On Wednesday January 10, I had the privilege of presenting the following poster at the annual CTW* Retreat:
A quick summary of the chart featured prominently in the center of the poster, which is copied from James A. Jacobs’ report “Born-Digital U.S. Federal Government Information: Preservation and Access,” and which was re-presented in his October 2017 presentation with James R. Jacobs called “Government Information: Everywhere and Nowhere,” provides an easy way to understand the nature of the problem.
The first column represents the number of items distributed by the Government Publishing Office (GPO) to Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) libraries in 2011 (appx. 10,200 items). The second column represents the total number of items distributed by GPO to FDLP over its entire 200 year history (appx. 2-3 million items). The third column is the number of URLs harvested by the 2008 End of Term crawl (appx. 160 million URLs).
Clearly, the scope of government information produced outside of the GPO and FDLP is very large. So large in fact that what is produced online each year makes the entire 200 year history of the Depository Library Program look like a drop in the bucket. This vast array of online government information can be called fugitive. No one knows how much born-digital government information has been created or where it all is.
At Connecticut College, Lori Looney and I are exploring ways of being proactive about this situation through our role in the FDLP. While we are unable to participate in large-scale digitization projects, we have nonetheless adopted this idea of being proactive in the FDLP from some of the ideas sketched out in Peter Hernon and Laura Saunders’ College & Research Libraries article “The Federal Depository Library Program in 2023: One Perspective on the Transition to the Future.” We see their proactive approach as preferable to withdrawing from the program altogether or assuming a more passive role within it that would maintain the status quo. We describe our adoption of this approach in our essay “Experience of a New Government Documents Librarian,” published in Susan Caro’s book Government Information Essentials.
Our latest activity addressed by the poster consists of several easy steps that librarians everywhere can do in their own libraries:
- Keep track of your favorite websites and online publications, and make sure their URLs are captured in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine
- Add rare, hard-to-find, and/or local government documents to your library catalog, as well as digitizing those that are not already available online, and upload them to Internet Archive, ideally with as much catalog metadata as possible
- Advocate for the long-term value of seemingly obscure government information and help spread the word that short-term ease of accessibility actually masks the major problems associated with long-term preservation, access, and usability
Some of the documents we harvested in this capacity (see a few examples below) are local government publications that may not be easy to find online and which may not be accessible through any other library catalog anywhere. By finding them, adding them to Internet Archive, downloading them, physically adding them to our collection, and adding records to OCLC/WorldCat we are actively supporting preservation and discovery.
This is a very small way of responding to the very large problem of web preservation in general. However, as a small institution with a selective collection of government publications, it is a practical strategy for contributing to the efforts of larger institutions involved with the fascinating and complex problems like the End of Term (EOT) Web Archive.
Hernon, Peter, and Laura Saunders. “The Federal Depository Library Program in 2023: One Perspective on the Transition to the Future.” College and Research Libraries 70, no. 4 (2009): 351–70.
Jacobs, James A. “Born-Digital U.S. Federal Government Information: Preservation and Access.” Center for Research Libraries: Global Resources Collections Forum, 17 Mar. 2014.
Jacobs, James A., and James R. Jacobs. “Government Information: Everywhere and Nowhere.” Livestream web-based presentation to Government Publications Librarians of New England (GPLNE), 24 Oct. 2017.
Lopez, Andrew and Lori Looney. “Experience of a New Government Documents Librarian.” Government Information Essentials. Ed. Susanne Caro. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2018. 13-20.
Seneca, Tracy, Abbie Grotke, Cathy Nelson Hartman, and Kris Carpenter. “It Takes a Village to Save the Web: The End of Term Web Archive.” DttP: Documents to the People (Spring 2012): 16-23.
*CTW is the library consortium between Connecticut College, Trinity College, and Wesleyan University