Preserving Government Information, Now & in the Future

In the fraught and fast-paced environment of today’s Capitol Hill, ALA’s Washington Office monitors and advocates for issues important to libraries and the communities they serve, including issues of particular interest to ALCTS and its sections. One advocacy issue of particular interest to ALCTS is the modernization of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) and Title 44 of the U.S. Code.

Legislative Background

FDLP disseminates government publications to depository libraries across the country, and Title 44 defines government publications and outlines how they are to be made available. The language of Title 44 predates wide implementation of the internet throughout the country and carries with it presumptions of a print environment for government information. This means that there are many aspects of today’s digital distribution and preservation of information that are not adequately encompassed by Title 44. In fact, some language currently in place actually interferes with the FDLP’s mission in the digital environment.

In recent years, the Government Publishing Office (GPO) has helped to build momentum for the movement to modernize Title 44. Under the directorship of Davita Vance-Cooks, the agency changed its name from Government Printing Office to Government Publishing Office, recognizing that the content of government publications has many carriers. Late in 2017, however, Vance-Cook left the GPO to accept a job in the private sector. A change in leadership at the GPO may or may not have implications for GPO modernization; in the meantime, interested parties continue their advocacy apace.

In September, before Vance-Cooks’ resignation, ALA’s Washington Office and the Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) submitted recommendations for modernization to the GPO, advocating for several important updates including expanding the scope of what is collected and preserved from agencies without regard to format. These recommendations shared common ground with those of the Depository Library Council (DLC), which is the official advisory body to the GPO. Expanding collection scope would include anything made public by government agencies, whether it is a database, documents issued under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), or social media posts. Another important recommendation is to undertake comprehensive planning and provide support for preservation—again, regardless of format or medium.

Also in September, Jim Neal (ALA President) accompanied by Sandra Treadway (President of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies) and Dee Magnoni (President of the Special Libraries Association), submitted written testimony to a hearing on transforming the GPO before the U.S. House Committee on House Administration. Their testimony mirrored recommendations from the Washington Office and GODORT, calling for Congress to codify the GPO’s responsibility to preserve federal publications in order to “ensure that Americans can continue to access the documents of their government in the future.”

What You Can Do

Of course, preservation is something near and dear to ALCTS, especially its Preservation and Reformatting Section (PARS). One way that ALCTS members can help to maintain momentum for the new year is to contact the Committee on House Administration (CHA) and its members to thank them for engaging with these issues in 2017 and encourage them to continue to do so in 2018. So often when we contact our elected officials, we express dismay. During the first week of this new year, take a moment to express gratitude. Thank CHA members for taking steps towards ensuring that print and digital government information be preserved for current and future generations, and urge them in 2018 to support modernization of Title 44 that includes requirements to preserve all government publications, including in digital form.

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