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Next week, I will be representing government information librarians at a career fair for graduate students in library science here in northeast Ohio. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the message I want to bring to my booth. Many of the reasons I decided to become a librarian are related directly to government information. While I can’t expect that everyone is as instinctively thrilled about USDA research products, Congressional hearings, and old War Department railroad surveys as I am, it seems likely that most government information issues have some inherent appeal to librarians, even those who may not yet have been bitten by the government information bug.
My incomplete list of librarians and related specialists who have some investment in government information includes: librarians at institutions that perform policy, political science, or historical research; public services librarians who help users find information about government services, activities, and priorities; librarians at institutions specializing in the health sciences (or any other discipline for which the government funds research); archivists and digital collections librarians; records managers; book conservators; publishers who reprint works in the public domain; programmers and database administrators who might want to work for the government; and school media specialists looking for resources to support civics education.
Beyond this, I would include librarians who are bloggers, librarians who are politics junkies, and every librarian who is, on principle, an advocate of openness and transparency, or who would benefit as a voter or citizen or member of a community from more open information from the government – and that, as we know, is everyone.
So I will highlight resources that might hook different members of this eclectic community of future librarians. Of course, as an FDLP librarian, I want to make information available about the program and what it’s like to work with documents, as well as the breadth and depth of information available from all flavors of government. But I will also highlight government information accessibility and preservation initiatives, public interest issues (such as access to taxpayer-supported research and the link between public libraries and e-government services), and projects and issues that tie into emerging technologies and other hot topics in librarianship. The more librarians are invested in government information issues, the more they will join our conversations with government entities – and the more they will support our work at our libraries and institutions.
If you have tips and tricks for hooking new librarians, or a great success story, please share in the comments!
Aimee, Daniel, Kathy, Jim, Anne, Debbie:
Thank you much for each of your thoughtful remarks (and I hope others contribute their own bricks and mortar to this curricular barn raising!)
It has been a week since I posted — after about 15 hours with the Govt. Information studnets, and another six with my other class, I can say with some confidence they grasp all of our collective point — goverrnment information and libraries rapidly change with each successive generation of technology, political and economic upheavals, as well as the dynamics of how our global society defines both traditional and civic literacies.
The take away from the first weekend, I hope the students got anyway, is the following:
— you must understand how government works before you can understand the information products that these civic processes create. (I suppose this is why completing an extended legislative history on a particular law at the federal level remains a cornerstone of my teaching; even though it feels so "old school" to me.)
— the formats or forums where these govenment information objects might appear (or distributed) has become less important to me. As I told the students — I am going to try to teach them how to be the best librarians who can find government information, not the best government information librarians. Seems to me with the consolidations, reorganizations, and reconsiderations many libraries (academic, public, special) now put their traditional documents departments through — I am convinced the next generation of government information librarians will come to professional maturity in library organizations that do not give government information services or collections any special consideration.
— that this is essentially hard and difficult work. The traditional bibliographic tools (if not perspectives) no longer work in a variegated world of digital, tangible, and print formats. Government information is where you find it (another way of expressing the ideas of the previous point). I think the relevance of government information for our users will evolve through how we structure our public interactions with them, and how we build a sustainable knowledgebase of this interactions over time and among communities. In other words we are moving from a form of librarianship based on formats (with all its attendant organizational schemes and theoritical controls) to a much more rough and ready form of librarianship focused on singular and collective service to our communities.
One other takeaway I got from this conversation so far is the reminder of how much of our storehouse of government information "best practices" remains scatterred across our professional and digital landscapes. In the eight comments over the past week there was mention of
GODORT Handout Exchange at http://wikis.ala.org/godort/index.php/Exchange
Webjunction. The Government Information section at http://webjunction.org/do/Navigation?category=14562
Individuals in particular areas who contribute to our students’ learning by bringing their experience with "best practices" into the classroom
Perhaps through the library associations, the association of Library and Information schools, and other integrating collaborative entities can begin to work bring these strands together into a stronger fabric. I am on the GODORT Education Committee (www.ala.org/ala/godort/godortcommittees/godorteducation/index.htm) and know we are discussing aspects of this issue — focusing in particular on the compentencies for government information professionals.
That’s enough from here for the moment — got to get some notes prepared for the next class.
I appreciate the discussion so far — and am anxious to hear more people join!
From the 1-18-08 post:
I am about to spend my first weekend teaching Government Information Resources for the Spring semester at Dominican University. I have been teaching such a course here in Illinois and other places for the last 17 years. What I wonder is – for those of you who use government information resources out there – what would be your take-away for library students interested in the future of the government information resources and our bibliographic institutions. In other words, given the number of weeks and hours we will spend together over the next three months, what words of wisdom would you like to see them walk away with?
Is it the technologies of egovernment and how they shape the paths of public information distribution?
Is it the shifting fortunes of civil liberties that threaten aspects of a open and transparent government?
Is it the changing nature of our library institutions, and by the same token, their shifting responsibility of libraries to keep and preserve government information?
Or is it all the above?
Obviously I am not looking for yes or no answers here. Just trying to get a sense of how my colleagues are dealing with these problems in the communities of practice.
Looking forward to your responses.