnerships as a way of digitizing their materials. For example, the Government Accountability Office shipped 60 million pages of our Federal Legislative Histories (the record of each law from the initial bill through the hearings and conference reports) off to Thomson West, but didn’t even get digital copies back. Another example is the recent failed effort by the Government Printing Office to digitize 60 million pages of the Federal Depository Library Program, an effort they tried to get through as a “zero dollar cost to the government” effort with the private sector.

    There are no free lunches and there are no “no cost to the government” deals. The costs involve the government effort to supervise the contract, prepare the materials, and ship them, and in both the GAO and GPO cases, the government wasn’t getting much back for its effort. What the government and the people usually get is a lien on the public domain, preventing the public from accessing these vital materials. Similar efforts are sprinkled throughout the government. I testified to Congress that I had learned that the National Archives was contemplating a scan of congressional hearings with LexisNexis under similar circumstances, and many may be aware of the questionable deal the Archives cut with Amazon where my favorite online superstore got de facto exclusive rights to 1,899 wonderful pieces of video.

    Smithsonian Reports Its Web and New Media Strategy

    This new Smithsonian document “describes a transformational change for the Smithsonian, which will have impact on the Institution’s culture, operations, allocation of resources, talent recruitment, and priorities. This strategy can only become operational with adequate resources, and will require the Smithsonian to rethink the ways in which it generates revenues and prioritizes how resources are allocated to programs.”

    A key part of the strategy is to create a Smithsonian Commons “dedicated to the free and unrestricted sharing of Smithsonian resources and encouraging new kinds of learning and creation through interaction with Smithsonian research, collections, and communities” but it will also “Use the commons to attract the funding necessary to update the Smithsonian’s Web and New Media operations and business models.”

    The report notes that:

    Attempting to directly monetize access to, and use of, museum content does not appear to be a sustainable business model. Through these low-margin business practices, we alienate users, perpetuate the practice of institutions charging each other, discourage research and publications, and undermine our civic mission. The commons presents an alternative: gradually reduce our dependence on access and use fees by aggregating larger number of visitors under a strong brand supported by sponsorships and other value-added products and services. It is likely that the Smithsonian will make more money by promoting “free” resources to a large audience than it can make charging small amounts for small transactions to a small audience, and it is a much better fit with the mission.