ARCHIVED: Presentation for 7th NC Serials Conference

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Mary Alice Baish, American Association of Law Libraries
March 5, 1998

I am very pleased to be here with you today--and I'd like especially to thank Carol Avery Nicolson, for inviting me to speak about the challenges and opportunities of electronic government information. I'd also like to thank Evelyn Council and Cheryl Reddish for being so hospitable and helpful with the arrangements for my visit with you.

My position representing AALL in Washington is to promote the concerns of the association and the broader library community to help government, both Federal and state, hopefully make the "right" decisions as they move forward towards a more electronic environment. I must admit to being somewhat of a "policy wonk" for the past three years, representing the interests of the law library community and the American public with members of Congress and their staff, the Public Printer and the Superintendent of Documents, and agency officials in the executive and judicial branches. I also currently serve on the Public Printer's Depository Library Council.

The title of my presentation today, suggested to me by a colleague at Georgetown University Law Library, poses an interesting question: is it possible today, or will it be in the future, to "Nail Cyber-Jell-O to the Wall?" Especially when it comes from the Federal government.

One of the things I believe we need to remind ourselves of occasionally is that the information age revolution isn't just in the world of government information. However, it probably would be honest to say that government information is the most difficult to "nail to the wall" because it is so decentralized and, with few exceptions, there are no government wide policies or standards.

You, as serials librarians, have the hardest job in tracking government information as formats change and titles come and go. Based on my many years as a documents librarian, however, I can say with honesty and pride how much professional admiration those of us on the public service side have for each and every one of you in this room. Your task is daunting.

Today I am going to cover four areas in my presentation, and hopefully allow some time for questions. I've brought a number of handouts with me today that we've placed in the back of the room, and I hope that you'll find them helpful and informative.  

First, some background on the shift to electronic government information.
Second, what some of the challenges are to you and to the government, and how GPO is meeting them.
Third, the changing role of depository libraries.
And fourth, what we're trying to do on the policy front to improve the status quo.

First, A Brief Background on the Shift to a More Electronic FDLP.

The House Legislative Appropriations Subcommittee, riding the wave of the Republic take-over of Congress following the 1994 elections, in 1995 decided to try to migrate ALL government information to cyberspace within two years. The obvious key reason behind this move was to save the government money under the misguided assumption that electronic information is created and managed by a wave of the magic wand, or at the very least, at lower cost than the production of print materials. Fortunately, the Senate acted more reasonably than the House that year--and, I might add, responded to the concerns of the library community--by mandating the GPO Study to Identify Measures Necessary for a Successful Transition to a More Electronic Depository Library Program that serves as the framework for the transition to a more electronic FDLP. The library community participated in the Study and in 1995 began to became much more proactive--as a result, the same House Subcommittee recognized the following year that the transition would be much slower than the two years they requested, and would probably take from 5-7 years. Even that pace has slowed down somewhat. In a November 1997 letter to FDLP directors, Public Printer Michael DiMario acknowledged that many titles would remain in print and that "for the foreseeable future, a significant amount of print products will continue to be distributed to depository libraries." He added that when agencies make print available to GPO, distribution to depository libraries will be in paper even if an alternative electronic version is available. It was good news to have GPO admit that the electronic transition should be based on:  

First, the actions of publishing agencies (whether they disseminate information in print or electronic format);
Second, the cost-effectiveness of various formats;
And third, and most importantly in our view, the usability of the information not just today but for future generations. That last point is one which the library community has affirmed for many years.
The second issue I'd like to address relates to the Challenges and Opportunities for the Library Community Brought About by the Digital Environment, and How GPO Is Meeting Them.

You are undoubtedly more aware than I am about the changes in format--how will you, as serials librarians, cope with the frustrating job of tracking the shift of government information through so many different formats: paper, microfiche, floppy discs, online electronic? Two issues of the Administrative Notes , Nos. 13 and 14 published last October and November, listed 100 microfiche titles that would be replaced by an electronic format. It was the concerns raised by the Depository Library Council last October that slowed down this migration of formats: we asked that members of the depository library community assist GPO in making those title decisions to reflect, title by title, the needs of users.

There is currently a discussion on govdoc-l that many of you may be following, and is a topic of interest to you: what are libraries doing about documents that come mostly in paper, but are distributed once in awhile in microfiche?

Some libraries are putting a dummy on the shelf and cataloging the microfiche in LC or Superintendent of Documents' call number. Others are putting the microfiche in as pocket parts to the print materials. This obviously means creating separate volume holdings screens in your OPAC for each format and much more work for you.

