Posts Tagged ‘today in government information’

Today in Government Information: Why you still want a library

Anyone who has looked for government information in the past several years knows that most of it is available online. As long ago as 1998, when I started working with government documents, the word was spreading that “soon” everything will be online. I’m not sure we even knew what a PDF was in those days, nor authentication, but we knew which way the wind was blowing. Close to 15 years later, not everything is online, but many government information sources are not distributed in print any more. The trend towards putting more and more online continues.

That raises an obvious question which troubles some in the government information community. If virtually everything is available online – and in the realm of government information, almost free of charge – why on earth do we still need depository libraries? When a researcher can sit in the comfort of his own home, in his bunny slippers, and find all the information through a Google search, why maintain the depository system?

The Modern Researcher

The answer is expertise from librarians, particularly government information specialists. Each depository library is required to designate a staff member as a “coordinator” who is charged with maintaining the collection, ensuring access to the public, and assisting researchers in need of assistance. While it is true that a simple Google search can turn up a wealth of information, can it verify that you’re looking at the most recent edition? Can it suggest an agency’s other publications that might be useful? And if the search is too successful, can it help you weed through thousands of results, by suggesting additional terms to include or avoid? A government documents specialist can do all of that, and more. The depository system is not just a distribution method for print documents, it is also a network of specialist librarians across country. These librarians are often the best gateway to information aside from an agency itself, and they are so much more convenient – wherever you happen to be.

Map of Depository Libraries

Map of Depository Libraries

I don’t think depositories are going anywhere. I think they bring value to researchers and the general public, and as the Government Printing Office says, they keep American informed.

Government Information to the Rescue!

Are you so stressed you didn’t realize it was February already? Were you so busy working on your Legal Writing Brief that you forgot to get your sweetie a Valentine’s Day gift? Did the two of you agree no gifts this year, but then someone changed their mind?

Here’s a handy guide to get you off the hook, courtesy of published government information:

“Oh, sweetie, I didn’t want to get you candy this year – did you know that the CDC recommends avoiding sugary snacks? I just want to keep that gorgeous smile of yours gleaming & pain free! Because they also say that almost 25% of American adults report tooth pain in the six months, and that could be from cavities!” (While the CDC also provides relevant information, we do not recommend using concerns about the obesity rate in America as an excuse, incidentally.)

Conversation Hearts

If you don’t think dental health is a good approach, try another:

“You know, there are so many people with allergies, I just didn’t want to risk getting you flowers – pollen can trigger allergies or asthma! [If necessary: I know you’re not allergic, of course, but your roommate/officemate/neighbor might be seriously allergic and how would we know? I’d hate to make someone else miserable trying to show my love for you!]”

No273 13 Oct 2009 Sneeze

And if the stakes are a little higher, and someone’s expecting a shiny, expensive present, you can always pull the blood diamond card:

“How horrible would it be, if I professed my love with something so tainted? I just… I just…. can’t…. !!” (You’re on your own explaining why you can’t produce a conflict-free diamond.)

Diamond Age

Be advised: you must say any of these excuses with a great deal of charm and persuasion. But you’re in law school, so you’ve learned persuasion, and all of our Wake Forest students are naturally charming. Good luck, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Government Information in the News

Government information is constantly making news, and many of the documents referred to are available online if you know where to look. Looking at the original documents being referenced allows you to draw your own conclusions and to evaluate the story you’re reading on a different level. Here’s a round up of several pieces of government information people have been talking about recently.

  • Many stories are based on proposed legislation, such as the this one about a rally by proponents of the DREAM Act.  Legislative information is some of the easiest to find.
  • Sometimes the government publication is the story itself. Recently released FEC statistics were the top story on Sunday, October 23’s Winston-Salem Journal. The FEC’s website ( provides reports of election fundraising by candidate, including local Congressman Mel Watt.
  • And sometimes the government information is buried in a larger story, as in this case, where a GAO report from 2010 regarding improperly received Social Security Disability Insurance benefits was referenced on the front page of the Winston-Salem Journal on Oct. 23.

Not all hot topics in the news are available online immediately, however. For instance, news about a Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommendation that boys be routinely vaccinated against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine is not yet on their website. From the looks of the listings currently online, it might be a month or two before it gets posted there (and here, for final recommendations).

Keep your eyes peeled & you’ll see government information everywhere!

Citing Government Documents

Government publications can be a great source of information for researchers of all stripes. But there is often confusion when it comes time to cite the materials. If you look up “government publications” in the index to the Bluebook, you get rule 14, for regulations, rules, administrative adjudications, and arbitrations. Table T1 lists some specific titles with particular formats, but there isn’t a clear default rule. Here’s a quick guide to the Bluebook rules that are most often involved with citing government documents, with examples drawn from this report.

