Free Government Information (FGI) is a private, non-governmental project for encouraging interaction and consensus building among libraries, government agencies, non-profits, researchers, journalists, and others who have an interest in promoting and preserving free and permanent access to government information. Ever since it was launched in 2004, FGI has promoted free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy, and research.
It is a well-known irony of the digital age that the production of information has never been more copious, and the dissemination of information has never been easier, yet finding the information one needs and preserving information for present and future generations seems to grow more and more difficult with each passing year. Although few government documents are published in tangible formats anymore, and access to those documents is theoretically available to anyone in the world who has access to a computer, depository libraries are not obsolete just yet. FGI provides a forum for discussing the evolving nature of the traditional role of depository libraries in acquiring, maintaining, and providing access to government information, and gives every stakeholder a voice in the continuing debate over government information policy.
Here are some of the resources available through the FGI Web site:
This is a list of presentations, white papers, published articles, and major commentaries and analyses by FGI volunteers. Blog posts on FGI provide announcements, commentaries, and rapid, in-depth analyses of and responses to pertinent reports and proposed legislation. They provide up-to-date information and informed discussion on current events, research trends, cutting-edge technologies, and related issues such as copyright, digitization, and the right to privacy.
In the 80s and 90s, Anne Heanue and others at the Washington Office of the American Library Association (ALA) published a series of books that chronicled efforts to restrict and privatize government information from the public during those years. This resource contains the texts of those reports, along with more recent FGI posts that document ongoing efforts to restrict, alter, remove, and privatize government information. Readers are also invited to contribute their own findings.
Not all federal documents have been cataloged and distributed through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). Those documents which have not been cataloged and/or distributed through the FDLP are known as “fugitive documents,” or “lost docs.” Fugitive documents can be reported to the Government Publishing Office (GPO) via their Lost Docs Reporting Form, so that these potentially valuable resources can be cataloged and archived, and thereby saved from permanent oblivion.
The Lost Docs Blog provides a public listing of fugitive documents that have been reported to GPO. Not all federal documents are within the scope of the FDLP, but nearly any published federal document qualifies for GPO’s national bibliography.
If you are a fiction writer or screenwriter, you know how tricky it can be to get the details right in your stories. Government documents can be an excellent source of this type of information. Although there are exceptions in certain areas of controversy, for the most part government documents provide an objective, balanced treatment of a subject and are written by experts either in the government or in the private sector. For some subject, such as space travel or U.S. military history, you won’t find any more reliable and convenient resources than government documents.
Works of the U.S. government are generally not protected by copyright in the United States and are automatically in the public domain (17 U.S.C. § 105); however, there are numerous exceptions and refinements to this rule. For a detailed explanation of how copyright law is applied to government publications, see Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright: 3.0 U.S. Government Works and 4.0 Works Created Under a Federal Contract or Grant on the CENDI Web site.
State documents, on the other hand, are much less likely to be in the public domain. State agencies are free to claim copyright to their publications, and even if they do not actively place a copyright notice on their publications, 17 U.S.C. § 102(a) automatically places them under copyright. Most state laws are ambiguous and often unknown, even by agencies within their state. FSGI is seeking to clarify these policies and ensure the widest possible access and use of state government information.
This Tumblr microblog collects examples of copyright-free government documents that have unusual, attention-getting titles. The titles might be funny, intriguing, convoluted, ingenious, or any combination of the above. Sometimes the title merely contains an amusing typo (e.g., The Impact of Computer Aliens along the Mexican and Canadian Borders). Others provide a look into the attitudes and assumptions of another era (Occupations Suitable for Women).
Here are just a few samples of the titles collected so far:
- Drugs & Terrorism: Teacher Lesson Plans
- Popcorn Handbook
- Make Your Rubber Last
- Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation: Are We Doing Enough?
- Kill or Get Killed
- Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex-Perverts in Government
- Dogs in the District of Columbia
- State-of-the-Art Dummy Selection
- Know Your 8-Inch Howitzer
- Fish Stick Report
- Health Effects of Pesticide Use on Children
- Getting a Job on the Moon
- Do You Know Oatmeal?
- Impregnation of Concrete Pipe
Would You Like to Know More?
Contact FGI if you would like to join in the effort to make government information a continuing reality or if you have ideas, suggestions, or comments about the site. FGI staff are available for panels and presentations at conferences, workshops, etc.
Article by Bobby Griffith, based on information on the FGI Web site.
FGI logo from the FGI Web site.