Wednesday, December 29, 2010

GPO Announces Google Partnership to Sell You Items It Provides Elsewhere For Free

The Government Printing Office announced on December 14 of this year a new partnership it has entered into with Google Books to sell -- "for the first time" -- "e-book format" versions of some of its more popular titles. According to the Press Release, the titles will appear in the Google ebookstore, "which can be searched, purchased and read on any connected device with a capable browser."

Keeping America Informed. O RLY?

Publications mentioned specifically in the Press Release include the following, with their current price at the Google ebookstore noted and linked in parenthesis:

The Budget of the United States, Fiscal Year 2011 ($9.99)
Remembering the Space Age ($7.99)
Borden's Dream: The Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC ($7.99)

And this is the strange part: If you clicked on the links for these titles above you will quickly realise that there are freely and legally accessible electronic copies of these materials already available -- all of which are also able to be "read on any connected device with a capable browser." Which means that the GPO partnership with Google sells information that can be found freely online from GPO and other government sources, and in nearly identical formats.

The Google ebookstore does not specify the file formats offered for these for-sale books, though the Press Release's qualifier implies strongly that these are PDF files locked into the Google ebookstore interface, or as Google likes to call it, "the digital cloud." Which means that if you download the freely available copies of these publications, you will actually have greater options for access (i.e., offline access, unattached to any specific account, and infinitely transferable) than you will if you purchase them. In other words, this partnership makes no sense at all.

Of course, fans of the Federal Depository Library Program (in which CU Boulder is one of more than 1,000 participants) will already know that the government has a proud (and legally mandated) history of disseminating government information freely to the general public. The FDLP is one of the reasons why this blog exists. So it is a mystery as to why the GPO would actively undermine the FDLP, and seemingly prey upon any general lack of awareness, with no disclaimer provided, that these materials being sold are also very easily found for free in the same or an exceptionally similar digital format.

In short, the partnership between GPO and Google is puzzling to understand from any number of sides. But at least it came in time for Christmas.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Color Photographs of America, 1939-1943

In July of this year, The Denver Post's "Plog" photo blog presented a set of images from a remarkable 2006 exhibit from The Library of Congress: Bound for Glory: America in Color.

A woman and child near Natchitoches, LA, 1940

The set as a whole comes from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection whose photography project, spanning 1935-1944, was initially designed to monitor cash loans to farmers, and the construction of suburban communities. A second stage, according to the Library of Congress, "focused on the lives of sharecroppers in the South and of migratory agricultural workers in the midwestern and western states. As the scope of the project expanded, the photographers turned to recording rural and urban conditions throughout the United States and mobilization efforts for World War II."

Publications from and about the Farm Security Administration are available from the Government Information Library in Norlin Library.

The Whinery family in Pie Town, NM, 1940

The photos are notable for many reasons. Foremost, of course, they offer the opportunity to see the WWII-era States in color, which brings to a modern audience a sense of vibrancy and immediacy about the lives of Americans during the Second World War. In the selection highlighted by the Denver Post, there seems to be another conversation presented about the visibly segregated lives of Anglo and African Americans. Taken as a whole, the set is a valuable look into lives and habits from the country's not-too-distant past.

A city for any era: Chicago in 1943

Some readers may find these pictures reminiscent of another set of color photographs from the early 20th Century, also presented by the LOC: The Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Collection was placed online by the Library of Congress in the early 2000's and features rare color imagery of the Russian Empire between 1905 and 1915.

The Denver Post's PLOG has previously featured other photographs culled from the National Archives and Library of Congress, including a set on American cities before 1950, and Ansel Adams's infamous photographs of the Japanese Internment Camps located in California during World War II. It's an excellent site to bookmark for future visits.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

New Documents of Note for Dec. 9: The Airman, and NASA's Aura & Hubble Programs

This week's selection of recent and notable government publications received at the CU Boulder Libraries point us skyward, with publications from the Air Force and two of NASA's programs.


