How the Librarians Saved History: Harvesting Government History, One Web Page at a Time

My work is rewarding whether is gets recognition or not, but I have to admit, it was nice to get an honorable mention in this NYTimes article.   screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-11-29-42-pm

There is so much I love about what I do, and where I do it and who I do it with, and this project brought it all together. My fellow harvesters and I were all connected by at most 1.5 degrees of separation. There was even someone who was in a class I taught a zillion years ago when I was an adjunct at Queens College!

It is so great to go the conferences and events and run into so many Pratt graduates, many were my students and took my information policy or government information classes. I remember their term papers and their presentations, and it is great to see them involved in information activism.

But now that my five minutes of fame are over it’s time to get back to work for access to information. Looking for suggestions. And don’t forget to #GovDocs@Trump


Double feature: #GovDocs2Trump Tweetathon and End of Term Harvest

This came to me through library channels and may have originated from @noftalee . The idea is to tweet Trump some of the documents that tell the story of our country.

The Tweetathon announcement  says:

#GovDocs2Trump Tweetathon

America deserves a president who is well versed in the history of this nation and the documents upon which that history was built. Let’s present those documents to the President-Elect through his favorite medium–Twitter.

Tweetathon will begin at 9am (central) on December 1, 2016. You are welcome to join at any time.

Feel free to use whatever government related document (Supreme Court decisions, innagurial addresses, speeches, early American papers, etc.) strikes your fancy.

Tag each tweet with the hashtag #GovDocs2Trump and please send them to @realdonaldtrump. This way we can fill his feed.

Finally, please make your first tweet “Dear @realDonaldTrump, We the people demand an informed President.

So yes, of course I plan to join the Tweetathon. In fact, I started making a list of documents I will send. These include the CONAN, The US Constitution Annotated , the Nixon grand jury records  and many more

For those who would like to join the conversation but need suggestions on where to find government documents, here are some suggestions:

Our Documents  has a list of 100 millstones documents from American history such as the Emancipation Proclamation . A much larger collection is available from Govinfo and Government Publishing Office’s database. Browse their index  for Executive orders, Presidential papers and more.

Are your interests in history, diplomacy, foreign affairs? Try FRUS  Foreign relations of the United States. There you will find all the correspondences, cables, letters, etc. between presidents and other official. The collection is arranged by president and by topic. For example John F Kennedy Kennedy-Khrushchev Exchanges, Volume VI (it’s basically a retrospective edited wikileaks)

For those that are more into numbers, there are reports from the Census Bureau  on topic such as poverty as well as infographics

And the Double Feature? The start of the Tweetathon happens to coincide with the End of Term Harvest event I am facilitating tomorrow at the New York Academy of Medicine

Grey Literature End of Term Harvest. 10-1pm, The New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029.

The change of government administration brings the potential to eliminate websites, remove information and limit access to past administration content. This day we will identify such websites, particularly in areas on the Affordable Care Act, climate change and more, focusing on government social media and information not on .gov domains.

The plan is to double dip. Not matter where you are #GovDocs2Trump


Don’t mourn – Organize! or Rhinoceros

Two, or is it three, days later, I am still shell-shocked, refusing to let it leave me, trying to hold on to this feeling before it becomes a regular part of everyday life.
I cannot find any silver lining, refuse to be humored, I know where this is going, I have seen it all before.
The liberal left-of-center that was in Israel 20-30 years ago has all but disappeared. The ones that stayed true to their core values are either bitter and beaten or relentless to the point of being a parody of themselves. For everyone else the red lines just kept being pushed back. Not one of these people would have anticipated that 25 years later they’ll be living in the same local border dispute led by the same leaders that time and again were accused and proven to be involved in very shady business, that are either egomaniacal personalities or married to one or both, and there they are year after year. A circus of ministers that hold ignorance as a value, an unnerved population that all suffers from either Stockholm syndrome  or denial or worse. All the people that said I will leave the county when/if…. (mostly as an expression of exasperation and not necessarily with the intention of leaving) and all the Whens/ifs came and went endless times, until they don’t even say it anymore.

So what are we going to do? For now, I cannot even think to plan ahead. I feel like after an earthquake, I am standing around surveying the land and assessing damages. I am thinking ahead to all the calamities that are coming, in the Supreme Court, in the regulatory process, in things I personally care about  , and more to my field, I am thinking of all those executive orders and directive that promote Open Access  and data dissemination  , and I worry about some of our flagship information programs such as the Census Bureau’s or the FDLP. And are libraries building local digital collections in case this all goes away? My colleagues and I projected that cuts in the Dept. of Ed. budget could affect us directly within a matter on months, whether through elimination of funds for diversity hiring for universities, or a shakeup/elimination/privatization of the entire accreditation system. Who knows.

organizeI admire the courage and strength and warmth expressed by my colleague and am inspired by it  and by words of students. I hope to pull myself together soon and answer some call to arms and in the meantime I will focus on my role in the classroom and work with students to understand how to respond to this  as librarians on campuses or in public libraries, how to address the information failure  and our role in it, and more, we have much more work to do.


