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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.

A Wiki Grows at EPA

The February 4, 2008 issue of Government Computer News carries an interesting interview:

Molly O’Neill | EPA the Web 2.0 way
GCN Interview By Joab Jackson

The article talks about some of the EPA’s experiments with web 2.0 technologies including wikis. One of the wikis arose out of the Puget Sound Information Challenge:

So we decided to use the mashup camp as our staging area for the wiki. We had a form on the wiki site that you could download, fill out and send in. We also sent up an e-mail address and a phone number.

It was a little scary because we hadn’t told anyone about this beforehand. What if no one contributed? That wasn’t a problem — we had so many people interested and providing useful information.

We had people building applications. National librarians were culling data for library resources. We had people help organize it. The interesting thing was to watch how many hits we were getting through social networking. People took my e-mail and sent it to other people, who sent it off to even more people. We had a blog from Germany weigh in. We had over 17,000 page views and 175 good contributions.

We learned a lot, and we delivered something as well — in fact, several of us are going to Seattle to meet with the council to talk about these tools. They have to write a strategic plan, so maybe they could write a strategic plan with the wiki online. Instead of spending months trying to gather data, they could do it a lot faster using social networking.

Wikis are interesting animals as government documents. While they are very changable, wikis carry their own version control. Think about what implications that might have if you think a wiki is worth saving for preservation. Would you try to copy every version? Take a snapshot once a month? Or decide it was ephemera you didn’t need? We’d like to know what you think. If you’d like to see EPA’s Puget Sound wiki for yourself, please visit http://pugetsound.epageo.org/.

As a tool for quickly gathering community input, I think EPA is onto something. Especially if most contributers are identified. It would become easier to distinguish special interest group input from regular community input. Or at least the potential is there.

Aside from the wiki, the interview has a great insight from Ms. O’Neill that I think has relevancy to the library community. She is asked "Why do you think federal agencies have such a hard time disseminating information on the Web? " and the last part of her answer is:

But the third reason is that we tend to organize data in a way that it makes sense to us. Although this is changing a little bit now, at EPA we still primarily organize our data by how we are organized as an agency. People outside the agency don’t think of things that way. They get frustrated because they want all the information about a subject, like climate change or environmental indicators. So where do they go? We’re doing a lot to improve search on our site. When you do a search on the main page, it will give you folder options. When you type in “waste water,” it will organize by folder topics like stormwater or industrial effluent.

This is both warning and opportunity for libraries. The warning is that we also tend to organize data in a way that makes sense to us in databases (catalogs) that make sense to us but not to users. But the good news is that one of the ways we organize materials is by subject. And documents librarians are very good about searching across agency boundaries for materials. It’s one of the many ways we add value to government information.

State Blue Books – ALA GODORT – Accept no substitutes

I need the help of the FGI community in a strange way. I need you to link to the now official copy of the State Blue Book guide I originally created in 2005 and updated with great assistance from Jennifer Manning of the Library of Congress.

That link is http://wikis.ala.org/godort/index.php/State_Blue_Books. Please post it whereever you can.

Why? Because if you do a Google or Yahoo search on the term "state blue books", the page that comes up isn’t the one hosted by ALA GODORT and patrolled by several eagle-eyed sysops (Hi James R!), but the former well-meaning host. I haven’t actively looked at old page for over a year.

And that was a mistake. Ugly spammers got to the former page from the history, it looks like they’ve been there awhile. I had forgottened to watch the page and only found out the problem because of someone who had been planning to show off the page as an example collaboration, but thought twice. Then I realized that I hadn’t updated my personal web page to reflect the shift to GODORT, so not only were the search engines going to an outdated page, *I* was telling people to go to an outdated page.

No more. I have redirected my links to http://wikis.ala.org/godort/index.php/State_Blue_Books. If you’ve got a link to my guide, please update your link. And if enough of us do that, the search engines will direct to the page where we’ve got the guide’s back.