  1. Books and Reports. Aside from legal resources such as cases, statutes, regulations, and legislative materials, perhaps the most widely cited format of government publication is the report. Written by all manner of agencies, task forces, commissions, or advisory boards, reports can range from one-time issuances of a couple pages, to annual publications of hundreds of pages. When in doubt, if something is issued once a year or less frequently, it’s probably governed by Rule 15 (Books, Reports and other Non Periodic Material). Rule 15 provides for one of the simpler basic citation formats: Author’s Name, Title (year).
  2. Periodicals. Government periodicals are usually non-consecutively paginated, so they fall under Rule 16.5. In that case, the basic citation format is Author’s Name, Article Title, Periodical Name, date of issue, at page(s).
  3. Online material. Almost all government publications are now available online, and some are exclusively available online. Rule 18 governs these publications. For items that are only or primarily available online, a URL citation should be appended per Rule 18.2.2. If the print publication is available, but the online version is easier to find, an “available at” parallel citation is appropriate (18.2.3).

Of the things you need to consider when you’re citing government material, authorship may be the most confusing. Many government publications, particularly those generating from executive agencies, list a string of organizational authors from the narrowest body up to the broadest level, like a cabinet department. You might see, as in our example linked above, “Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, Department of Justice,” with or without the personal names of individual authors! How much of that do you need? Rule 15.1 (c) and (d) hold the answers. (The same rules apply for periodical materials, as well.) Here’s the skinny: regardless of what information is presented, you need two elements to indicate institutional authorship.)

  • If an individual author is named, use that person’s name and then the institution itself. For instance, our example report should be cited as being authored by “Matthew J. Hickman & Joseph L. Peterson, Bureau of Justice Statistics.”
  • If no individual author is named, used the smallest subdivision responsible for the work, and then the overall body. If there were no one’s name attached to this report, it would simply  be authored by “Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dep’t of Justice.”

Another special area of concern is a serial number. Many government publications are part of series, and each item in the series is numbered. This is great for specifically identifying the work. Rule 15.7 dictates that the serial number of a work should be included in the citation as follows:

  • If the entire series is issued by the same author (usually an institution), include the number as the beginning of the title. In the case of our Fact Sheet above, the serial number is NCJ 205988, and the series is issued by the institutional author. So the series is part of the title, as “NCJ 205988, 50 Largest Crime Labs, 2002.”
  • If the series is issued by a party other than the author, include the series number parenthetically, before the date (for example, if that applied to our document here,  “(NCJ 205988, 2004).”).

Given these considerations, the final citation for our document is “Matthew J. Hickman & Joseph L. Peterson, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 205988, 50 Largest Crime Labs, 2002 (2004).”

Be sure to consult the Bluebook for specific variations and for typeface considerations (whether in court documents or for a law review). But the bottom line is – citing government documents isn’t as hard as it seems!

FDsys: Government Information in the 21st Century – Today in Government Information

August 10, 2011 1 comment

The news this summer has been abuzz with Obama administration and Congressional efforts to cut back on duplicative government websites and wasteful printing practices (although these efforts may be misinformed). If you just listen to the headlines, you might think that the government doesn’t curate its web presence or update any resources, and is practically using chisels and tablets to keep the populace informed. There are actually some exciting developments in the realm of federal information on the internet, including a site known as FDsys, the Federal Digital System.

Way back in 1994, the federal Government Printing Office (or GPO) established, by order of Congress, a website that was positively spiffy for the time. GPO Access, as it was known, made federal information available directly from the government and easily accessible to everyone with an internet connection. Back in 1994, that was a huge deal. But so were OJ Simpson and his white Bronco.

Many things have changed over the years, and despite incremental improvements, GPO Access remained basically as it was in 1994.  In 2010, when GPO Access was old enough to get a drivers license, the GPO declared a new Federal Digital System (FDsys) the “electronic system of record.” On one level, it is merely a replacement for the now-dated GPO Access interface, but behind the scenes it is so much more. A video from the University of Colorado explains in brief the advantages of an authenticated system, and a future blog post will explain authentication in detail. For now, know that the content on FDsys is verified as being the actual information published by the federal government, and has not been altered in the meantime – it’s trustworthy. This system is designed to provide permanent public access to government information.

In addition to providing authenticated material, FDsys is a more direct pipeline from the content creators to the public, so information is released more quickly and in better shape. Government information is available for searching and browsing, as well as for download complete with what librarians call “metadata” – information about the information itself. Data is arranged in collections – titles that you might recognize from researching in print, like the Code of Federal Regulations or the Congressional Record. It’s also available for people who want to re-purpose the information for other applications – the file formats are very flexible for a wide range of uses. Sites like Thomas and are based on data drawn from FDsys.

GPO Access, as you can see, is still available as an historical archive, but it is slated to be deactivated by the end of this year.  So start using FDsys today!