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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.

CHA Hearing on tuesday about Title 44 and “Transforming GPO for the 21st Century and Beyond”

Be sure to tune in this coming Tuesday for the Committee on House Administration’s hearing on Title 44 and the FDLP. It looks like it’ll be streaming from CHA’s Website. And if you haven’t yet done so, please sign our petition “Protect the public right to government information: help preserve and expand Title 44.” We’re at 779 signatures, which is pretty amazing considering the wonky nature of this petition. Keep it going!!

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COMMITTEE HEARING

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

10:15 a.m. (eastern)

1310 Longworth House Office Building

Transforming GPO for the 21st Century and Beyond: Part 3 – Federal Depository Library Program

First Panel:

  • Ms. Laurie Hall, Acting Superintendent of Documents, Government Publishing Office

Second Panel:

  • Mr. Mike Furlough, Executive Director, HathiTrust Digital Library
  • Ms. Celina McDonald, Government Documents & Criminology Librarian, University of Maryland
  • Ms. Beth Williams, Library Director, Stanford Law School
  • Mr. Stephen Parks, State Librarian of Mississippi

via Hearing: Transforming GPO for the 21st Century and Beyond: Part 3 – Federal Depository Library Program | Committee on House Administration.

Threats and opportunities re Title 44. FGI audio & DLF, Harvard, MIT libraries’ letters in support of FGI recommendations

The Digital Library Federation’s Records Transparency and Accountability Group hosted FGI’er Jim Jacobs on August 18, 2017 to present about the threats to Title 44. They just posted the audio of Jim’s session on the DLF blog. Jim outlines the issues clearly and concisely, and makes an outstanding case for positive substantive changes to Title 44 based on the following 4 principles:

  • The law should ensure the privacy of users of government info.
  • The law should address the long-term preservation challenges posed by born-digital government information.
  • The law should protect free access and free use.
  • The law should modernize the scope of government information covered by chapter 19 for the digital age.

I was also pleased to read that the DLF was about to send a letter in support of Title 44 based on Stanford UL Michael Keller’s letter. Along with Stanford, several other large academic libraries have now weighed in: The University librarians at the 11 University of California campuses, Harvard University and MIT Libraries are now on record in support of title 44 changes based on these same principles!

I hope these letters show how much the library community supports the FDLP and helps our library associations make the case for the need for better access to and preservation of govt information via a positive update of Title 44. We still need many more library directors to write letters in support to the Committee on house Administration and the Joint Committee on Printing.

BTW, our petition “Protect the public right to government information: help preserve and expand Title 44” is at 695 signatures and still climbing! Help us get to 1000 signatures!!

Sign the petition “Protect the public right to govt information: help preserve and expand Title 44”

As many of our readers know, there has recently been a lot of activity surrounding efforts to modify title 44 of the US Code. YOU can make your voice heard by signing the petition “Protect the public right to govt information: help preserve and expand Title 44”.

Signatures will go directly to staffers on the House Committee on Administration and Joint Committee on Printing, as well as to GPO and ALA Washington Office. Please share widely on your social media.

We need lots of support in order to assure that any changes to Title 44 support and expand preservation of and access to government information. For more background on what’s at stake, please see our post Strengthening the Discussions about Title 44.

The public’s right to information by and about its government is critical to the workings of a democracy. Title 44 of the US Code, which codifies the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) into law, is the *only* legal guarantee that the US government will provide its information for free to the General Public, the citizens of the USA. It also directly affects thousands of non-Federal Depository Library Program libraries by defining free public access to the essential information and records of our democracy.

A push to revise Title 44 is in the works led by the Government Publishing Office and the Committee on House Administration. Government Publishing Office Director Davita Vance-Cooks has asked the Depository Library Council (DLC) to gather recommendations from the depository community for changes to Chapter 19 of Title 44 of the U.S. Code.

We the undersigned write today to assure that any changes to the law strengthen the FDLP and free public access to and preservation of government information regardless of physical or digital format.

Strengthening the Discussions about Title 44

Since last week, when we posted Stanford Library Director Michael Keller’s letter to the Committee on House Administration (CHA) and the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP), there has been more activity around the efforts to modify Title 44 of the US Code. We understand that the ALA and its Committee on Legislation (COL), the Government Documents Round Table (GODORT), other ALA divisions and round tables, and The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) are all actively investigating the issues.

When we look at the last ten years of discussions of the FDLP, we can anticipate what some of the proposals will be. We anticipate proposals with high-sounding promises about access and preservation with details that propose changes to Title 44 that will weaken and diminish the role of libraries, promote the fragile model of centralizing control of government information with GPO, entrench GPO’s long-term efforts to replace FDLP with short-term "partners," and make it easier to discard and destroy the FDLP Historic Collections. We also anticipate proposals to promote digitizing the Historic Collections — which can already be done without changes to the law. We imagine that there will be proposals that will not enhance access or preservation or strengthen the role of libraries, but will be pitched as "saving" or "expanding" the FDLP.

This will be confusing! We hope that discussions will focus on changes that will actually strengthen long-term free public access.

With this in mind, we have written four new posts on FGI that explain in clear language the reasons behind and the effects of the six recommendations we have made in our earlier post “This is not a drill. The future of Title 44 and the depository library program hang in the balance.” Our specific proposals are based on 4 principles. We invite you to hold other proposals to the same standards.

