Access lost: Government shutdown and federal information

In a 2005 paper [pdf], Karrie Peterson and James A. Jacobs point out that 84  percent of government information can only be accessed through web servers managed by federal agencies. In the digital age, only 14 percent of federal information is now placed in depository libraries.

The authors point out this is part of an effort -- sometimes concerted, sometimes not -- of the government to keep some of its information solely stored on its servers:

  •  To remain out of competition with commercial interests like pubslishers or other repackagers of government information;
  • Or, to hold it back from wide distribution (via depository libraries) because it is cheaper to do so.

 

In light of the 16-day government shutdown in October, Crystal Vicente poses an interesting question: 

If  [Peterson's and Jacobs'] figures are correct, and eighty-four percent of government information is only available through government controlled websites, then what of the access to information during situations such as the recent government shutdown, when government databases were completely inaccessible?

Vicente's paper is from LLRX.com: Law & technology resources for legal professionals

The problem with having most of the government's information available only online, as the shutdown harshly demonstrated, is the lack of access to information when controlled by a single entity. The convenience of an electronic government has shifted the control of information from the numerous institutions formerly charged with providing the information to the public – the depository libraries – to a single entity: the federal government.