Category Archives: Information Access

Never trust a corporation to do a library’s job.

In a Medium article entitled “Never trust a corporation to do a library’s job,” former Kickstarter CTO Andy Baio examines how Google’s priorities are shifting from making information universally searchable and accessible to the sale of goods and information.

The business of Google stands in contrast to the Internet Archive. Google is in a perfect position to commodify information rather than make it free and open because it has shifted its business model from being a search engine to a content owner. Not only is its search enterprise supported by strategic ad placement, it is unknown whether Google gives priority to content it owns. It is arguable that there is a serious conflict of interest since Google no longer only serves up web results. The search giant owns YouTube and Google Play content and because the Google search algorithm is not publicly available, there is no way of truly knowing how information is prioritized.

Baio reminds us that Google is not a reliable archive and organizations like the Internet Archive are more committed to the democratization of information

 

Class and Library Usage in Canada

John Pateman, CEO / Chief Librarian of the Thunder Bay Public Library and member of the research team which produced “Open to All? The Public Library and Social Exclusion” (2000), recently wrote a short but interesting article on the impact that class has on library use in Canada. Published on the Ontario Library Association’s website Open Shelf, it refers to recent statistics of library users in Canada from the Canadian Urban Libraries Council which show that middle-class Canadians use libraries more than those who have a lower income. He argues that public libraries must do more to engage with all sections of the community to identify their unique needs and use this information to provide more relevant services. This will help libraries become more inclusive institutions and effective agents of social change.

@gccaedits — Another Brick in the Wall of Canadian Civil Society

It’s sad when a wall metaphor describes the relationship between a government and its citizenry but this new Twitter account (aka brick) underscores why the turn of phrase works.

Check out @gccaedits, launched about three weeks ago and written up by The Star on July 16.

A tweet is generated whenever a Wikipedia entry is edited anonymously from a list of Government of Canada IP addresses. With almost 5,000 followers it’s clear that people are interested in what government employees and partisan staff are doing to manipulate their web presence.

Sure, @gccaedits followers only account for 0.014% of our total population (not that we can assume they are all Canadian accounts, of course) but it does say something when we compare the same figures for longer-standing and similar Twitter feeds in the UK and US, which represent closer to 0.008% of populations in those countries.

Do fences make good neighbours in the depths of our current democratic deficit?

Is Alberta’s FOIP Request System Serving it’s Intended Purpose?

Freedom of Information requests are an essential part of the democratic system that we so greatly value. They are an essential tool for the public and those working in their interest to retrieve information about the workings of government, shedding light on controversial decisions, troubling statistics, and other internal information that can be used to hold public officials accountable and bring about change in government institutions.

Unfortunately, there are growing concerns about the effectiveness of Alberta’s FOIP request process. This includes claims of possible political interference from senior government officials. According to an Edmonton Journal article in April, a 2013 memo from then-deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk directed “political press secretaries to intercept (freedom of information) requests containing information that could hurt the government’s reputation.” While the directives were never implemented, it demonstrates that the PC government has considered using directives to prevent the public from accessing sensitive internal government information (Wittmeier, 2014).

This past week, an Edmonton Journal analysis of “18 annual reports from 1995 to 2012” and “government responses to general requests for provincial records” found that two out of every three Albertans who submit FOIP requests for provincial government records are told that there aren’t any records related to the topic of their request. In 1995, the number of Albertans who received no records related to their request was only 5% (Kleiss, 2014a). Service Alberta argues that the increase in unsuccessful FOIP requests is actually the result of a significant increase in requests to the Ministry of Environment from “lawyers, developers and farmers” who are searching for information on oil spills and land contamination in Alberta (Kleiss, 2014b).

While the privacy commissioner Jill Clayton feels there could be legitimate reasons why records don’t exist, she is still concerned about this matter and is conducting a review to “ensure government officials are creating records when warranted” (Kleiss, 2014b).

Links to the recent stories on fruitless FOIP requests in Alberta, the government’s attempt to review FOIP requests for sensitive information, and information about other barriers to internal provincial government records are available below:

Kleiss, K. (2014a, July 10) Most Alberta freedom of information requests get no results:’No records exist’ for two-thirds of users.

Kleiss, K. (2014b, July 19) No records? That’s ‘good news,’ government says about ‘concerning’ freedom-of-information numbers.

Wittmeier, B (2014, May 30). Privacy commissioner to investigate freedom of information interference.

Salary Disclosure and Public Libraries

In polite conversation a person’s salary or income is usually as taboo a topic as sex.  However, the issue of public salary disclosure in Edmonton has come to the fore again with a recent Edmonton Journal story by Gordon Kent (“About 2,000 City Staff Made More than $100,000 in 2013” July 7, 2014).

The story notes that only 27 of Edmonton Public Libraries 645 staff (or 4.2%) made more than $100,000 in 2013.  In comparison, only the Community Services Department (once the firefighters are excluded) had a lower share of its employees making more than $100k.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, 92.9% (13 of 14 staff) of the city’s auditor’s office made more than $100,000.  While exact details on which individuals (and more importantly which roles) are missing, the general numbers show that librarianship is not a profession for those primarily motivated by the prospect of pecuniary gain.

