Finding Lost U.S. Government Data: "The Lost, and the Found"


BRASS Program, ALA Annual Conference, June 29, 1998

Evaluating Privatized Government Information: Loss or Gain?

Kate Pittsley
Business Collection Specialist
Michigan Electronic Library
Adjunct Lecturer on Government Information
School of Information
University of Michigan

Publishing of Government Information by Private Publishers
  • More a recent trend than a new phenomenon
  • Repackaged government information
    • Example: Gale Research publications
  • Long-standing direct publishing/distribution of government information by private publishers
    • Examples: West publishing and court opinions
    • Disclosure and SEC filings
Criteria for Evaluating Effect on Collections
  • Authority of information
  • Variety and scope of resources
  • User friendliness and production values
  • Budget issues
  • Access issues
Why Do Government Publications Have Special Authority?
  • Known entity and role as proponent of public good
  • Unique authority and means to collect information
  • Detailed disclosure of data and methodologies
Is Authority Lost When Government Information is Privately Published?
  • Probably not if publisher is known and reputable
  • In the case of West and court opinions, information is still authoritative
  • In the case of statistical information, authority and usefulness will be diminished if private publishers provide less detailed disclosure of data & methodologies
Variety and Scope
  • Lack of copyright on government generated information encourages variety
  • Exclusive contracts and copyrights inhibit redissemination by other publishers & organizations
  • Will more obscure info that won't "sell" be published?
  • Will older info continue to be available?
  • Would the government information not be published at all? Or?
User Friendliness and Production Values
  • Publishers' products often look better and are easier to use
  • Many government publications were not originally intended for a public audience
  • Printing regulations affect "look" of government publications
Budget Issues
  • Best case privatization scenarios:
    • Reasonable prices & depository distribution
  • Worst case privatization scenarios:
    • A monopolistic situation leads to outrageous prices & licensing arrangements; unforeseen consequences
  • If priced at what investment firms and corporations are willing and able to pay:
    • Will there be reasonable prices for academic users?
    • Will there be any options for public libraries?
  • Effects on government agency budgets
Access Issues
  • Private publishers do a better job of marketing and making publications available in book stores
  • Copyright issues could have severe effect on possibilities for free internet access
  • Networking issues: will it be less possible or more?
  • Will costs affect access by less wealthy user communities?
Evaluating Privatized Government Information: Loss or Gain?
Authority _____Gain   _____Loss
Variety and scope   _____Gain _____Loss
User friendliness _____Gain _____Loss
Budget issues _____Gain _____Loss
Access issues _____Gain _____Loss

Given the Situation:
  • In some cases, librarians will purchase the products and enjoy improvements
  • In other cases, prices or licensing arrangements may be prohibitive
  • Encourage private publishers to:
    • Include detailed data and methodologies
    • Provide old information in usable form for researchers
  • Encourage government agencies to:
    • Make careful contracts that protect the public interest
    • Avoid exclusive contracts
Is Privatization Necessarily a Given?
  • In some cases the government has a responsibility to publish its own information
  • You can be a voice for public access: write a letter or have a discussion with your congressperson

bullet Finding Lost U.S. Government Data: Collection Development Strategies for the Business Librarian
BRASS Program, ALA Annual Conference, June 29, 1998

Disclaimer : This publication has been placed on the web for the convenience of BRASS members. Information and links will not be updated. Posted 1 September 1998.