Daily Archives: July 5, 2012

A Brief Plea for Government Documents

As CLP’s government documents librarian, I’m privy to a lot of updates about government publications.  Of late it seems that many of those updates are about resources that are getting cut.  The Statistical Abstract, American Community Survey, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, and the U.S. Code General Index have all turned up on the chopping block lately.  What’s notable isn’t that resources are getting cut– things change, and publications come and go– but that these are heavy hitters. Each of these are resources that are widely used and function as key sources of information.

So far, only the Statistical Abstract has been officially cut (although the 2013 budget is being finalized as we speak and other resources might still get the boot) , and a private company has decided to take over its publication.  Hooray!  But it’s not all good news.  As a Federal Depository Library, CLP receives free (that’s right- free!) government publications including this key title.  Now we’ll have to pay what I’m guessing will be a fairly pricey fee to get this, and we will likely only get the print copy (right now the online version is free; once it’s taken over by a private publisher it will be a subscription database). If cut, will those other resources get picked up by private companies as well?  It’s possible, even likely.  And that leads me to the big question that’s been bumping around in my head lately:  what exactly is the library’s role in all of this?  Do we have a responsibility to make sure this information stays publicly available?  Does it really matter where the information comes from, as long as it continues to exist?

I tend to think it does matter, but then again, I work with government documents for a living.  But the Federal Depository Library Program was started in order to make sure that the public had free and easy access to government information.  I tend to think that part of our role, as an FDL, is to help preserve that information.  Even if private companies take over the research, compiling, and publishing, they don’t have the same obligation to the American public that a government office does (in my opinion, at least!).  Information that was previously “free” (technically paid for with our tax dollars I suppose, but freely available at any rate) will now cost.  The people who gather that information will no longer have any obligation to ensure that the data remains transparent.  And I think it could also mean the difference between getting reliable information from an accountable source and getting information from a source that doesn’t have the same type of public responsibility.

That’s my opinion on the matter (no cuts!!) but I’d love to hear yours too.  If you are interested in stopping some of the cuts, check out this petition for a start, write a letter to the editor, or contact your representative.  Since I don’t want this post to get too long, I’ll spare you the missives on why the Statistical Abstract is so awesome, and why the American Community Survey is essential; you can read more about them here and here.



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