Monday, November 8, 2010

module x: gov't access and secrecy

After reading the Jacobs article, it is apparent that the U.S. Government Publications Office is moving farther away from its original role as a provider of government documents and free access to this information, and alienating its longtime partners, the Federal Depository Libraries, in the process.

The now commonplace act of digitization is done by many government offices and agencies who then take the responsibility of posting these documents to their Web sites without correctly processing them through the GPO. While the ease of digitization makes documents more quickly available, it is the neglect of proper archival and preservation of the thousands of materials that can quickly pop up on the Internet, and, just as quickly be removed (whether it be technological error, or intended deletion) that create a large hole in the canvas that depicts the history of American government.

In redefining themselves, the GPO is severely decreasing the country’s ability to have an “informed citizenry.” And their inability to provide free access to government information has become larger and larger.

It is most appropriate for FDLs to be a part of the GPO's reorganization process. With these two entities working together, perhaps they can develop a better model that will sustain the positive effects of their long relationship, specifically the trust that libraries inherently have, and their commitment and ability to provide free access, as well as the FDLP’s 1,300 libraries that inhibit complete deletion of information through multiple copies and making it harder for users to find technical loopholes to alter and destroy information. It is hard not to see the GPO’s current direction as a move toward allowing access to government information to only those who can afford it. Citing budget woes, which although important, shouldn’t overshadow the loss of information that can ultimately occur, and the right of the people to access it.

The Secrecy Report, and Top Secret America information further deny our country’s right to an “informed citizenry,” albeit from a different angle. To paraphrase a classmate’s earlier posting, what is the point of a free press if the information has either been altered or deleted altogether? It’s hard to paint a complete picture with incomplete information. However, I am not all that surprised about the secrecy material. Whether it was Vietnam or 9/11 or Guantanamo Bay, the government has always been in the business of editing information to suit their needs when they can get away with it. And even when they can’t.

President Obama has called for a more transparent government, but as the Secrecy Report stated, he still issued seven signing statements, after stating, “he would not follow the practice.” (This doesn’t surprise me much either.)

So, if the GPO does in fact become a sole provider of government information, while shunning funding from Congress and enacting a business model that requires payment for access, FDLP libraries will, to a major degree, be relieved of their efforts as providers of free access to government information. And, if government documents continue to be altered (e.g. the Coalition of the Willing news releases from the White House), are we in danger of becoming an uninformed citizenry?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post, Diana. Given your discussion of informed citizenry, it's hard to keep oneself from directly going to an invocation of our ever-present J.S. Mill, isn't it?

    Whoops, there I go, directly invoking J.S. Mill. ;o)