And what about print or microfiche formats that are being discontinued, and titles that are only available online electronically? Do you add the URLs to your OPAC, hoping they'll never change?

The decentralization of online electronic information, where every agency becomes its own publisher, has the benefit of making available to the American public very current information. The policy and practical implications, though, are staggering:  

How will librarians (and users) find information?

What about the lack of government wide standards of interoperability?

How do we know when electronic government information is official?

And, one of the biggest concerns of the library community is how do we know whether the electronic information being created today will be there five years from now, fifty years from now, or even next week?  

So with this new environment comes the need to look at government information on two different tracks. The library community believes that for print or other tangible materials, Title 44--the law governing the printing and procurement of government information--works pretty well. That is, agencies (presumably) procure titles through GPO, which allows the Superintendent of Documents to ride the order, obtaining the requisite number of copies for FDLPs at minimal cost to the government.

At a Senate Rules Committee hearing last May, Public Printer Michael DiMario estimated that 50% of government information is "fugitive." We've classified four scenarios that result in this loss of government information to the American public:  

  • Decentralization. When agencies procure the publication or creation of a paper, tangible electronic, or online product outside of the Government Printing Office; 
  • Privatization. When the work of federal agencies and employees is transferred to private sector firms for the production of information products and services;  
  • Commercialization. When agencies sell information products and services to recover costs or to generate revenues. Two egregious recent examples are the Journal of the National Cancer Institute- -sold to Oxford University Press--and the 1998 U.S. Industry and Trade Outlook published now by McGraw Hill in partnership with the National Technical Information Service. Both titles will now be sent to depository libraries, but only as a result of loud complaints from depository librarians and negotiations among the Joint Committee on Printing, the GPO, and the agency.
  • Last but not least, copyright and copyright-like restrictions. When the use and dissemination of government information in any format is restricted by the agency or the private sector firm to which the government information has been given, the ability of the public to use the information fully is impaired. These restrictions occur increasingly with electronic products and services, such as when proprietary software is used with public domain information in electronic formats like CD-ROM.

Turning back to the electronic environment, now, as more and more agencies become their own publishers of online information available through their Web sites, we believe that two functions must remain centralized through the Office of the Superintendent of Documents. The GPO Access system, created in 1994 by the GPO Access legislation, provides this single, centralized and reliable point of cataloging and locator information for librarians and the public. And, since the GPO Access bill mandated the establishment of an electronic storage facility, we believe that the ultimate responsibility for permanent public access for online electronic information should remain with the Superintendent of Documents. After all, isn't this really an extension of the role of regional depository libraries to preserve and provide permanent public access to tangible materials? Therefore, to be most effective, these two critically important government wide functions should be centrally managed. GPO and the Superintendent of Documents continue to improve and enhance these important services.

Significant examples of these improvements include:  

  • Daily updates to the electronic Catalog of United States Government Publications available through GPO Access . This essential finding aid to government information produced from 1994 on allows users to determine if a title is available at their local FDLP library, or to hotlink directly to titles that are available in electronic formats. The Catalog consists of more than 87,000 entries, of which approximately 2,800 contain URL data.  
  • In addition, GPO's Cataloging Branch began cataloging Browse Electronic Titles (or BET) in June 1996, and there are now approximately 2,300 BET entries that lead users to remotely accessible works associated with monographic series, multi-part sets, technical and research report groups, and resources related by topics. Approximately 3,700 of these electronic works are associated with the 2,300 BET entries posted on the Web site. Of these, 3,000 are related to monographs and 700 are related to serials. Approximately 46% of these electronic titles have been cataloged by GPO, including 350 serials titles. Of the Cataloging Branch's backlog, approximately 7,600 pieces await processing, including both the BET titles and works in physical formats. Approximately 3,000 of these are serials.

The Cataloging Branch has been testing OCLC's PURLs software and is preparing for impending software upgrades that are scheduled for public release this year. In response to their requests, OCLC agreed to these upgrades to allow GPO's server administrators to generate an accession number as a unique identifying component of each PURL. A PURLs link checking application for use in server environments is also anticipated. The Cataloging Branch plans to begin assigning PURLs to the BET titles and to cataloging records associated with these applications as soon as the upgrades become available for public use. Staff of the Cataloging Branch recently told me that, once they figure out how to get through the firewall and solve some security issues, there will be few technical hang-ups to implementing the PURLs software. Good news indeed.

