Wednesday, April 18, 2007

TLA 2007 Conference Notes, Day 1: Session on Government Documents

Session: Suzanne Sears, "Threats to Government Information Access: Can Democracy Survive in a Digital Enviroment."

(Interesting as I find govdocs and information access, this session was a bit heavy on the doom and gloom. However, the issue of loss of access to government information, which our taxes pay for and should be available to all citizens, is an important one).

"Information is the currency of democracy." --Thomas Jefferson.

  • Internet positives: increased access to government information and faster dissemination.
  • Internet negatives: Agencies now have control of the content instead of GPO; there is no longer a safeguard for material withdrawal. Fee based access has been increasing. There has also been an increase in fugitive documents. Fugitive documents are those that never made it to the GPO or the depository program at all.
  • Government information has been getting privatized. This is due to exceptions to the federal law requiring agencies deposit documents with the GPO. This results in less access. Some examples include STAT-USA and NOAA Climate Data. (Cooperative endeavors between the government and some publisher due to requirements from the federal government that certain endeavors be self-sustaining. So, the government partners with someone, and then information becomes privatized.). If the GPO is a partner, the information usually is accessible at a depository library.

Then there is disappearing information. Much of it is due to national security after 9/11 (some of it valid, some of it questionable).
  • There is also an increase in FOIA refusals.
  • Then there is information removed from websites. Agencies often revise a document, put up the new one, and take the old one down. Agencies often have no sense of what could/should be preserved.
  • A website may be reorganized in terms of content, then the older stuff vanishes.
  • When an agency dies. For example, a commission gets defunded and is closed. Their website vanishes as well. When a commission finishes its work, their content and website often vanish as well.
  • A media format becomes obsolete. For example, 5 1/4 inch diskettes.
  • Content format obsolescence. This refers to software. For example, an old Word Perfect document versus today's MS Word.
Then, we have the closing of federal libraries. The EPA libraries are the recent example.

Access is not just "it's on the Web." It's knowing how to access it, where to get it, etc. The expertise is what librarians have and offer.

Remember that depository librarians are your first point of contact.

Some examples of sites to look over:
What can you do?
  • Be watchful of news and legislation. The presenter provided a handout with various links for resources.
  • Keep contact with your legislators.

"Our government is based not on the need to know, but upon the fundamental right to know." --Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

Links to keeping up resources, from the presenter's handout:

(I probably need to add at least OMB Watch and maybe GovDoc-L to my list of things I scan)

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