Saturday, February 05, 2005

Taking Away Your Information

What the US Government wants to take away from us Librarian talks about the Government Printing Office stopping printing.

Why does this affect YOU? Well, right now, you can walk into any Depository, which is mandated by law to give you access to these Gov Docs. You can go to your Regional and see 100 year old documents, watch the history of democracy unfold. You can flip through Congressional Hearings, vast amount of Health and Scientific information, including Geological and Nautical maps. And no power hungry government can decide that "oops" they didn't want that information to get out there, so let's easily erase it from the digital copy and archive. It's much more difficult to recall hundreds of paper copies across the country, then to modify one html file. Or simply erase it.

This is a bad, bad thing.

Speaking as a lay person about government, and substantially more educated on technology matters...

The purpose of the depositories appears twofold:

1. Provide a decentralized archive of the history of our government. If the East Coast and West Coast dropped off into the ocean one day, you could still go to the depository in Kansas City (assuming there's a depository in KC) and find everything you need to know, to keep the nation on an even keel. It provides for continuity of government by making it necessary to scorch the entire nation to destroy every copy of the nation's papers. Something bad happens? We pick up and move on.

2. Provide public access to this information to every single citizen of the US.

If these depositories cease to hold government publications and are reduced in number from 53 to 2, and publications are instead primarily stored on one or two government websites, that means they will be stored on one or two government web servers.

If there's only two print depositories, our security, our continuity, no longer exist.

The internet provides for decentralized communications, but the World Wide Web is not the same as a decentralized archive. If government publications are stored on only one or two government servers, those servers may go down, or be destroyed, or be changed in the night, and that information is lost, possibly forever.

By using the Internet as an archive, those publications would no longer available be to every citizen, but only to every one with Internet access. The 'digital divide' would split Americans into 'informed', and 'uninformed', for no longer will everyone have access to this information. If the East Coast and West Coast dropped off into the ocean one day, the server hosting these government publications would go with it, leaving behind all of us, uninformed, and the poorer for it.

The American Library Association has passed a resolution opposing the GPO's decision.