And accept my apologies for not updating the community sooner.

Putting the State Agency Database Registry to Work

Now that the 50-State agency database registry has annotated content from most of the fifty states, it is becoming possible to put it to some interesting uses.

For example, one can start to explore common state interests by using the search feature of the ALA GODORT wiki. If you do a search for “film” in the wiki, you’ll find that New Mexico and Tennessee have film promotion offices that produce databases. Tennessee will help you find locals in almost any category you can think of for your film production. New Mexico has a similar resource, plus they have a location finder database as well.

In a similar way, a search using the word “buildings” shows you that Ohio, South Dakota and Washington all have resources to help business choose commercial or industrial real estate properties.

What can you discover through browsing or searching the database registry? Let us know in comments.

GODORT Database Registry Reaches 46 states & DC

I’m pleased to report to you that the ALA GODORT State and Local Documents Task Force efforts to create a 50-State Registry of state agency produced databases is nearing the end of its initial setup phase.

With the help of 30 named volunteers, we have created content for 46 states and the District of Columbia. The remaining four states have prospective volunteers who should be filling in content soon or letting me know they cannot take on page volunteer duty at this time.

Please see our nearly completed product at http://wikis.ala.org/godort/index.php/State_Agency_Databases.

In these pages you will find databases on finding doctors, shipwrecks, commercial properties, Confederate Veterans pensions, dangerous dogs and much more.

To get a small taste of what is becoming available through the Registry, check out the unofficial project blog “State Databases of the Day” at http://statedatabase.blogspot.com/.

You don’t have to be a named volunteer to help with the project. If you go to a state’s page and don’t see your favorite state agency produced database, go ahead and add it if you are comfortable with editing wikis. If not send your link to the page volunteer, if available, or to me at dnlcornwall AT alaska DOT net as project coordinator.

Please try to have a look at the Registry this week. Check out and improve your own state’s page. Or check out what’s available. A lot of stuff from the California page just amazed me. Think about how you might build subject listings (Wildlife, business, etc) using the Creative Commons’ licensed material from this project. Together we’re building a good resource. Let’s keep at it.

ALA GODORT Wants YOU to help build 50-State Database Registry

As part of their activities in the last ALA annual meeting, the GODORT State and Local Documents Task Force (SLDTF) approved the creation of a fifty-state registry of state government produced databases on the new GODORT wiki. SLDTF believes that there will be great value to librarians and end users alike in having the “invisible web” of state produced databases together in one place.

You can find the home page for this project at http://wikis.ala.org/godort/index.php/State_Agency_Databases. Right now, only Alaska has a developed page which you can find at http://wikis.ala.org/godort/index.php/Alaska as an example for what SLDTF hopes the other state pages will look like.

Once this registry is complete, it will have a number of uses, not the least of which will be showing that documents librarians are tech savvy people who know where the information is buried even when Google can’t find it.

BUT, they need your help to make this happen. There are four ways you can help with this project:

1) Go to the wiki and start adding any databases you are familar with. Just click on the “edit” tab. Registering with the GODORT wiki is recommended but not required.
2) Agree to be a “documents specialist” for a particular state and post your contact information so people who are not comfortable with editing wikis can e-mail updates to you.
3) Recruit state agency department webmasters, other state employees or other subject specialists to contribute to the database listing.
4) As you become aware of a new state (or local) government database, e-mail Daniel Cornwall, project coordinator (dan DOT cornwall AT Alaska DOT gov) or the documents specialist for that state if you are not comfortable with editing a wiki.

To me, this seems like a perfect collaboration project for the documents community. You WILL benefit from learning where your state’s databases are and posting them to this annotated registry. The rest of us will benefit from having similar databases available from the fifty states and learning about your state’s unique content.

So, help ALA GODORT and yourselves by contributing to this project!

If you adopt a state’s page, would you leave a comment here so people can see how the registry is coming along?