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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.

UK: National Archives Releases Public API & Government Licensing Policy Extended Making More Public Sector Information Availa

Via INFOdocket:

From Computer Weekly:

The National Archives [UK] has made details of 11m records available through an application interface it published today as part of an ongoing programme to get more official records online.

The API allows anyone to search for and retrieve the metadata that describes records in the archive in XML format. The data can then be used without restriction or charge. But the archive, which is simultaneously an executive agency of the Department of Justice and a government department in its own right, continues to charge £3.50 per document to retrieve actual records online.

More Info on INFOdocket or Direct from Computer Weekly

Also from the National Archives (UK)

“UK government licensing policy extended to make more public sector information available”

From Link Rot to Web Sanctuary

Here is an interesting story about preserving British government information.

Bernard M. Scaife, Technical Services Librarian at the University of London Institute of Education, writes about dealing with the broken links in their catalogue. Finding that ten percent of the links to external resources in their bibliographic records referred to documents which no longer existed and that many of those were official publications from government departments, he started looking for a way to eradicate their link rot problem. Since they already had Eprints software running on campus, they decided to use it:

It occurred to us that this software could enable us to eradicate our link rot problem, whilst building in a core level of digital preservation and increasing the discoverability of these documents. We were convinced that a citation which linked to a record in a Web archive was far more likely to survive than one which did not.

They knew that government budget cuts were increasing the risk of losing content from government departments. The article describes their experiences and summarizes what they learned:

  • Placing files in a repository gives digital preservation to key documents in the subject field and eradicates the link rot problem.
  • Adding high-quality metadata enhances the resource and allows it to hold its head high and become an integral part of a library’s collection.
  • A specialist library can play an important role in preserving domain-specific government content as part of its long-term strategy and ensure high-quality resources remain available.
  • Provided you are prepared to get to grips with its complexity, the EPrints software is well suited to the task and provides good interoperability with other legacy systems for importing metadata
  • The added value of being able to search the full text provides a potentially very rich resource for data mining whether by current or future researchers of educational history.

UFOs in the UK

Here is a catchy URL: ufos.nationalarchives.gov.uk.

The files contain a wide range of UFO-related documents, drawings, letters and parliamentary questions covering the years 2000-2005.

Find out more about the House of Lords’ debate on UFOs, a flying saucer hoax that was treated as a potentially real alien invasion of the UK and how 1978 nearly became ‘the year of the UFO’.

Also see: Britain releases UFO sighting and policy files, By Michelle Martin, Reuters. (Mar 2, 2011).

Hat tip to AHA Today.

A quick look at the bigger picture

For those of us who spend our lunchtimes wandering around the internet, TED Talks are an excellent and often-inspiring diversion. In a February 2010 talk, David Cameron discussed the relationship between politics and behavioral economics, arguing that the technology-driven empowerment of citizens ultimately increases their well-being.

Whether or not you agree with Cameron’s political perspective, and whether or not you agree with his assessment of human nature, his description of the relationship between “people power,” and transparency, choice, and accountability is an interesting one. He points to the Missouri Accountability Portal as an excellent example of public access to technology resulting in public empowerment.

Incidentally, Cameron promised a site that would track all government spending over £25,000, and all government contracts. Public spending data is now available in the Combined Online Information System (COINS) database. The UK government portal, direct.gov.uk, links to some guidance on using COINS, which indicates that the pledge about publicizing spending should be fulfilled by November 2010. It also indicates that user-friendly access options for some data subsets will be in place by August 2010.

You can watch the video here, or view the video with subtitles and an interactive transcript on the TED Talks site.


The United Kingdom has it’s own version of data.gov and it has the added cachet of being promoted and advised by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

  • data.gov.uk

    This site seeks to give a way into the wealth of government data. [T]his means it needs to be: easy to find; easy to licence; and easy to re-use. We are drawing on the expertise and wisdom of Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt to publish government data as RDF – enabling data to be linked together.

  • Tim Berners-Lee unveils government data project, BBC (21 January 2010).

    Web founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee has unveiled his latest venture for the UK government, which offers the public better access to official data.

    A new website, data.gov.uk, will offer reams of public sector data, ranging from traffic statistics to crime figures, for private or commercial use.