The library community has a long-standing commitment to public access to information created by or for the federal, state and local government. This principle of the public’s “Right to Know” is the cornerstone of government accountability and informed public participation. This is why ALA supports legislative efforts that promote public access to government information, open government, and E-Government services.
As government agencies continue to digitize forms and services, libraries are often the only organizations that can help citizens interact with these agencies and access E-Government resources. Libraries provide the facilities and expertise necessary to deliver these services in local communities, including public access computing and Internet access, relevant, up-to-date print and electronic resources, and one-on-one assistance and training. Such assistance ranges from completing job applications and filing unemployment claims, to registering to vote, and interacting with government agencies and officials. In addition, a new and expanding role for libraries is supporting emergency services. Recent disasters have shown the important role that libraries play in disaster preparedness and recovery efforts.
But if funding for libraries was stretched thin previously, new service roles such as E-Government have put extra stress on libraries’ ability to provide computing, reference, and training services. This is particularly true for smaller and rural libraries, which have neither the staff nor expertise to fill this role. No supplemental funding is allocated to provide training, technology (including broadband services), and the necessary resources to provide a government service that is reliable, trusted, expert and available to citizens in their communities – adding up to an unfunded mandate for libraries. Furthermore, as frontline service providers during emergencies and natural disasters, libraries lack the financial support and coordination with federal, state, and local agencies necessary to deliver these services successfully.
Public Agenda’s 2006 study Long Overdue recognized that libraries had a great opportunity to fill a gap in important community needs by becoming “hubs for improved access to government information and services.” (http://www.publicagenda.org/ reports/long-overdue) As libraries have provided more E-Government services, use and visibility have increased. At the same time, librarians are confronting issues of privacy and liability as they help users apply for services that require confidential and sensitive data.
Beyond making government more accessible and seamless, E-Government can transform governance and renew democracy in the 21st century The interactivity of the Internet offers the opportunity to create more open and transparent public institutions, empowering a more civically and meaningfully aware public and enabling a connection between constituents, legislators, and government agencies that can deepen the national discourse. Through e-mail, websites and social networking tools, citizens are engaging and communities are growing around issues, parties and candidates.
The library community, government officials and local community leaders can benefit from dialogue and information exchange among themselves and with other experts regarding strategies to harness the power of E-Government. As government agencies expand their E-Government resources and depend more on libraries to provide access and support, librarians need to determine what role they can or should play as primary service providers for E-Government services.
(Nancy Kranich, Introduction to E-Government Issue Map, June 27, 2008)
E-Government and Libraries
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