phrase. Synonymous with gung-ho, chauvinistic nationalism. The Quotations
section of Microsoft's Bookshelf gives the background of the phrase and
a hint of the debate it has aroused:
"Our country! In her intercourse
with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country,
right or wrong." Naval commander Stephen Decatur originated the phrase
in a toast given at an April 1816 banquet in Norfolk, Virginia, to celebrate
his victory over the Barbary pirates. (The action in Algeria also gave
the U.S. Marine Corps anthem its "to the shores of Tripoli" phrase, saluting
their first renowned military action.)
Fifty-five years later, Carl Schurz,
German-born U.S. general and U.S. senator, clarified the concept, "Our
country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be
put right." British author, G. K. Chesterton would probably have agreed
with Schurz, since he wrote in 1901, "'My country, right or wrong' is a
thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case.
It is like saying 'My mother, drunk or sober.'"
This issue of Searcher primarily
concerns issues and challenges of federal information services and policies.
Historically, the federal government has provided essential support to
the development of new information technologies and services. While never
really seeming to follow any master plan, federal agencies, acting individually,
have funded essential research, purchased innovative systems (and, more
importantly, stuck with those systems while they went through debugging
periods that sometimes lasted for years), and provided cheap or free, but
high-quality content around which new information services often built
their value-added structures. The Feds have been on the side of the angels
when it comes to information.
Over the years, the progress of federal
information services and technologies has occasionally led to attacks by
private sector information services that built their businesses around
yesterday's federal information infrastructure and found their foundations
wobbling when the Feds moved to another infrastructure. Remember when Disclosure,
a private service, supplied the only real access to Securities and Exchange
Commission reports at a hefty fee? Then the SEC automated with its EDGAR
service. Disclosure worried but came up with its own enhanced electronic
versions, still at a hefty fee. But then, along came the Web not to
mention, Net activists and EDGAR reports went out straight to the people.
Value-added services still improve SEC offerings, but these services are
new ones working around EDGAR and at an adjusted price rate. Gone forever
is the obligation to use a private sector service to get realistic access
to online SEC reporting.
The howling of vendors may depress
sympathetic information professional consumers, but now the progress of
federal information has turned toward and on librarians. As Mark
Twain so sagely observed, "By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity.
Another man's, I mean." Like Mark said, endurance gets a lot tougher when
the Adversity gets a lot closer.
The Federal Depository Library Program
(FDLP) has been in operation for near a century, sending out government
reports from the GPO to libraries around the country for passing on to
their patrons. Most participants in the program gather only partial GPO
collections; only larger libraries subscribe to the entire oeuvre. Nor
does the GPO's output encompass all the publications of federal agencies.
Other government agencies, such as the National Technical Information Service,
provide alternative publication routes, not to mention direct publication
by individual agencies and their contractors.
But now federal agencies have begun
turning more and more to direct publication over the Web. This could mean
the elimination of federal depositories over time.
What should information professionals
do? Well, I know this is going to get me in trouble with a lot of librarians,
but what the hey! I think we should encourage it. In fact, I think
librarians should lead the way in designing a new system that relies on
Web delivery of all federal information, but ensures the protection of
solid archiving and the enhancement of value-added delivery. And all of
this should come from librarians as a profession.
What should this new commitment entail?
Well, just off the top:
Mirror or back-up archiving of federal
Web output at a number of large research libraries, the number to be based
on a study of how many back-up sets one needs for total protection.
Digitization of print documents still
produced by federal agencies, e.g., through JSTOR or similar efforts.
Research on user needs in content and
Active, vigorous matching programs to
alert any and all clients of federally generated material of possible interest.
The building of community discussion
forums where people using federal data can communicate with each other
and back to federal agencies.
Let's get librarians working on today's
and tomorrow's problems, not on yesterday's. Let's do all the things we
couldn't do before, due to the restrictions of print as a format and of
institutionally limited visions of clienteles. Now that we don't set seeing
their shoes as a condition of service for clients, that we no longer insist
on walk-in hours of service, we can free our energies up to build new and
better services. We can build interfaces that include virtual reference
options. We can synthesize what we learn from clients about what they learned
and didn't from the federal documentation and offer our professional
suggestions to federal agencies for improving their connection to citizen
needs. In doing all this, we would not only set a better course for federal
information, but extending the historical tradition of the federal government's
role in the information arena a new path and a new model for information
Advising government agencies on new
and changed information needs in a timely and effective manner.
It's a glorious new world, a glorious
new century. The sun is shining in America.