Magazine article Information Today

The ASIDIC Spring 2004 Meeting

Magazine article Information Today

The ASIDIC Spring 2004 Meeting

Article excerpt

The U.S. government is the world's largest publisher, and the volume of information it produces continues to grow rapidly. Although the government disseminates much of its own information, it also turns to the private sector for help in making its information activities more effective and efficient. Many private firms use government information in their products. There are thus significant opportunities (as well as many challenges) for public/private partnerships.

The ASIDIC Spring 2004 meeting, held March 21-23 in Alexandria, Va., addressed many of these issues. It featured sessions on government information producers, access to government information, open-access publishing, and resellers of government information. The meeting concluded with the always popular CEO panel.

Keynote Address

Bruce James, Public Printer of the U.S., was the keynote speaker. (The Public Printer heads the Government Printing Office and is appointed by the president.) One of GPO's major initiatives is the Federal Depository Library program. GPO is partnering with more than 1,300 libraries, which receive some or all of its output and then make it available to the public.

Much of GPO's output is still produced in print, and Virtually all of the printing is contracted out to the private sector. Only The Federal Register and materials for Congress and the White House are still printed in-house. However, the government is changing how it produces information. Because two-thirds of its output is in electronic form only, GPO's print sales have been declining.

James said that the GPO is actively studying how it can change its operations to accommodate today's electronic technologies and receive revenues from the Web. It's looking for ideas and ways to partner with the private sector without competing with it. He said that although GPO's mission is to produce and disseminate information for Congress and other agencies, a large part of its work serves the public. GPO is also studying ways to make its services more widely available, perhaps by putting kiosks in post offices or offering online purchasing.

Information Producers

A session on government information producers and disseminators followed James' keynote address. Kurt Molholm, administrator of the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), described his agency's services. DTIC is the central Department of Defense facility for acquiring, archiving, and providing access to scientific and technical information.

Molholm said that information overload is a major problem today. The power of information is realized only when it can be put into someone's mind so that it can be used. Merely delivering a container of information (a book or journal, for example) has little value in itself. DTIC attempts to recognize these principles in its operations. Its STINET service allows the public to access DTIC's database of nearly 250,000 full-text technical reports at no charge. In Molholm's opinion, DTIC is transforming the delivery of information as it evolves from simply a repository to an information gateway.

In the same session, John Kavaliunas described the impressive wealth of information that's available from the U.S. Census Bureau. Like many people, I thought that this agency focused primarily on its constitutional mandate to count the U.S. population every 10 years, but it engages in many other activities. It offers far more than just the decennial population statistics. Economic and international information can also be found on the data-rich U.S. Census Bureau Web site. (See Figure 1.)

Access

In a session on government-information access, Beverly Godwin, director of the FirstGov service, provided a useful overview of the FirstGov.gov Web site. With links to 24 million government Web pages, FirstGov is an excellent starting point for navigating through the maze of government Web sites and searching for government information. …

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