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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.

Information sharing and the National Plan

(Background here: http://freegovinfo.info/node/10285)

At the 2015 Depository Library Council meeting on October 20th, Mary Alice Baish, Superintendent of Documents, informed the depository library community that in July, GPO had formally requested permission from the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP) to allow Regionals to discard documents in tangible formats that have been retained for seven years when an authenticated, digitally signed version is available on FDsys. The response GPO received in early August approved this request, setting the additional condition that a minimum of four physical copies of each document be maintained within the FDLP, and suggesting the use of existing Census regions to ensure the geographic dispersal of these copies.

According to GPO’s presentation, the process for approving the withdrawal of tangible items at Regionals and identifying the geographically dispersed copies retained in tangible format will be conducted for the time being based on GPO’s ten existing print procurement regions. Six libraries have been identified to pilot the process, and GPO staff will work with these institutions to begin withdrawing materials in January 2016.

The presentation was webcast live and is available as a recording; the Regionals meeting later in the evening was also webcast live and is also available. Following the conference, GPO released the letter from GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks, and the reply from Congressman Gregg Harper, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Printing. No final version of the policy has been made available at this time.

It is clear that GPO has listened to the community to some extent: the presentation identifies specific GPO activities that address community concerns including seeking trusted repository certification for FDsys and prioritizing bibliographic control projects for the national collection. Still, the available documentation suggests that there has been very little information shared between GPO’s request for feedback and discussion in April 2014 and the announcement of the policy’s implementation in October 2015, other than a request for information regarding intent to discard from Regionals.

Setting aside the wisdom of identifying a minimum number of tangible copies, let alone such a low number, and also setting aside the question of how preservation and access copies will be identified and maintained, this project represents a pattern in how FDLP initiatives are discussed and documented.

At the same DLC meeting, the FIPNet update was a lively discussion of various collaborative projects undertaken by individual libraries and library consortia. The second part of the program featured a presentation from Dr. Katherine Skinner, Executive Director of the Educopia Institute, on the value of collective action, which is a key element motivating any project that must be carried out on a widely distributed basis. Both recordings are linked below.

While the variety of approaches to preserving government information is laudable, only the University of North Texas has signed a formal FIPNet partnership agreement. To the best of my knowledge, no other organization has formally announced its intent to join FIPNet yet. Anecdotally, it seems that at least some potential partners are waiting to see what a partnership would entail, prior to committing. There are two opposing forces at play: on the one hand, GPO has stated its intention to be flexible and open to partnership opportunities, which precludes providing structured articulations of what FIPNet participation entails. But the lack of documentation and specifics makes it more difficult for potential partners to identify the roles or responsibilities they wish to take. While I hope there are a substantial number of closed-door discussions between GPO and potential partners, we have no way to know.

Both FIPNet and the implementation of the Regionals discard policy are part of the National Plan. But the Plan itself is not a plan: instead, it is a strategy outlined in presentations, with a few key diagrams available in handouts and slides posted on the website. In my experience, community members are still asking each other “Where is the National Plan? What is FIPNet? Is it here yet?”

We’re all in uncharted waters here, but the community outside of the Depository Library Council (DLC) is at a particular disadvantage. It’s understandable that GPO leadership would be cautious in formal public commitment to specifics for programs that are under development, especially a program like FIPNet, which has few existing precedents. However, when the only detailed documentation for a project or initiative are recorded conference sessions, it is hard to both believe and persuade others that this is a fixed course of action for GPO.

It is vital for the depository library community to understand projects and initiatives to communicate about them with library administrations and those working outside of government documents. Still, many (and perhaps most) depository librarians are simply not sure how to explain the National Plan or FIPNet. Without a formal guiding document, anyone trying to understand these developments must wade through a maze of recorded presentations and handouts. Even clearly-labeled draft or discussion documents would be an improvement in access to this information.

I have an enormous amount of respect for all of the work that Library Services & Content Management (LSCM) does on behalf of the FDLP: this office has some of the hardest-working, most dedicated librarians I’ve had the fortune to meet, and asking for more documentation means more time spent writing, editing, approving, and publishing documents that will become outdated as the systems develop and progress. Still, it is the documentary trail that we need to rely on for our shared understanding of where the FDLP is, and where it is going. Otherwise, we are doing the best we can by word of mouth alone — and that may not be enough.

Selected Bibliography

Martin Halbert et al. “FIPNet and Stratigies for Utilizing the Collective Impact Model.”  http://login.icohere.com/public/topics.cfm?cseq=1328. Updated 19 October 2015.

Federal Depository Library Program. “Regional Meeting.” http://login.icohere.com/public/topics.cfm?cseq=1328. Updated October 20, 2015.

Library Services & Content Management. “Implementing the National Plan: Focusing on Users and Services.” http://login.icohere.com/public/topics.cfm?cseq=1328. Updated October 19, 2015.

Library Services & Content Management. “New Regional Depository Library Discard Policy.”  http://login.icohere.com/public/topics.cfm?cseq=1328. Updated October 20, 2015.

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

Katherine Skinner. “From Collaborative Action to Collective Impact.”  http://login.icohere.com/public/topics.cfm?cseq=1328. Updated October 19, 2015.

One year later…what’s happening with Regionals and discards?

In April 2014, GPO presented a draft policy (also known as an “SOD” or “Superintendent of Documents Public Policy Statement”) that would create a mechanism for Regional depository libraries to request permission to substitute specified tangible holdings for authenticated electronic holdings in FDsys. FGI has already responded in detail to this proposal (see “Why GPO’s proposed policy to allow Regionals to discard is a bad idea”).

