The End of Term Harvest: An Abundant Crop

I am so proud to be featured today on Signal, the Library of Congress
Digital Preservation blog, for the work I did with my students contributing content to the End of Term harvest.

I want to thank all the students who worked on this project: Laural Angrist, Leo Bellino, Denis Chaves, Megan Fenton, Eloise Flood, Shanta Gee, Lucia Kasiske, Mike Kohler, Emily Lundeen, Julia Marden, Joan, Erin Noto, Lauren Reinhalter, Megan Roberts, Malina Thiede and Rachel Wittmann (who provided the title for this blog).

You can read the Signal blog here:


EOT Harvest, part V: By the numbers

No report is complete without the numbers, and our numbers are in.
In all, the 16 students in the class nominated 1513 social media sites. Many more were reviewed but not all made the cut, either because they were out of scope, required password to access or had some problem associated with them.

Total 1513 sites nominated
Average 92 nominations per student
Range: 53-275 nominations

In terms of social media sites, the three leading sites are:
Facebook (32%)
Twitter (30%)
YouTube (17%)

In addition to these, there is a very long tail of over twenty social media sites that included both well-known and lesser-known sites such as Tumblr, Pinterest, Vimeo, Picasa and slideshare.

The leading agencies were
Dept. of Defense, State Department, Department of Agriculture and NASA

The limitation of numbers being what they are, I will begin with the disclaimer – the number apply only for this project and the way in which it was managed. I would be hard pressed to venture and guess the total number of social media site the federal government maintains, or their distribution.

Overall students were impressed by the wide use and variety of information they found. As one student said, “The kind of information that each one produces is quite a bit more extensive and somewhat more focused than I realized.”
Students were surprised by the widespread use of social media in government, including by agencies that traditionally avoided interaction with the general public. The Secret Service uses social media extensively for public relations and marketing services, and without a doubt J. Edgar Hoover is turning in his grave.
And while marketing and public relations constitutes a major use of social media, we did also see some creative uses as well. For example, the Central Texas Dept. of Veteran Affairs Tweet their daily lunch menu (for Thanksgiving: Lunch: Rst Turkey/Gravy, Cranberry Sce, Cornbread Dressing, Sweet Potatoes, Green Beans Supreme, Dinner Roll, Pumpkin Pie, Coffee/Tea) and the Border Patrol uses Pinterest for public education.

Menu of what’s being served at Central Texas VA Center


The project helped students understand and often appreciate, the role of social media in communicating with the public. We discovered that almost every agency searched had a Twitter account. As the work coincided with hurricane Sandy in New York one student observed: “During the hurricane, I was without power and relied heavily on Twitter for information from the City and Con Edison. After that experience (and after being told by some friendly police officers that it was where they were getting all their information), I understood why the federal government would rely so heavily on Twitter as opposed to other social media outlets. “

Most directly, in terms of supporting the course goals, students learned a lot about the information sources of the federal government and the limitations of social media.
There were also indirect lessons. Many students felt this project made them more aware of the work of government. As one student said “this project inspired me to become a more informed citizen” and some drew broader conclusions about the shifting role of government, from making information available to actively trying to communicate information directly to citizens.

With the conclusion of the project, I would like to thank all the student who participated in the End of Term harvest: Laural Angrist, Leo Bellino, Denis Chaves, Megan Fenton, Eloise Flood, Shanta Gee, Lucia Kasiske, Mike Kohler, Emily Lundeen, Julia Marden, Joan, Erin Noto, Lauren Reinhalter, Megan Roberts, Malina Thiede and Rachel Whittmann


EOT Harvest, part IV: Problems encountered

Once the nomination process got under way, problems arose, but each problem provided a learning opportunity for students. Some questions we encountered include:
The status of quasi agencies. Some quasi agencies, like the Smithsonian were considered within scope; but others were not quite as clear. For example, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is considered a quasi agency. Eventually, however, we determined that it is out of scope for the EOT harvest. The EOT team ran this by Brewster Kahle who determined that “even though funded by government, this is pushing the boundaries a bit hard for this go round from a policy perspective”.
What is social media? Narrowly defined, “social media” refers to websites with interactive user-generated content that allow people to communicate with one another. While Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were clearly within scope, we debated about whether or not to include blogs, such as the blog by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Our concern was that most blogs contained a low level of interactivity and functioned more like press releases. After some consideration we decided to include blogs since their purpose is to communicate directly and foster unmediated communication with the public.
A similar question came up regarding podcasts such as this one from the USGS, which we decided to nominate since the USGS includes podcasts in their main site for social media
Restrictions on public access: Only websites that are accessible to the general public without a password were considered within scope for the EOT harvest. However, we did encounter some websites with tiered access, specifically Linked-in sites. For example, the Linked-in page of the Peace Corps is publicaly accessible but the tab for “employee insights” requires a password. Since we were unable to separate the sections we decided against nomination.

As I write this we are two days away from the elections. Our goal is to complete nominations by election-day. Hurricane Sandy, which directly affected our area, left many students without power. We coordinated our efforts and students without internet access took over for other students in the group to get the work done on time. I am encouraged by the collaborative spirit of the students who did not hesitate to contribute above their quota so that the work gets done.
How much work exactly – stay tuned for the next post which will provide the numbers.


