Another Valuable Virtual Conference

During two weeks in mid-December the U. S. Government Printing Office (GPO) held a virtual meeting, “Expanding the Forecast Framework: Engage & Discuss,” which focused on ways to map the future of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). GPO has been distributing federal documents to a variety of libraries, including law libraries, since the program was established by the Depository Library Act of 1962. Currently there are over 1,200 libraries participating in the program. 

Over the years the FDLP has shifted from distributing only print publications to some microfiche and finally to digital formats. Now print distribution is limited to a very small percentage of the documents generated by the U.S. federal government and over 95 percent of all government publications are issued in digital formats. These documents cover a wide spectrum of subject matter from primary legal material to agriculture, commerce, medicine, natural resources and many more.

Because of this major shift in formats, Davita Vance-Cooks, the new Superintendent of Documents, has proposed that GPO’s name be changed to Government Publishing Office. This way the acronym will remain the same, but the focus will be on GPO’s role as the designated government publisher rather than as a printing facility.

Due to time constraints I was only able to participate in a few sessions. The format of the sessions were webinars where slides of questions were displayed online and a facilitator guided and monitored the text input submitted by the participants. I found this to be a useful format because I could follow the spoken narrative while reading the comments. The first session I heard was on building an authoritative National Bibliography of U.S. Government Publications and which focused on strategies to enhance and complete the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP).

The CGP:

is the finding tool for electronic and print publications from the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the U.S. government. These publications make up the National Bibliography of U.S. Government Publications. The CGP contains descriptive records for historical and current publications and provides direct links to those that are available online. … More than 500,000 records generated since July 1976 are contained in the CGP and it is updated daily. The catalog will grow to include records for publications dating back to the late 1800s, making the CGP the central point for locating new and historical Government publications.

A great number of excellent suggestions for improvement were put out such as cooperative cataloging efforts; cooperative scanning projects with depository libraries and partnerships with digital libraries such as HathiTrust in order to add more digital content; and merging the CGP records into the Federal Digital System (FDsys).

The next session I heard was on increasing FDLP relevance which elicited ideas to help capture ‘fugitive documents’, particularly those issued in electronic formats; to design an extremely easy to use interface; and to keep up the pressure to encourage agencies to submit all of their documents to the GPO. Depository librarians reported that they enhance accessibility to documents through subject guides, instructional sessions, web pages, Twitter feeds and blogs, and editing Wikipedia pages to include references to relevant federal documents. Some of the specific sites mentioned were Free Government Information , Gov-stuff 4 U and Federal Documents . A final suggestion was made to brand the depositories as service centers or government resource centers in order to more accurately describe all they do to make documents more accessible.

The next day I listened in on a program on barriers to access where there were discussions on lack of funding, which is a major barrier that affects everything, and on the digital divide and preservation issues. The comment was made that the myth that everything on the internet should be free ignores the fact that putting up and preserving online information does involve significant costs. Preservation of digital documents is of great concern and suggestions to address this included encouraging libraries to identify their unique documents and share them on sites such as HathiTrust and continuing to publicize the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI).

The final session I was able to hear was on marketing. One participant suggested describing the FDLP as a “network of libraries nationwide that receive and make available federal publications and information. Then suggestions were made for better acronyms to describe the FDLP, such as GRIN (Government Resources and Information Network). Another participant shared an elevator speech describing the content of the FDLP: “these resources are the official history of our nation.” The suggestion was made to share with administrators that the ‘free stuff’ from the FDLP provided a high return on investment. Some final thoughts were that everyone needs to know that there is a document that can help with almost every subject. A proposed slogan was: “we are the government documents, we are here to help you.”

In these days of budget constraints and time crunches, virtual meetings and conferences will continue to proliferate. I enjoy the convenience of attending these events from home or office and I continue to gain valuable information from them, but I do miss the face-to-face interaction with colleagues and the serendipitous sharing of information that so often occurs during coffee and meal breaks. I do hope that not every future meeting will be virtual.

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