Library associations and organizations also published letters in response to the proposed policy. As FGI has documented (see “Library associations weigh in on GPO’s proposed policy to allow Regionals to discard”), both those supporting and opposing this policy outlined steps that GPO should take so that the FDLP can continue to meet its obligations for permanent access to the national collection of U.S. government information. Given that many of these projects will be the focus of updates at the upcoming 2015 DLC Meeting and FDL Conference, I want to summarize what information we have so far on GPO’s activities as they relate to some of these recommendations and suggestions.

GODORT Recommendations

In its letter dated August 18, 2014, GODORT requested that GPO take four major steps prior to the adoption of any policy allowing Regionals to substitute electronic versions of authenticated publications hosted on FDsys.

  1. GPO and the FDLP community should jointly develop a national inventory of historical federal publications held in depository libraries.
  2. GPO and the FDLP community should use a research-based approach to making decisions regarding the appropriate number of tangible copies of a publication needed for access, re-use, preservation, and re-digitization.
  3. FDsys should undergo the Trusted Repository Audit and Certification (TRAC) audit process.
  4. GPO should adopt a quality assurance (QA) process for digitized and born-digital publications made available for substitution.

(Full disclosure: along with James R. Jacobs, I was a member of the group that drafted GODORT’s response letter, and I was also a member of the Steering Committee that voted on the final letter.)

(more…)

Mary Alice Baish named GPO Superintendent of Documents

Congratulations to our friend Mary Alice Baish (nee Director of Government Relations for the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL)) for being named Assistant Public Printer and Superintendent of Documents at the Government Printing Office (GPO). This is an important position at a critical time for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). We look forward to working with Mary Alice on the many issues pertaining to the realization of the digital FDLP. Congratulations again Mary Alice!


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 20, 2011 No. 11-04
MEDIA CONTACT: GARY SOMERSET 202.512.1957, 202.355.3997 cell [email protected]

LIBRARY ADVOCATE BECOMES SUPERINTENDENT OF DOCUMENTS

WASHINGTON – Public Printer Bill Boarman has named Mary Alice Baish Assistant Public Printer, Superintendent of Documents, for the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). This position is the agency’s lead in guaranteeing permanent public access to Government information published by the three branches of the Federal Government. Baish will oversee GPO’s Library Services & Content Management unit, Publication & Information Sales unit and the management of GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys www.fdsys.gov), which is a one-stop site to authentic, published Government information. In her role, Baish will work with more than 1,200 Federal depository libraries nationwide, through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), to ensure Government information is available in all forms to the public.

Link to photo: http://gpo.gov/images/news-media/management/Baish_180.jpg

“Mary Alice has been a strong advocate for GPO and the library community throughout her entire career, which makes her a natural choice to assume this important position for the agency,” said Public Printer Bill Boarman. “Her vision and experience with open Government initiatives will be an asset to the FDLP and GPO’s effort through FDsys in making Federal Government information open and transparent for the American people.”

Throughout Baish’s career, she has worked with all sectors of the library community, testifying before Congressional committees on behalf of GPO, and has been a leading voice in developing electronic systems to disseminate Government information. Prior to her appointment at GPO, she previously served as the Director of Government Relations for the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), a nonprofit educational organization that serves the information needs of the legal community. Baish has worked closely with Congressional committees, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Federal agencies and the Administration in developing policies and legislation that promote the needs of libraries, the legal community and the American public. She is among the founding members of OpenTheGovernment.org (OTG.org), an organization created to promote democracy and end Government secrecy. She has worked with OTG.org, the White House and Office of Management and Budget in implementing President Obama’s Open Government Directive and with auditing agency Open Government Plans. She has written and spoken extensively about e-government information policy and is a past member of the Depository Library Council to the Public Printer.

She is a resident of Fairfax Station, VA, and holds a master’s degree in Library and Information Studies from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and an Ed.M. from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

GPO is the Federal Government’s primary centralized resource for gathering, cataloging, producing, providing, authenticating, and preserving published U.S. Government information in all its forms. GPO is responsible for the production and distribution of information products and services for all three branches of the Federal Government. In addition to publication sales, GPO makes Government information available at no cost to the public through GPO’s Federal Digital System (www.fdsys.gov) and through partnerships with approximately 1,220 libraries nationwide participating in the Federal Depository Library Program. For more information, please visit www.gpo.gov. Follow GPO on Twitter http://twitter.com/USGPO and on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/user/gpoprinter.

Superintendent of Documents Russell to retire

The volunteers at Free Government Information were surprised to learn of the impending retirement of Ms. Judith Russell, Superintendent of Documents at the Government Printing Office (GPO). Although we have disagreed with Ms. Russell on a number of issues, we believe she shared our overarching goal of public access to government information. Our disagreements were on methods rather than core values. As such, we applaud her long-term commitment to the documents community.

Here are some highlights of things that happened on her watch that we find especially commendable (we’re sure the list is longer, but these immediately come to mind 😉 ):

We’d especially wish to thank Ms. Russell for her work in making GPO Access a reality. For these deeds and others, we at FGI wish Ms. Russell well in her future endeavors when she retires in early 2007.

All of us at FGI hope that President Bush will move quickly to name both a Superintendent of Documents and Public Printer who will have an intense commitment to the permanent public access of fully functional government information. We hope that channels will remain open for rewarding discussion and collaboration with future Superintendents of Documents and Public Printers on the vital issues of access, preservation, and privacy. The entire documents community working together collaboratively and collegially will broaden the meaning of authenticity and build the depository system of the 21st century.

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