More importantly though, the story emphasizes the continued push for more public disclosure of public employee salaries with the province of Alberta now disclosing some public employee salaries.  The province of Ontario has had extensive public salary disclosure requirements since 1997 under the government of Mike Harris.  Based on the 2013 Ontario data (available here: http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/publications/salarydisclosure/pssd/) one could discover that Al Davis, CEO of Library Services for the City of Barrie, makes $123,653.42 just a bit less than Steven Kraft, Assistant CEO of the Guelph Public Library, who made $128,819.72. These figures do give rise to both more insightful questions – why does the head of a public library in the larger city of Barrie makes less than the assistant CEO of a library in smaller community – and less insightful question – why $123,653.42 and not just $123,653 even. Still the most significant contribution of such numbers is not the information they contain, but the fact that the move for public salary disclosure reflects the continued influence of neoliberal ideology on public policy.

While library and information professionals, particularly those employed by the public, should take no joy in the ideological intent of public salary disclosure provisions, it is important to emphasize that a recent study underscores that rather than keep salaries low, disclosure spurs wage increases.  As reported by the CBC earlier this year (“Sunshine List 2014: Ontario’s List Drives Salaries Up, Not Down”) several studies have shown that disclosure requirements lead to salary increases.  Thus for public librarians the push for salary disclosure here in Edmonton must be seen as a mixed blessing – ideologically problematic, but potentially profitable for personal incomes.  Despite the traditional taboo on discussions of personal income, perhaps there is room to embrace salary disclosure requirements but with a keen and critical eye toward the intent and outcomes of such policies.

A Primer on Open Access to Research

‘How much do you really know about open access publishing? What about other research resources like open data?’ These questions opened Robyn Hall’s recent presentation at the 2014 NEOS Miniconference, held on June 6 at MacEwan University.

The origins of the session lay in Robyn’s preparations last fall, as Scholarly Communications Librarian, to enthusiastically promote Open Access Week across MacEwan. After handing out “Ask me about open access!” buttons to colleagues, she quickly realized the value of also making available to them a toolkit of need-to-know resources and strategies for helping users to access publicly available research findings on the Internet.

Similarly, Robyn walked session attendees through pertinent definitions of open access, some of the many payment schemes underpinning it, various sources of open access articles and data, the benefits and challenges of participating in the open access movement, and future directions. Those interested in specifics can access this and other presentations by Robyn Hall on SlideShare.

Democratic Access Denied

This is the first post in a regularly occurring series on topics of interest to local progressive information professionals.

Access to government information is required for a functioning democracy. The US founding fathers got it — and drafted legislation to reinforce this need and right.

Here at home, things are bit muddier. Commissions dating back to 1897 (e.g., Commission on Public Records, 1897; Pope Commission, 1912report) called on our federal government to get its documentary house in order and preserve the output of the state so that policymakers and residents alike might be able to meaningfully engage in their body politic.

Sadly, we’re still waiting — more than a century later. And the recent transition to digital publishing has turned mud into quicksand. Government information professionals now navigate the ghosts of publications past (many government publications are no longer produced or available to the public) and increasingly rely on US-based institutions to track down web content posted and then removed by their own government.

Government Information Librarian Amanda Wakaruk has spent considerable effort documenting some of the information carnage that has unfolded at the hands of the Harper Government. “What the Heck is Happening up North? Canadian Federal Government Information, Circa 2014” is available to download here: http://hdl.handle.net/10402/era.38740

While Amanda’s article was written for American colleagues, we’ve run with her observations and crafted a few questions that should be addressed by everyone’s MP here in Canada:

  • Where is the government’s digital preservation strategy? It should include a commitment to make perpetual open access to government information a reality and be written by information professionals who actually work in the area.

  • What happened to the stuff removed from government web sites? Does anyone even know what was actually removed?

  • Why do communications managers have the power to both decide what is published and assess their own compliance with the TBS Procedures for Publishing? What happens in situations of noncompliance? Or does that never happen because they will never opt to find themselves in noncompliance?

  • Why aren’t ALL communications items (not just publications, which are narrowly defined) sent to Library and Archives Canada and the Depository Services Program for stewardship and dissemination?

  • Why did the TBS roll out new web protocols without proper funding and procedures? Why did it take a court case to force the government to respond to the result?

  • Why is there such a thing as Crown Copyright? Materials paid for and produced BY the people FOR the people should be in the public domain.

  • Where is the Virtual Library (not a portal) announced in 2011?

  • Find a way to talk to information professionals about these issues, not just politicized bureaucrats. When can a funded advisory committee (that meets in person) be struck?

In short, we agree with the Distant Librarian — this is BS. Do your part to stop the BS. Send your MP an email with the questions above and ask them what they are doing to help collect, preserve, and provide access to government information.