2015 booklist – into Africa

With a trip to South Africa planned for the end of 2015, books about Africa, and South Africa in particular, dominated this year’s reading list.
The best of the lot was Rian Malan’s My Traitor Heart. malanMalan, a South African journalist writes and observes, documents and reflects on Apartheid from the vantage point of someone who carries the weight of the sins of his fathers. He does not for a minute take any undo credit for his anti-apartheid stand, no pats on the back, and is completely honest about his own struggles with biases and conflicts and his place of privilege. It reminded me in some ways of My Promised Land, only 10 times better and much more honest.

Richard Dowden’s Africa: Altered states, ordinary miracles covers the continent as a whole, with each chapter devoted to a country or issue. Dowden, a British journalist, has been coverings Africa since the 1960s and offers both access and insight. There were not that many miracles and the overall sense is rather depressing and hopeless. Everyone got it wrong about Africa, from the colonists, through the super-powers, the aid organizations and the national governments. It’s a hot mess where no-one is spared responsibility (except maybe some missionaries) and good intentions can not redeem.
African fiction complemented the non-fiction readings and mostly demonstrated that real people live in these countries and while they are never really removed from politics, the everyday activities that dominate their lives are very much those of young people elsewhere.
S.J. Naudé, The alphabet of birds is a series of interconnected stories about mostly young South Africans, moving between countries and struggling with national, personal and sexual identity and their place in the world. NoViolet

NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names is a story of a young girl growing up in Zimbabwe in a shantytown with no indoor plumbing and singing Lady Gaga. It enforces some of Dowden’s thoughts on the role of NGO’s in African countries and like all the other books on Africa, turned upside-down my notions on good-bad, home, desired outcomes, personal and national responsibility, and what one can do to help.
While each book was excellent, I was left feeling despondent and ashamed of my pathetic attempts to help by buying books from Better World Books. It turns out that sending our discarded books to African libraries may not be such a good idea after all. First, it fills the shelves with, at best, children’s books that have nothing to do with the African experience, and at worse, with useless 2004 Excel manuals that local libraries are loathe to discard since the book as an object is given high status and weeding the collection is not common practice. In addition, it turns out the donating books to local libraries undermines the local publishing industry that are producing high quality books that are more relevant to the local population.

Africa aside, I read a total of 30 books in 2015, 20 in print, 10 on the kindle, 16 from the library, many many good ones. In addition to the ones described above, the best literary fiction: Rachel Cusk, Outline. The funniest (humor is really hard to achieve and when done right it’s so wonderful) was Julie Schumacher, Dear committee members. Deserving of the credit it received is Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the world and me and the classic that I missed and glad I caught up on is Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the art of archery as well as Death in Venice.


Some thoughts on DLC 2015

I just came back from DLC 2015, having to leave a day early so I can teach tomorrow, and came back thinking that this is best DLC I can recall in recent years. Not sure if the change is on my side or on DLC’s.

On my side, I am two years removed from serving on council, and those dreary monthly conference calls are beginning to fade away. They were always a challenge for me because the feeling was that you were listening to text and sub-text at the same time, but you never know which was which. Unless there was someone to keep you in the loop it was easy to be clueless (thanks fellow council members for keeping me afloat.)

On GPO’s side, maybe I was naïve, but I seemed to sense that a lot of good stuff was going on. I am quite impressed by the demo of the new FDsys and my sense was that the audience was as well. If it lives up to the demo, and there is every reason to believe it will, it will be in a league of its own. For people like me who still miss Thomas.gov and never took to Congress.gov, this is an appealing alternative.IMG_8721

I wish I could have cloned myself to attend multiple sessions, but here is some of what I ended up going to:

  • Info Lit in Action and Framework for Info Lit. both focused on teaching government information within academic libraries. Both Seth Porter and Shari Laster provided interesting examples from their work. Sharri’s mirroring of the ACRL literacy guidelines to government information was particularly interesting to me as someone who teaches in these areas.
  • The Monday morning kickoff, which already seems days away, was quite cheerful. Council chair Hallie Pritchett has an upbeat personality and she set a nice tone with her delivery of the traditional morning calisthenics (on second count, I realized I need to move from the 5-10 category to the over 10 category)
  • It was nice to see the libraries that received Depository of the Year award, and to count among them two of my fellow former council members Suzanne Sears for UNT libraries and Stephanie Braunstein  for LSU Libraries. Later that afternoon I got to hear in more detail about the work that Suzanne and her colleagues do at University of North Texas, Eagle Commons Library.
  • After lunch, Cass Harnett  and I presented Where has all the data gone: Citizen Created Tools. It was great creating this presentation with Cass and pulling our strengths together across two coasts. The presentation was about tools created by different groups such as developers, hackers, universities, foundations; what they all have in common is that they use data (numeric and textual) from the federal government. This can be the FR in XML, bulk data from FDsys, Census files and more. I think our presentation was well received, or at least a number of people told me so.
  • I enjoyed all the education sessions I went to and learned a lot. Highlights included some interesting non USPTO sources for searching patents for genealogical research, and some interesting things about FOIA and GAO reports and learning about NLM. The poster session was a particular delight, and not only because one of the presenters was a former students who is now at the HSS.

    Leah Castaldi presenting on Minority Health Reports from HHS.gov

    Leah Castaldi presenting on Minority Health Reports from HHS.gov

On the lighter side, after years of complaining about the Doubletree Hotel, even that wasn’t so bad this year. The rooms were not freezing and there were no snuggie jokes and the wifi and technology worked everywhere.

Looking forward to 2016!