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.

Anita Schiller (1926 – 2021)

USCD Librarian Anita Schiller, August, 1972

Our dear friend, library doyenne, WWII parachutist(!), mentor, and great supporter of FGI Anita Schiller passed away on the night of January 23, 2021. Anita had an outsized impact on libraries and many people’s lives. Long-time American Library Association (ALA) members will no doubt know Anita and her long history as a powerhouse within the library world — including the fact that she served on the California Council for the Humanities in the 1980s and received the ALA Equality Award and ALA lifetime honorary membership, ALA’s highest honor. Her work on equality for women in librarianship was ground-breaking. She had an early and lifelong interest in computers and their use and misuse in libraries, and was instrumental and influential in getting data into libraries. You can read her obituary in the San Diego Union Tribune.

She also had an outsized impact on us. We’ll always remember sitting at the dining room table of Shinjoung’s and James’ apartment in San Diego soon after writing our article “Government Information in the Digital Age: The Once and Future Federal Depository Library Program” (2005). We were passionately discussing libraries and government information and ways to get our article out to a wider audience when the idea for FGI came about. Though she would never take any credit for it, she was and will always remain a driving force for what we do at FGI (the “mother of FGI”!). She was a tireless advocate for public information and protecting it against privatization and commodification, privacy, and most of all of libraries as inherently democratic institutions.

We continued our almost salon-style discussions with her over many brunches, dinners (with more than a few fights over restaurant checks in which Shinjoung almost always won until Anita found a workaround), email and phone calls for almost 20 years. Our visits would never be complete without her giving us hand-ripped NYT article clippings of interest and import and we would frequently receive in the mail books from Warwicks she thought we should read.

We will sorely miss Anita’s advice, support, and friendship. She was instrumental in both FGI and our work toward public information and libraries. We hope to honor her by continuing our work and maybe even creating a digital government information library in her name.

Anita always ended our phone calls with “lots of love” and that’s how we will always feel about her.

–Jim Jacobs, James Jacobs, Shinjoung Yeo

Library of Congress Completes Digitization of 23 Early Presidential Collections

This is awesome! The Library of Congress has just finished a 20 year(!) project to digitize the papers of the Presidents from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge. I hope GPO is going to catalog these collections so that the records get into library catalogs!

The Library of Congress has completed a more than two decade-long initiative to digitize the papers of nearly two dozen early presidents. The Library holds the papers of 23 presidents from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge, all of which have been digitized and are now available online.

The Library plans to highlight each presidential collection on social media in the weeks leading up to the next presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021.

Full Set of Presidential Collections

New CRS report: The Impeachment and Trial of a Former President

Thanks to the First Branch Forecast for pointing out this newly published legal sidebar “The Impeachment and Trial of a Former President.” We are in uncharted waters as President Trump has been impeached for the second time for “incitement of insurrection”, but the articles of impeachment have not yet been delivered to the Senate. This CRS report offers some historical context of the impeachment process.

“For the second time in just over a year, the House of Representatives has voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump. The House previously voted to impeach President Trump on December 18, 2019, and the Senate voted to acquit the President on February 5, 2020. Because the timing of this second impeachment vote is so close to the end of the Trump Administration, it is possible that any resulting Senate trial may not occur until after President Trump leaves office on January 20, 2021. This possibility has prompted the question of whether the Senate can try a former President for conduct that occurred while he was in office.

…it appears that most scholars who have closely examined the question have concluded that Congress has authority to extend the impeachment process to officials who are no longer in office.”

NARA seeking public comment on a proposed rule concerning the digitization of public records

The first 2 weeks of 2021 have been a whirlwind and have included a failed insurrection at the nation’s capitol and the SECOND(!) impeachment of President Trump for inciting that insurrection!

However crazy things may be at the moment, I wanted to call our readers’ attention to an extremely important announcement in the Federal Register regarding a proposed rule “Digitizing Permanent Records and Reviewing Records Schedules.”

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is proposing to “…amend our electronic records management regulations to add a subpart containing standards for digitizing permanent Federal records so that agencies may dispose of the original source records, where appropriate and in accordance with the Federal Records Act amendments of 2014. We are also making a minor revision to our records schedule review provisions to establish a requirement for agencies to review, every five years, all records schedules that are ten years old and older, based on the date the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) approved the schedule.”

The public commenting period is open UNTIL FEBRUARY 1, 2021. Please submit comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal Regulations.Gov. Follow the site’s instructions for submitting comments and include the Regulatory Information number RIN 3095-AB99 on the submission. As the FR notes, due to COVID, paper mail submissions are not recommended.

If anyone submits a a public comment, I’d really appreciate if you could copy it to comments on this blog post. Share what interests or disturbs you about NARA’s proposed rule.

Reclaim the Records “mother-of-all-FOIA requests” and NARA’s new digitization partnership site

An activist group called Reclaim the Records recently submitted the “mother-of-all-FOIA requests” asking for billions of pages scanned through NARA’s public-private digitization partnership program. Here’s the twitter thread describing it:

Well now at least NARA has put up a page showing all of their digitization partners and what publications/record groups these organizations are scanning. It looks mostly to be ancestry, fold3 and familysearch, but there are other groups like the National Archives of Korea, National Collection of Aerial Photography (UK), and NOAA (Logbooks from 19th century naval ships and expeditions!).

From what I can tell, these scans seem to be going into NARA’s catalog and are freely available! Thanks NARA and also BIG thanks Reclaim the Records for making a big public deal about NARA’s public-private partnership program and making sure that the public is aware of those BILLIONS of scanned pages.