Lastly, the GPO Cataloging Branch as of February 23, 1998 had cataloged 2,214 documents with an 856 field, meaning as you know (and as I just learned last week) publications available as remote files, both monographs and serials. The GPO Cataloging Guidelines for Electronic Documents (the URL is on my handout) can assist you in cataloging computer files, either online files that are available remotely through electronic services, such as GPO Access or agency Web sites, as well as tangible electronic publications, such as CD-ROMS, floppy disks, interactive multimedia, and kits that contain computer files. You should be happy to learn as well that two experienced catalogers were recently hired at GPO, and one of them is a serials cataloger who will be involved with cataloging electronic products. Staff in the Cataloging Branch now includes sixteen catalogers.

In addition to the online Catalog, GPO Access provides two other important centralized locator services:  

  • The Pathway Indexer now links users to more than 1,300 agency Web sites and over 150,000 Web pages.  
  • And the centralized, user-friendly Government Information Locator Service (GILS) database allows users either to browse GILS records by agency or to search all agency GILS records at one time and to link to the information they need.  
Another ray of sunshine to the library community, in addition to what we see are substantial improvements through GPO Access to assist you and other librarians and users of government information, is the recent appointment of Francis Buckley as the new Superintendent of Documents. I'm sure many of you know Fran, and we are already seeing the substantial impact he is making at the GPO to reflect better the needs and concerns of the depository library community.

Among his early initiatives are new programs that GPO is pursuing to make it easier for the public to locate, find and use electronic information and to ensure that it will be permanently available for on-going and future use. GPO is developing a prototype online interactive service, due for release this spring, that uses the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) and will permit greatly enhanced search and retrieval capabilities to GPO Access databases. Equally important to the library community is the Collection Management Plan, an initiative that will enable GPO to manage the FDLP Electronic Collection by defining its parameters and requirements. This five-year plan will use library collection management policies and procedures to track the life cycle of electronic information in the FDLP, thus ensuring its preservation and permanent public access.

The third issue that I promised to cover is the Changing Role of Depository Libraries:

One of the most exciting opportunities for depository libraries are the new GPO Partnerships arrangements, what I see as the Wave of the Future. I'd like to tell you about two of the creative ways that GPO is engaging in new types of partnership programs. One of the FDLPs principles in planning for an electronic future is the assumption that partners, libraries, agencies, non-profits, and consortia will share the tasks of building, storing, disseminating and preserving the collection of FDLP electronic resources, building upon the FDLP model. Several partnerships to help ensure permanent online access to electronic government information products are already underway and will benefit the public and the depository program.

First, there are the "content" partnerships with depository libraries and other institutions.

The Superintendent of Documents has embarked on developing models for FDLPs to take on new roles in providing permanent public access to the FDLP Electronic Collection. Among the first partnerships of this types was one with the University of Illinois at Chicago. This depository library recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Superintendent of Documents and the Department of State to provide permanent public access to the Department of State's electronic Foreign Affairs Network. We believe that it's very important to have these three way agreements. If at any time the University decided that it could no longer participate in the agreement, the responsibility would shift back to the Superintendent of Documents who would either take over the responsibility for the information, or find another partner institution. The Superintendent of Documents is looking for additional partner libraries, and as I said before, this responsibility is really an extension of being a depository library although granted the service requirements become global.

Another example of a "content" partnership is the FDLP/ERIC Digital Library Pilot Project. Among the growing number of agreements between GPO and Federal agencies, in this partnership GPO, the National Library of Education and OCLC are cooperating in a pilot project to make a vast number of public-domain reports from the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) available in TIFF format for no-fee access at depository libraries through OCLC FirstSearch.

One last thought about these partnership programs: it's not necessary to take responsibility for all of an agency's online information. The Superintendent of Documents will consider allowing libraries to offer to be responsible for only a small piece of an agency's electronic pie, perhaps even for just an electronic journal. This would fit in well with a library's overall collection development policy if there are particular electronic titles of great value to your users.

The second type of new partnership is a "service" partnership.

Here, partner libraries offer enhanced services to assist librarians and GPO in the administration of the FDLP. One example is the State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries that are working together on enhanced shipping list services. Other very creative and wonderful projects, such as Migrating Government Publications that was developed by the University of Memphis to track the migration of formats for FDLP materials--and therefore should be of keen interest to you--are mentioned, along with their URLs, in the pink handout under "Sample FDLP Innovative Web Projects."

What about FDLPs and the Costs of technology?