Read and discuss!

Strengthening Title 44:

  1. Modernize the definition of "publications"
  2. Ensure Free Access
  3. Ensure Privacy
  4. Ensure Preservation

James and Jim

Strengthening Title 44, part 4: Preservation

Preservation

This is the fourth in a series of four posts in which we elaborate on the reasons behind our recent recommendations for strengthening Title 44 of the U.S. Code.

We recommend changes to chapters 19 and 41 of Title 44 that will require the preservation of digital government information.

Recommendation

Require Preservation

Make changes to §1904 and §1905 to explicitly include “digital public information” that GPO will deposit by sending digital files (including metadata) to FDLP libraries. Define “digital depositories” as FDLP libraries that receive, store, preserve, and provide access to digital government information they acquire through the Depository Program. (GPO’s current use of terms such as “digital-only depositories” and “All or Mostly Online depositories” for libraries into which nothing is deposited are misleading to Congress and the public.) In addition, modify the text of §1911 to define a class of FDLP digital preservation libraries. Those FDLP libraries will agree to retain all digital content sent through the depository program, will preserve that content, and will make it available for the free use of the general public. Add text to §4101 requiring GPO to preserve and provide free public access to all the digital content that it adds to its “electronic storage facility for Federal electronic information.”

Current Law

Neither Chapter 19 (FDLP) nor Chapter 41 (govinfo.gov) use the word “preservation” or contain any requirements for the long term preservation of digital government information.

There are retention requirements for selective depositories in §1911 and for regional depositories in §1912, but, by GPO policy, these requirements currently only apply to so-called “tangible” items and exclude so-called “online” items. GPO’s persistent attempts over the last decade to weaken the current retention requirements suggest that it may want to change the law to further weaken or even scrap the existing retention requirements (Jacobs and Jacobs 2017b).

Chapter 41 can be read as implying that digital information will be preserved, but even that is limited in scope. Section 4101 requires GPO to provide access to and store only two digital titles, the Congressional Record and the Federal Register. It leaves it up to the Superintendent of Documents to determine what content is added to — or withdrawn from — govinfo.gov.

Title 44 does have provisions for the preservation of some government information, but these are limited. Chapter 21 establishes the National Archives And Records Administration (NARA) in Chapters 29, 31 and 33 defines the scope of preservation. Chapter 36 gives the Office of Electronic Government some responsibility for overseeing preservation of government information.

Analysis

Chapter 41 of Title 44 does not require GPO to preserve anything. The law can and should be strengthened to make preservation an explicit requirement, not a policy option that could change with the political exigencies of the moment. The law should also be modernized to reflect the reality of born-digital publishing by expanding the scope of what is preserved.

The task of preserving enormous amounts of digital government information is daunting and probably beyond the ability of any single government agency. GPO has recognized and admitted in its National Plan that it needs partners. But GPO’s current policies have effectively blocked FDLP libraries from participating as digital preservation partners — and there is barely a trickle of FIPnet partner libraries agreeing to be “preservation stewards” preserve minuscule numbers of physical documents. GPO has, through policy, even attempted to redefine “depository” libraries as libraries into which nothing is deposited.

The existing laws that define preservation outside of FDLP are limited in scope and effect. The Chapters of Title 44 cited above and the Federal Records Act and similar laws and regulations cover only a portion of the huge amount of information gathered and created by the government. Most government agencies do not have a mission that includes either the long-term preservation of their information or free public access to it. The preservation plans that do exist are subject to interpretation by political appointees who may not always have preservation as their highest priority.

Our recommendations (including broadening the scope of FDLP) would give GPO, along with its FDLP library partners, a clear responsibility for the long-term preservation of and free public access to public government information.

Specifically, our recommendation would prevent GPO from removing content from govinfo.gov once it has been added. It would give FDLP libraries the flexibility to select digital government information and build their own digital collections and services. It would set up a new category of digital-depository preservation-partner that would strengthen long-term digital preservation without weakening GPO or govinfo.gov. These changes would complement, not replace govinfo.gov.

Effects

The recommended changes to Title 44 would have several positive effects.

  • The recommendation would modernize the law to recognize born-digital information by redefining the scope of Chapter 41 to include all federal digital “public information.”
  • By including digital public information in the depository program, GPO would immediately gain dedicated, legally-mandated partners for digital preservation and online access.
  • The changes would enhance access by promoting digital collections in FDLP libraries. When libraries have curated collections that they control, they can develop robust discovery and access services tailored to the needs of the communities they serve. (Jacobs and Jacobs 2016, Jacobs 2009)
  • By explicitly specifying retention requirements for deposited digital government information, the law would enhance digital preservation by putting many digital copies under different technical, administrative, and financial control.
  • The recommendation would modernize the law for the digital age by establishing a new class of FDLP digital preservation libraries.
  • The recommendation would close the loophole in the current law that allows GPO to withdraw content from its digital storage and access facility.
  • By focusing on digital preservation rather than on weakening the existing retention requirements for paper publications, these changes would enhance rather than weaken preservation of all government information.

Endnotes

Authors:
James A. Jacobs, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Stanford University

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