Government Deals

By , September 22, 2011 2:56 pm

By Philippe Cloutier

T.S. Eliots’ oft praised The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is considered a tenacious beast. Getting to the root of the poem’s themes, allusions, story, and message is no easy task. The same can be said for Government information. Trying to get your hands onto a Government document often proves irksome. Departments within agencies don’t communicate with each other, files are sent to storage or other agencies, and turn around times range from days, to weeks, to months. Apparently, there are no guaranteed answers in poetry or Government data.

The Free Government Information blog posed the following question: “What would you tell a new class of law librarianship students about government information?” Their post, Passing It On, details the orientation of library students at The University of Washington. The students are working on the one-year MLIS program and already hold law degrees. They will learn about the FDLP, record maintenance and storage, types of gov docs, and the issues facing gov docs records in general.

An additional question that seems to permeate through the post is: “How can I encourage them to be interested in what I – what we – do, on a practical, not just theoretical level, when the future seems more than a tad discouraging.” For me the key would be the unknown and the dynamic. Government information is in a state of flux, given technological progress, new laws/needs, the recession, etc. It’s an exciting time to be a librarian in any field but even more so for a librarian working with Government data, be it local, State, Federal, or Foreign. We are on the front-lines, providing feedback to vendors, Government agencies, etc. We are also the ones using the products and providing access. Over the last few year we have witnessed a great deal of change, hopefully for the better. Lastly, I’d leave students with this tidbit:

Government document librarians have moved from working only with statistical tables to having access directly to the data. This change provides both challenges and opportunities, not only for government document librarianship, but all other areas of the library as well. Despite the increased availability of data on the Internet, librarians continue to play an important role in facilitating access. (Kumar, S. L. (2006). The changing face of government information: Providing access in the twenty-first century. New York: Haworth Information Press.)

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