Carol Nicolson advised me that you would be keenly interested in how libraries are to meet the cost implications of electronic government information. There has been a concern in Congress that in the fuller electronic environment, many American citizens, particularly those in large urban areas and remote rural communities, will have reduced access to government information. Many smaller public libraries lack adequate funding to purchase hardware and software needed to access all this electronic information. Two years ago, we lobbied unsuccessfully with the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to set aside $250,000 for technological grants for the smaller FDLPs. I know from my many North Carolina friends and colleagues that your library systems in North Carolina are leaders in sharing resources and networking. I'd like to tell you about new funding opportunities for networking that are available through the Institute of Museum and Library Services' National Leadership Grants. The IMLS was established in 1996 as an independent agency to provide support to all types of libraries through grants to states and through discretionary programs.

I have brought a limited number of the Institute's recently released 1998 National Leadership Grants: Grant Application and Guidelines . If you did not get a copy, it is also available on their Web site and you'll find the URL on the pink handout. The Administration's FY 1999 budget request included $172.3 million for the Institute, of which $146,340,000 is for library services. The library program grants are aimed at helping libraries adapt to new technologies by identifying, preserving, and sharing library and information resources across institutional, local and state boundaries. Projects of interest to the library community might include those:  

  • To preserve rare and unique materials for the broader community by migrating them to digital formats;
  • To address the challenge of preserving digital information;
  • Also high on the list of priorities are projects to enhance library services through the effective and efficient use of networked technologies;
  • Another goal for the funding is to extend outreach to those who require extra effort or special materials to use library services.

The application deadline is April 17, 1998, and these grants offer exciting possibilities for funding special projects. I hope that many of you will follow-up on this. The Institute has recently hired its first Deputy Director of Library Services. She is Elizabeth Sywetz, and you can contact her at 202/606-5419 if you have any special questions about the grant program. I know she'll be absolutely thrilled that I'm giving out her phone number today, but she's very excited about joining the IMLS staff and will be delighted to answer any questions you might have.

Legislative Update on Title 44: Why This is So Important to the Library Community

The library community has been engaged in policy discussions for decades, but never has the task at hand been so important nor our voice in Washington so loud. Part of the reason, I believe, goes back to the congressional mandate that the GPO Study include representatives from all constituencies, including each of the national library associations. That participation and the challenges of the move to a cybergovernment brought us together as a very strong coalition that represents not only the library community but also the American public.

In February 1997, just over one year ago, ALA President Mary Somerville established the Inter- Association Working Group on Government Information Policy (IAWG) that includes representatives from all the national library organizations. In monthly meetings in Washington, the IAWG has analyzed the provisions of the U.S. Code Title 44 that relate to the FDLP and we have discussed at length ways to revise the law to improve public access to government information.

Senator John Warner, Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Administration, and Ranking Minority Member Senator Wendell Ford are both committed to passing legislation to revise all of Title 44 this year. The IAWG testified before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee last May on the Committee's first draft Title 44 legislation, and last June we transmitted to Congress our own draft legislation for Chapter 19, the Federal Information Access Act of 1997 . Since then, the working group has revised our draft twice, most recently last month, and has continued to meet frequently with government policy makers to promote the concerns of the library community in any revision of the law.

If you'll turn now to the IAWG handout on the bright yellow paper, you'll fine our key goals. I think you'll all agree to the importance of our work because we are trying to find the best legislative solutions to the challenges of electronic government information that we have talked about today. The first page lists our goals, and the other pages break each goal down to explain why it is so important and what we hope our legislation will achieve. Our three goals, then, are:

First, to enhance public access to government information in all formats from all three branches of government.

The law must broaden, strengthen, and enhance public access to all forms of government information. The IAWG recognizes that the legal definition of "government information" must explicitly include electronic resources, and that current loopholes in the law that permit so much government information to remain "fugitive" must be fixed. Notice that, while the current Title 44 does cover all three branches of government, in terms of the Judiciary Branch, the GPO Access system provides electronic access only to the Hermes collection of Supreme Court opinions. We are hoping that this legislation will hasten the no-fee public dissemination of electronic opinions from the other Federal courts. For those of you in law libraries, you know that while we can hope that the Judiciary is persuaded to join the Executive and Legislative Branches in providing electronic access to their information resources, there are many complex issues involved--we're working on these, but we don't have all the answers yet.

Second, the law must strengthen the role of the Federal Depository Library Program to improve public access to government information.