EOT Harvest, part III: Getting to work

Before I begin describing our workflow, here is a brief recap of the previous blog posts:
Students taking the course in government information sources this semester are working to assist in capturing social media websites of the federal government. These websites will be archived by The Internet Archive.

After a presentation by the EOT team, we began to chart our course. The sixteen students in the class divided into four teams. Each team has at least one member that is versed in social media, and in many cases, more than one. Students selected names for their teams. While the names had no operational function, they were instrumental in building team spirit and generating jokes. We have the L4 nominators, with all members having first names that begin with L, the Obama-net Preservation Society, and two groups that paid homage to Adelaide Hasse, and they are Team Adelaide and the Hasse Harvesters.

The basic workflow was simple: divide the government agencies into four parts and have each team examine all the agencies in one part, locating which social media websites they use. Each team created a spreadsheet which lists the URL and other information requested on the nominating tool. Once I review and approve each nomination, students can begin live nominations.

The plethora of available social media websites meant that we had to narrow the scope and focus on the main venues: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube received first priority, followed by LinkdIn and Pinterest. Student were free to add other social media sites, and many students nominated agency blogs and some lesser-known sites like GitHub, a site for sharing and collaborating on computer code.

We debated over which agency list to use. While the most comprehensive and authoritative list is probably the U.S. Government Manual we chose to work from the A-Z agency list available on USA.gov, which offers a simpler interface and concise information.

There are approximately 500 agencies listed, so each team was assigned 125 agencies. In turn, each team divided the agencies amongst their own members, resulting in approximately 31 agencies per student. While the plan was to distribute the workload evenly among students, this proved to be all but impossible. Some agencies are self contained and do not branch out or down, for example, the Office of the Architect of the Capitol; whereas others have a deep organizational structure where each division in the chart includes additional sites that need to be checked. A classic example would be the State Department with embassies throughout the world, each with its own social media presence. Following a discussion with students who drew these short straws, we decided that students will select a few embassies to nominate for the harvest, focusing on contentious locations such as Afghanistan or Syria and not nominate countries like Canada and Finland.

In addition to agency website, we were asked to nominate social media of elected individuals currently serving in the Senate or the House, who are not running to reelection, and this list too was divided between the four groups.

Once students began work, we began to encounter problems regarding the status of agencies (are they official or quasi-official?) and multiple pages on a particular social media website.

Detailed descriptions of the problems we encountered will follow in the next post.

And a final note, I would love to receive your comments or thoughts on this project, you can leave comments here or email me.


EOT Harvest, part II: How we got involved

I became aware of the EOT Harvest through meetings and presentations at the Depository Library Council conference, so when I saw that the project was seeking volunteers to nominate content for the archive, I already had some notion of what the project may involve.

I saw the notice on my favorite blog, Free Government Information (FGI). The notice briefly described the project and called for volunteers to nominate, through an online form, U.S. Federal government domains to be archived.
I used the generic e-mail address that was provided for further questions, and e-mailed the following:

Dear EOT project managers,
I saw the call for volunteers on FGI and thought this may be an opportunity to involve students taking my Government Information Sources (Fall 2012) course. Since they are new to GovDocs I would have to have something a little more contained and targeted for them. If there are any specific agencies/sub domains and such that I can have students work on, I would be glad to help. This is both a great learning opportunity as well as an act of civic responsibility. If this is at all on interest we can pursue this further.
Thank you.
Debbie Rabina

The first promising sign was a reply that came within 24 hours from one of the partners, the Library of Congress. They were excited about the suggestion and invited further discussion.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the relationship between volunteers and the EOT team. In our case it is making this project so much easier. In the weeks since we began work, I have been e-mailing the EOT team regularly, usually several times a week, At least one team member gets back to me within hours–including during weekends. This is instrumental to keeping the pace of the project going. Students are waiting for answers so that they can submit nominations, and every effort is made not to slow them down.

Following some e-mail exchanges and a conference call between myself and the EOT team, we came up with a project for students. During the course of the semester, students will systematically locate social media sites that are maintained by all three branches of the federal government such as, for example, NASA’s Twitter feed.

Sixteen students are involved in the project, all taking LIS 613 Government Information Sources. Most students are new to government information and the project was initially not very clear to them.

Several elements contributed to getting students to understand and get excited about the project. These included several classroom discussions that were enforced by a detailed write-up of the assignment, published literature of the 2008 EOT harvest, and finally, a conference call with the EOT team.
Sitting in our classroom in New York City, with a combination of Skype, a land-line conference call and Power Point slides, we discussed the project and our role and students had an opportunity to have their questions answered. It was after this conference call, which took place during Week 3 of the semester, that we finalized the workflow and began nominating websites for inclusion in the 2012 EOT archive.

As the project and our own involvement become clear, and lessons about government information began to emerge:

Lesson #1: The amount at at-risk information is enormous.
Students were under the impression that the Federal Depository Library Program preserves all content authored by the government and were surprised to learn that most agencies’ web content is not part of the distribution and preservation efforts of GPO. This required us to set up a good workflow that would capture as much of this information as possible.

Coming next: Our workflow


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