The item gathering the most interest around our offices this week is Airman, the handbook for Air Force personnel that reinforces its core values while informing servicemen and servicewomen with a short history of the branch. The small book offers pictures and descriptions of insignia, ranks, and occupational badges, and compact illustrations and descriptions of everything from Operations to Aircraft. Airman is, of course, available online, but the guide is irresistible when seen in person, as everyone who spies it quickly wants to flip through its pages. It's the perfect pocket guide for all things AF. The CU Libraries have copies of AIRMAN dating back to 1957.

Two NASA pubs make our list this week. The first from NASA's Aura mission. Aura was launched in 2004 to serve a six-year mission to seek out new information on Earth's ozone, air quality and climate. Some of those results are summarized in Discoveries from EOS Aura (PDF), bringing additional evidence of the harmful and long-term aftereffects of human industry and pollution on the Earth's atmosphere. This is a slim but data-rich publication.

A "smog event" in China, captured by Aura.

HUBBLE 2009: Science Year in Review
Twenty years old and one of the best known projects in NASA history, The Hubble Space Telescope continues to provide astronomists, physicists, and mathematicians extraordinary data about Earth and the universe our planet resides in. The annual Science Year in Review publication is a stellar presentation -- literally! -- of some of the most interesting images and findings from the program. The 2009 edition is not available online, so check out our copy from Government Information, or settle for some of the equally engaging publications from previous years.

Galaxy NCG 4710, as photographed in 2009 by Hubble

Click here for a video highlighting some of Hubble's stunning imagery from its Wide Field and Planetary Camera.

As always, each of the above publications is available in the Government Information Library, on the third floor of Norlin Library.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Internet Privacy and the 'Do Not Track' Proposal: The FTC is Open to Comments

Last Tuesday morning, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection opened hearings on Internet privacy for consumers in a session entitled Do-Not-Track Legislation: Is Now the Right Time?

Dealing with how companies collect, compile and sell information about visitors to their commercial Web sites, the outcome of this discussion has the potential to create radical changes in consumer protection online, and a fundamental shift in the practices of almost every company that conducts business online.

The hearings may sound like something straight off the desk of Senator John McCain, but actually center around a plan by the Federal Trade Commission to allow consumers to opt out of having their personal information and Internet browsing habits be collected by commercial sites. Indeed, the plan goes one step further in protecting consumer rights by prohibiting any such tracking of Internet behaviors except where permission has been explicitly provided by consumers. In other words, individuals would have to opt in before their information could be tracked, stored, or sold, which is nearly an about face from current Internet business practices that rarely broadcast when profiles are created for visitors, or when -- and to whom -- those profiles are sold.

Similar in title to the widely popular Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003, which gave the Federal Trade Commission powers to enforce the National Do-Not-Call Registry, the Do-Not-Track proposal also shares a significant framework with that Law. Both are structured around a year 2000 document from the FTC called Fair Information Practice (FIP) Principles.

Similarities between the proposed Do-Not-Track plan and the Do-Not-Call Registry are very intentional. No word on whether either apply within a women's correctional facility.

Foremost among the FIP principles are notice and awareness, with the following items "recognized as essential to ensuring that consumers are properly informed before divulging personal information":

Identification of the entity collecting the data;
Identification of the uses to which the data will be put;
Identification of any potential recipients of the data;
The nature of the data collected and the means by which it is collected if not obvious (passively, by means of electronic monitoring, or actively, by asking the consumer to provide the information);
Whether the provision of the requested data is voluntary or required, and the consequences of a refusal to provide the requested information; and
The steps taken by the data collector to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and quality of the data.

One key difference that the FTC recommends, however, is that while the Do-Not-Call Registry requires a unique identifier for each opt out (i.e., a specific telephone number to be added to the block list), Do-Not-Track legislation should NOT require a unique identifier -- because that would effectively identify individuals who have asked specifically NOT to be uniquely identified. Instead, the FTC proposed in their testimony that the most effective opt out would "likely involve placing a setting similar to a persistent cookie on a consumer’s browser, and conveying that setting to sites that the browser visits, to signal whether or not the consumer wants to be tracked or receive targeted advertisements."

