A video presentation of findings, an executive summary, and more to come from the United States team.
After the declaration of Democracy’s Library at the 2022 Internet Archive Annual Event [video], the U.S. team underwent a 4-month landscape analysis to discover the state of the United States’ collective knowledge management.
Over the course of this blog series we’ll discuss our findings, including the various ways in which our federated national infrastructure contributes to the immense complexity which inhibits easy and meaningful access to the public’s information.
But for now, we would like to share our executive summary. This piece is informed from interviews with librarians, archivists, information professionals, after review of various pieces of legislation, government agency reports, as well as consultation with government representatives at various departments, technologists working on civic-tech and gov-tech applications, and users of government information.
A huge thanks again to all who were interviewed, involved, and are excited about this program.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF THE DEMOCRACY LIBRARY (U.S.) REPORT
Every year, the United States government spends billions of dollars generating data: including reports, research, records, and statistics. Both governments and corporations know that this data is a highly valuable strategic asset. Yet meaningful access to this critical data is effectively kept out of the public’s hands. Though much of it is intended to be publicly accessible, we do not have a publicly-accessible central repository where we can search for all government artifacts. We do not have a public library of all government data, documents, research, records, and publications. These artifacts are not easy for everyone to get a hold of.
Instead, this data is organized only to be kept behind paywalls, vended to multinational corporations, guarded by “data cartels,” or sits inaccessibly among thousands of disjointed agency websites, with non-standardized archival systems that are stewarded by under-resourced librarians and archivists. This data is siloed within agencies, never before linked together. Although by law, we are entitled to this data – by default, journalists, activists, democracy technologists, academics, and the public are deprived of meaningful access. Instead, it’s a pay to play system in which many are priced out.
However, if we could reduce the public burden in accessing this knowledge – as the federal government has stated is a priority – then it might be the lynchpin to transforming democratic systems and making them more efficient, actionable, and auditable in the future. This work could potentiate a big data renaissance in political science and public administration. It could equip every local journalist with comprehensive, ‘investigative access’ to policy-making across the country. It could even provide key insights which ensure that democracy survives, thrives, adapts, and evolves in the 21st century; like so many desperately want it to and yet so many fear that it may never. To make our democracy more resilient and prepared for the digital age, we need Democracy’s Library.
Democracy’s Library is a 10 year, multi-pronged, partnership effort to collect, preserve, and link our democracy’s data in a centralized, queryable repository. This repository of data will be sourced from all levels of the U.S. government, for the purpose of informing innovation, enabling transparency, advancing new fields like mass political informatics, and overall, digitizing our democracy. Access to this data is a necessary substrate for that innovation, and to propel our antiquated system into a lightning fast future, we need to overcome challenges from the artifact-level to the systems-level.
Fortunately, the Internet Archive is perfectly primed to comprehensively take on these challenges alongside our partners (like the Filecoin Foundation) through this new initiative, supported by a groundswell of legislative and political support. The time is right, the network is primed, and most of the tools are already built and being deployed. So, the only thing that remains is for funding partners to step up to scale the effort to revolutionize the U.S. government once again.
To librarians and archivists: please know we are still collecting feedback from government information professionals. So if you are a librarian or archivist, we would love to hear from your experience. If you’re interested in sharing, please fill out this survey.
See existing Democracy’s Library here: https://archive.org/details/democracys-library