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New publication by James Jacobs on accessing government information

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James R. Jacobs, U.S. Government Information Librarian, has recently contributed a chapter to a forthcoming volume titled Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits (Medford, NJ: Information Today, 2016). Coauthored with James A. Jacobs, James' contribution, "Beyond LMGTFY*: Access to Government Information in a networked world," examines the challenges faced by users and librarians as they seek digital access (especially over the long term) to government information. As the publisher notes, the edited volume is the "first book in years to explore trends and issues for researchers and organizations that rely on U.S. public information."

James' introduction provides a glimpse into the critical issues considered:

Beyond LMGTFY*: Access to government information in a networked world
by James A. Jacobs and James R. Jacobs

*LMGTFY is an acronym meaning “Let Me Google That For You.” LMGTFY is an Internet meme begun as a sarcastic reply to someone asking a simple question. There’s even a Web site: lmgtfy.com.

"The Internet has exponentially expanded the public's access to government information – making more information more accessible faster than it ever was when access was limited to paper and ink publications. Unfortunately, this rapid deluge of fast, short-term access has exacerbated long-standing problems that impede long-term access to this information. “Access” doesn't just happen all by itself. Access is only the visible tip of the iceberg; under the surface there is a large network of individuals and organizations that select, organize, and preserve the information output of government agencies and provide access to and services for that information. The problems that have not gone away in the age of the Internet are ones that in many cases are actually aggravated and intensified by it – most notably: gaps in inventorying and cataloging and tracking all that information, the passive neglect of preservation, and even the active deletion and alteration of information.

These are problems that are familiar to librarians in the 1200+ libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) that have historically filled those gaps and actively preserved and provided access to paper publications and that now struggle to do the same for digital information. That “struggle” is made that much harder when the short-term benefits of digital access mask many of the long-term problems.

Viewing Value Through Service and Use:

The value of government information itself can best be understood when viewed in the context of who uses the information, how it is used, and how real-life questions are answered by FDLP librarians. The Internet age often leaves users on their own amidst a sea of undifferentiated, under-described information, stripped of its context and, often, even of its authorship and origins. Because of this the provision of human information services is not only still important in this environment; it is often essential.

Library users sometimes ask questions that are quick and easy to answer (“I need a hearing”) but those questions often evolve into more complex problems that require digging below the surface of easy access to locate hard-to-identify information hidden in government agencies, in non-government archives, and in information silos of digitization projects. Such research questions can be open-ended – lasting months – and can involve following an information trail through secondary sources that may also require data analysis. As more and more government information is digitized and born-digital, the nature of these research queries has actually become more complex, not less, and finding answers is often more complicated, not easier.

Government information is in high demand by library users. Reference statistics at Stanford University Library show that government-document queries account for approximately 15% of reference statistics over the last 5 years for which data have been collected. Below, we provide several case studies in library research to give a context to how access to government information typically happens in an academic library and to show the value of that information to real users. These examples highlight what library patrons seek, how they want to use government information, and why government information librarians remain critical to the process of information access."

Congratulations, James!

By Ben Stone

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