Our mission

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.

Happy 16th Birthday to the LOCKSS-USDOCS network!

Wow it’s hard to believe that the LOCKSS-USDOCS network of over 30 libraries has been up and running for 16 years! We can finally get our driver’s permit 🙂 LOCKSS-USDOCS harvests all of the content currently published on the Government Publishing Office (GPO)’s GOVINFO content management system and includes the most recently created collection of Congressionally Mandated reports.

If you and your library are interested in participating in this collaborative digital preservation project of the digital FDLP(!), please contact James R. Jacobs at jrjacobs AT Stanford DOT edu.

The USDocs Private LOCKSS Network (PLN) was launched in 2008 as a digital repository for the U.S. Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), a network of over 1,100 participating libraries across the United States. The FDLP has for over 200 years ensured the safeguarding of documents published by the U.S. Federal Government through the same “lots of copies keep stuff safe” principle that now drives LOCKSS digital preservation networks. FDLP libraries select a basic subset of federal reports and documents, with individual libraries providing a wide range of additional specialized services and collections…

…At the heart of the FDLP lies the idea that libraries across the United States are not just passive repositories but active stewards of these vital materials. They dedicate themselves to preserving content for the good of society and to safeguarding democracy. FDLP libraries are driven by a mission: to provide free public access to official information, thereby empowering citizens with knowledge and fostering transparency. As the FDLP becomes increasingly digital, the GPO will print and distribute a decreasing number of titles in hard copy to just a few libraries in each of the four National Collection Service Areas (NCSAs), and the USDocs PLN will be collecting and preserving a growing percentage of the U.S. Federal Government’s output.

National Archives to Host Sunshine Week Panel on Artificial Intelligence and Government Access

Sunshine Week (March 10-16, 2024) and Freedom of Information Day (March 16, 2024) are coming up fast. Sunshine Week is a nonpartisan collaboration among groups in the journalism, civic, education, government and private sectors that shines a light on the importance of public records and open government. Besides all of the regular events that are happening this year, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is going to host a Panel on Artificial Intelligence and Government Access. This panel of really interesting speakers will be Thursday, March 14, at 1 p.m. ET. in person at the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives in Washington, DC, and livestreamed on the National Archives YouTube Channel. Hope you can make it or tune in online.

And don’t forget to check out all the Sunshine week events and cool Sunshine toolkit.

Cool new dataset on American local government elections

Thanks very much to my friend and former Stanford colleague Kris Kasianovitz (as well as the awesome librarians at UC Berkeley!) for pointing to this Nature article “American local government elections database” (and it’s Open Access to boot!!). Kudos to de Benedictis-Kessner, Lee, Velez, et al for the yeoman’s work of collecting this massive amount of data AND for making it freely available to others! This is an excellent example of what researchers should do when they collect data for their research — publish their article AND make their dataset publicly available in an open data repository like Open Science Framework (OSF) or ICPSR (the grandpappy of all social science data repositories!). And it’s also a critical dataset for researchers in an area of government data (state and local) that is frequently difficult to find and even less frequently collated across multiple states and municipalities. One of my most frequent data requests is for elections but most researchers want to do comparisons across jurisdictions, states, years etc and there just is no “one dataset to rule them all.”

As KrisK notes in her post to the GOVDOC-L Listserv, PLEASE encourage faculty, students, researchers, journalists etc who put in the time and energy to collect local level data to make their datasets available through institutional or other data repositories (e.g. OpenICPSR, OSF, etc.). Collecting important data, especially at the multi-state and multi-municipality level, is a Many-hands-make-light-work kind of activity and is so impactful for other researchers, students, journalists, and the public who are exploring and trying to understand their worlds.

“One of the most persistent challenges in the study of urban and local politics in the United States is the lack of information about local elections, candidates, and elected officials. As a result, studies on local elections tend to focus on a single time period, geographic unit, or office, rather than holistically examining variation across time, geography, and offices.

In this paper, we describe a new database of election returns from about 78,000 unique candidates in about 57,000 contests in 1,747 cities, counties, and school districts from 1989–2021. Our database is the most comprehensive publicly-available source of information on local elections across the entire country. It includes information about elections for mayors, city councils, county executives, county legislatures, sheriffs, prosecutors, and school boards. It also includes a host of supplemental data, including estimates of candidate partisanship, gender, race/ethnicity, and incumbency status. For many elections, it also includes information on the political characteristics of constituencies, such as their ideology and presidential voting patterns.

This new database will enable scholars to study a wide variety of research questions. It enables examination of whether politicians represent the demographic, partisan, and ideological characteristics of their constituents. It also enables expanded work on the factors that affect local elections. Moreover, it facilitates study of the incumbency advantage across election types, institutional contexts, and candidate
characteristics. Finally, this database enables scholars to expand the study of how elections shape a host of political outcomes such as policy, political communication, interest group activity and intergovernmental lobbying.”

Citations:

  1. de Benedictis-Kessner, J., Lee, D.D.I., Velez, Y.R. et al. American local government elections database. Sci Data 10, 912 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41597-023-02792-x
  2. American Local Government Elections Database
    Contributors: Justin de Benedictis-Kessner, Diana Da In Lee, Yamil Velez, Christopher Warshaw
    Date created: 2023-04-11 02:17 PM
    Identifier: DOI 10.17605/OSF.IO/MV5E6

Today on “beautiful public data”: Government Comic Books!

Today’s issue of “beautiful public data” takes a deep dive into Government Comic Books! The post explains the history of comic books since the 1950s.

BPD government comics

Today’s post references an interesting book called “Government Issue: Comics for the People 1940s-2000s.” by Richard Graham. Graham, a professor of libraries at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln has been collecting these unique comics since childhood.

I also highly recommend subscribing to the Beautiful Public Data newsletter written by Jon Keegan. Keegan is an investigative data journalist who writes for The Markup and other outfits. The BPD tagline is “A curated selection of visually interesting datasets collected by local, state and federal government agencies.” And that’s just what he does. Go check it out if you haven’t subscribed yet.

Brennan Center public letter to lawmakers on Artificial Intelligence (AI) signed by 87 civil society groups

FYI, on the heals of the first US Senate artificial intelligence (AI) “Insight Forum” called together by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) in september, 2023, today the Brennan Center for Justice, along with 87 civil society orgs (including FGI 😉 ) sent this letter regarding AI to lawmakers on the Hill. The letter warns of the impact of AI on the global economy and society, and particularly on historically marginalized communities and recommends “legislation that achieves meaningful, rights-respecting AI accountability.”

The undersigned organizations are deeply concerned about the risks that artificial intelligence (AI) and other automated decision-making systems pose to the well-being and rights of the American people. We welcome the intense attention that Congress is placing on these issues, and the inclusion of some key civil society representatives in the first Senate AI Insight Forum that took place on September 13th.

As Congress continues its examination of the opportunities and risks presented by AI, we urge legislators to consider the varied ways in which AI is already impacting our economy and society, particularly historically marginalized communities. We ask you to work closely with civil society to pursue legislation that achieves meaningful, rights-respecting AI accountability.

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