Questions remain on how current browser privacy options do or do not comply with the FTC's stated goals, and whether a browser setting provides enough of desired protections. The plan is an interesting beginning, however, to a needed conversation on expectations of Internet privacy and the realities of online commerce.

The FTC's full report is available as a PDF: Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change. You can also watch a streaming video of the hearing or download that video by following the links at the bottom of this FTC page.

Click the image to see a PDF copy of the FTC's proposed Internet Privacy plan.

The FTC is also accepting Public Commentary on its plan for Internet Privacy. Public comments will be accepted until January 31, 2011. To file a public comment electronically, please click here and follow the instructions.

Friday, December 03, 2010

GAO Reports and Releases

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) which is often called the investigative arm of Congress. This set of publications from GAO investigate foreign affairs, government agencies, defense, and other issues. If you would like to know more about GAO, check out the library's guide.

  • U.S. Postal Service: Legislation Needed to Address Key Challenges, by Phillip Herr, director, physical infrastructure issues, before the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. GAO-11-244T, December 2.

    Highlights -
  • Aviation Security: DHS has Taken Steps to Enhance International Aviation Security and Facilitate Compliance with International Standards, but Challenges Remain, by Stephen Lord, director, homeland security and justice issues, before the Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. GAO-11-238T, November 30.

    Highlights -
  • Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation: Improvements Needed to Strengthen Governance Structure and Strategic Management, by Barbara D. Bovbjerg, managing director, education, workforce, and income security, before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. GAO-11-182T, December 1.

    Highlights -
  • Personnel Security Clearances: Overall Progress Has Been Made to Reform the Governmentwide Security Clearance Process, by Brenda S. Farrell, director, defense capabilities and management, before the Subcommittee on Intelligence Community Management, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. GAO-11-232T, December 1.
  • NASA: Issues Implementing the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, by Cristina Chaplain, director, acquisition and sourcing management, and Susan A. Poling, managing associate general counsel, before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. GAO-11-216T, December 1.

    Highlights -
  • Sudan Divestment: U.S. Investors Sold Assets but Could Benefit from Additional Information about Companies' Ties to Sudan, by Thomas Melito, director, international affairs and trade, before the Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade, House Committee on Financial Services. GAO-11-245T, November 30.

    Highlights -
Presentation by Acting Comptroller General
  • "Acquisition Reform Challenges Facing Government," by Gene L. Dodaro, acting comptroller general, before the Integrated Program Management 2010 Conference, in Bethesda, Maryland. GAO-11-209CG, November 8, 2010

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

World Aids Day 2010

Today is World Aids Day so here are a few resources to check out on this day:
    This is the organization within the United Nations that works on issues of HIV/AIDS. They are redesigning their site, but you can view their blog for current information and their Global Report for information on HIV/AIDS worldwide. It is in this report that brings us the brings us the map below showing prevalence rates across the world.
    HIV/AIDS prevalence worldwide

    This is the web site to visit for information on HIV/AIDS in the United States. They have a short press release on World AIDS day on this site which links off to a web site on HIV in the US, where the graph below illustrates the growth of the HIV infections and people living with HIV/AIDS in the US from 1977 to 2009.

    US HIV infections and people living with HIV/AIDS

Still looking for more information? Check out the library's guide to health and medical information.

Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports

Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a research agency of Congress and writes reports at Congress' request. These short reports (usually 10-40 pages long) cover recent topics of concern. This week brings us reports on defense, energy, trade, and much more. Although these reports are in the public domain, there is no central database available to the public. To get a copy of a CRS report, you can request it from your senator or representative. These reports were discovered by Secrecy News and Open CRS:
Interested in historical CRS reports? If you are here at the Boulder campus, check out the LexisNexis Congressional database, which has reports dating back to 1916.

Not on campus but still want access to additional reports? The library has a guide linking to various additional sources of CRS reports.