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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.

Government e-mail retention in states inconsistent, incomplete, and worse

E-mail public documents get erased, disappear, by Sudhin Thanawala, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2008.

A 50-state survey by the Associated Press of government e-mail retention earlier this year found a wide variety of laws and practices, with the vast majority of states officially treating e-mail like printed documents. But most of the states with e-mail laws allow officials to choose which ones to turn over in Freedom of Information requests and to decide on their own when e-mail records are deleted.

Lost webpages?

CBS reported that the Alabama Department of Homeland Security has a website that listed groups they consider possible terrorists. However, after the agency received complaints from people, some Web pages were removed from the list.

The original list of the groups that the agency considered possible terrorists were:

  • Environmentalists
  • Anti-Genetics (those opposed to genetically-altered crops)
  • Animal Rights
  • Anti-Abortion
  • Anti-Nuclear
  • Anti-War
  • Pro-Gay Right

This is a classic example of the abuse that can occur when a politically motivated governmental body controls information without any sort of vetting process. I am wondering if any library or individuals were able to capture the removed websites. Or will this be a permanently lost document? I did a quick, not thorough search in the WayBack Machine but no luck.

Update 5/29/2007

Thanks to Valerie for pointing out this page has been saved by a library/archives agency.

Google and state documents

According to Library Journal, Google announced last week that it had formed “partnerships” with four states, Arizona, California, Utah, and Virginia, to offer index and search capabilities for public information in state government databases. Google’s Public Sector program seeks to make government information, much of it in the dark web of databases, more accessible through their SiteMaps protocol. A Sitemap is “an XML file that lists the URLs for a site. It allows webmasters to include additional information about each URL: when it was last updated, how often it changes, and how important it is in relation to other URLs in the site. This allows search engines to crawl the site more intelligently” (Wikipedia). I’m all for making govt information at all levels more findable to search engines, and SiteMap is an interesting way for Web masters to do that — sort of a MARC record for crawlers.

Another way to do that is for libraries to write/blog about their collections, their documents, the questions they answer and the resources they use to answer those questions. Libraries can also use web services like del.icio.us to collect and describe the Web sites that they use on a daily basis (see our tag cloud for an example). (On a side note, has anyone seen 50 matches, a search engine that only crawls web sites that were bookmarked or voted for by people, in sites like del.icio.us, digg and reddit?)

These will in effect release the information that libraries traditionally hold in closed systems and databases, make our collections (both digital AND physical!) more findable and vet the Web for our users. Got other ideas for “info-catharsis”? Let us know in the comments.

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