CHICAGO — The American Library Association (ALA) Council has passed a resolution urging Congress to designate the Government Printing Office (GPO) as the lead agency in managing the lifecycle of digital U.S. government information. That information would include government publications, documents, information and websites.
The resolution, passed at the ALA Annual Conference, held June 27 – July 2 in Chicago, also urges Congress to authorize the GPO to develop and administer standards and procedures for the United States federal government that include rules for dismantling sites and archiving Web content, including the preservation of all pertinent data protocols, documentation and software programs for evaluating and manipulating the content for permanent public access.
In the development of these standards and procedures, ALA also urges that Congress require the GPO to consult with the U.S. federal publishing agencies, the national libraries and professional library and archiving groups.
ALA urges Congress to provide the GPO with sufficient funding to handle the archiving of Web content, to perform its duties on an ongoing basis and additional funding as necessary to fully assist agencies when they are forced to decommission a website.
The resolution maintains that federal information produced at taxpayer expense should remain permanently accessible to the public free of charge.
Federal agencies have created independent websites and/or have worked in partnership with each other and with external entities to build integrated websites to share information with the public. Some, such as the Census Bureau's American FactFinder, provide data and publications only for a specific period of time and make older information unavailable, often without providing an explanation for withdrawing that information or ensuring archival access to it.
When a Federal agency can no longer maintain a website either in whole or as a partner, this website is dismantled and the information made inaccessible because no procedures or policies are in place to assure that the data will be transferred to another publicly accessible repository, along with appropriate metadata, software applications, or other means for manipulating, analyzing or evaluating the data retrieved.
Agencies such as the Government Printing Office (GPO) are already authorized by law to provide information services to other agencies and should be included in a plan for the disposal or transfer of information in websites.
The National Academy of Public Administration has recommended that “Congress should establish a collaborative interagency process, and designate a lead agency or interagency organization, to develop and implement a government-wide strategy for managing the lifecycle of digital government information."
See Council Document # 20.5 in ALA Committee on Legislation Report to Council (PDF).