The IAWG bill renames the FDLP the "Federal Information Access Program" and participating libraries as "Federal Information Access Libraries." It recognize that even in a distributed networked environment, agencies in all branches must be responsible for notifying the Superintendent of Documents of the creation and dissemination of online electronic information, so that all government information, including titles available only through an agency Web site, can be cataloged.

And third, the law must ensure that the public has continuous and permanent access to electronic government information.

The bill establishes the affirmative responsibility of the federal government to preserve and provide permanent public access to its information. It elevates the position of Superintendent of Documents to a presidential appointee and gives this official the responsibility for ensuring permanent public access. Under our proposal, the Superintendent of Documents will also be able to develop regulations and guidelines, with the participation of the library community, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration and other constituencies, for standards, permanent public access, and ensuring the authenticity of online electronic government information.

So, What's the Legislative Outlook for All of This?

From my busy three years representing AALL in Washington, I assure you that reaching consensus for legislative changes is not an easy task, particularly for something as sweeping as the revision of Title 44. We have been assured that the legislation drafted by the staff of the Joint Committee on Printing and the Senate Rules Committee includes about "95%" of our proposals.

We also have a very short window of opportunity this year to enact legislation, and the process has been delayed since December because of a dispute between the White House and the printing unions and nothing will move until it is resolved. The IAWG has been patient with the Senate Rules Committee's pace over the past year but there have been a few bumps along the way. However, we believe very strongly that we need to get legislation passed this year especially for our Chapter 19 draft bill so that the most critical part of the Title 44 revision--the law government public access and the depository program--may have a chance to be enacted before the end of the 105th Congress.

And Where Does That Leave Us All?

Allow me to briefly summarize the points that I've articulated this afternoon. The challenges in dealing with such a huge and growing amount of electronic government information are vast, and few people understand them as well as all of you do. You are the ones responsible, assisted by the services provided by GPO, for providing your communities with the means of locating this valuable information.

Even in a decentralized electronic environment, we believe that the role of the Superintendent of Documents is as important as ever before, to provide cataloging and locator services and to assure that online electronic government information does not disappear into a huge black hole. It's happening today, as agencies' put up and take down important information through their Web sites, most of them with little understanding of the long term value of that information to the American public. We believe that the legislation proposal drafted by the Inter-Association Working Group is critically important, and whether it's incorporated into a larger revision of Title 44 or introduced on its own, we will be working hard to get legislation enacted this year.

Finally, my very last message to you today is to please get involved in speaking up on these important information policy issues relating to the challenges and opportunities of digital technology. The library community at large must support our efforts in Washington, because strong voices from the grassroots library community are a necessary ingredient to any successful legislation progress this year.

While Title 44 is of prime important to those of us concerned about electronic government information and "Nailing Cyber-Jell-O to the Wall," there are a number of other legislative proposals dealing with intellectual property issues that I just want to mention briefly.

The library community opposes the Administration's implementing legislation to the international copyright treaties drafted by the World Intellectual Property Organization, H.R. 2281. That bill was reported out of the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property last week and goes to the full Judiciary Committee for mark-up. The library community fully supports two pro-consumer, pro-library digital copyright bills, one introduced in the Senate by John Ashcroft, S. 1146, and a similar bill introduced in the House by Reps. Rick Boucher and Tom Campbell, H.R. 3048.

Both bills would provide digital equivalents to the fair use, preservation, and distance education provisions of the Copyright Act, and do so while preserving proper balance among creators, owners, and users of electronic information. Last but not least is another attempt by the content community to extend protection to facts and public domain information that they collect and put into a database, H.R. 2652. This database protection bill is scheduled for House Subcommittee mark-up on March 12th.

I'm sure that many of you subscribe to ALAWON, and if you're a AALL member, have seen our action alerts. I encourage you to ALWAYS respond to these alerts--Rep. Boucher recently advised us that one of the most effective ways for constituents to lobby a member of Congress is by writing a short, personal note on a postcard. It's as easy as 1-2-3! If you feel a little too shy to pick up the phone and call your representatives, or don't have time to sit down and draft a letter, go the postcard route, and add your voice to the many who are so concerned about these important legislative proposals. Sample messages are available on the AALLWASH Web Site.

I'd be very pleased to try to answer any questions that you might have. Thank you again for inviting me to join you for this terrific conference and for your wonderful attention this afternoon. It's been a real pleasure for me to escape Washington for a day or two and to meet you and learn about your concerns with electronic government information. Thank you.

Presentation Handout for 7th NC Serials Conference, March 5, 1998