Upcoming NCLA GRS Help! Webinar: O Canada

Our next Help! I’m an Accidental Government Information Librarian webinar is going international with An Introduction to Researching Canadian Federal Documents!

Gov Info Canadian Style!

From the use of the metric system to the spelling of catalogue with a “u”, Canada can seem like a foreign country sometimes… That’s because it is! This session will explore the unique structures and institutions of the federal Canadian government as well as the publishing practices and key tools necessary for researching the documentary output of the parliament and government of your neighbour to the North.

Our presenter, Nicholas Worby, is the Government Information and Statistics Librarian at the University of Toronto. He provides reference and instruction for domestic and international government documents and statistics. He also oversees collection development for government information and coordinates the University’s web archiving program.

We will meet together online on Wednesday, May 1st from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. (Eastern). Please RSVP for the session: http://tinyurl.com/grssession86  We will use WebEx for the live session. Information on testing and accessing the session will be made available when you register.

Sign up on our google form if you would like to receive notices about the webinar series.

Exploring Slave Narratives with ICPSR #AdoptaDataset

Adopt.pngThe team at ICPSR is doing some clever promotions of data for Love Data Week, including Adopt a Dataset! I adopted the Quantitative Data Coded from the Federal Writers’ Project Slave Narratives, United States, 1936-1938.  I’ve read so much about this project and it seemed appropriate for February and Black History Month. You can read the actual interview transcripts on the Library of Congress website: Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938. In the late 1970s, Paul Escott read and coded 2,358 of the slave narratives to create this dataset.

The narratives provide insight both into the process of the interview as well as the experiences of the formerly enslaved people. One of the most controversial questions was about attitudes toward the master, with some writers pointing to “favorable” attitudes toward masters as an indicator of slavery being a “less harsh” institution. But that ignores the fact that there were 771 who did not answer the question (or gave no indication of an answer in the narrative). In addition, around 1200 of the interviewers were white as opposed 400 who were black. In the 1930s American South, it would have been difficult for a person of color to speak ill of a white person in front of another white person. In addition, the coder’s interpretation of favorability needs to be taken into account.


ICPSR has made the dataset easy to use in R. The only trick is that the variables are mostly factors that need to be converted to numeric. ICPSR helpfully provides the R library and functions that can help with the conversion. Just remember to read the documentation closely before jumping in! Below are some my explorations including creating a subset of NC and another of NC women.


You should adopt a dataset and explore some data! You don’t need to know statistical software because the codebooks can provide some basic overviews of the dataset. In addition, many of their datasets have online analyses available.

Tomorrow you can join their tweetchat starting at 12:30 pm. Go and give some love to your data!

ALAMW: This is everything that I know #alacouncil

Adding updates as they come and I get time…

I know there are a lot of questions about what happened at the third meeting of Council on Tuesday. I can’t answer all of those questions and I don’t think it is my place to try. But I do serve a constituency, I’m hearing a lot, and I’m receiving a lot of questions and emails. I can tell you what I know and what is being done (so far).

Here are the events as I saw them:

Update: Before all this went down, there were several reports of aggression towards WOC on the floor of exhibits especially over ARCs. I avoid the book exhibits like the plague because of the crowds, so I didn’t witness this. But those stories have a lot of specifics. I’ve been yelled at over there when I accidentally entered an autograph line. Nope. Not going back.

Council on Sunday and Monday: There was a lot of chattering about mistakes with Robert’s Rules because a) IT IS CONFUSING, b) ALA has a lot of staff in new roles and a new President, and c) people in general need to learn patience. A chapter councilor asked a question that wasn’t quite appropriate in the moment and was dealt with a bit harshly by the person who will later resign (harshly IN MY OPINION). This situation was implied to be related to what happened at forum.

Council forum III: Held on Monday at 4pm. This is when the incident happened. I was not there because I had a separate meeting that I needed to attend. Council forum is supposed to be a place to discuss Council issues free of RONR. In my year and a half on council, I’ve also honestly felt that forum has become a slight free-for-all without skilled facilitators at every one. I just haven’t seen them to be a good use of my time and I am not the only one.

Update: The notes from Forum III do not indicate that the incident happened. It just outlines what was discussed. Councilors received these the next day after we had started the agenda (Tuesday).

Monday evening: All councilors received an email from a councilor saying that he was resigning effective immediately. I suddenly received texts from friends asking me what happened because April tweeted about an incident. I read through the tweets to the best of my ability, but I was still confused about the order of events or if the email was even related.

Council III on Tuesday morning: ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo was obviously upset and delivered a short speech that something had happened and a code of conduct violation was reported. ALA Councilor At-Large Tyler Dzuba suggested that we divide into small groups and discuss issues of racialized aggression and white privilege at conference. This was interpreted as small group discussions about the specifics of the incident. The arguments came from different sides:

  • Will we just be perpetuating rumors? That wasn’t really the point.
  • Will people of color feel comfortable with a small group if they are the only POC in the group? Fair point.
  • Is this an issue of professionalism? Not the point. It was felt as racialized aggression therefore that needed to be addressed.
  • Is the issue more complex? Again, not really the point.
  • Should we wait until the Code of Conduct investigation is over? Again, not really the point.

The discussion of this went back and forth and was confusing to follow at times because of procedural confusion.  Ultimately I voted (I thought) to do the small groups and later to continue the larger group discussion. But I can’t be sure because of the previously mentioned issues with the way RONR was being used. To be honest I looked over at April to see how she was voting because I wanted to know what she wished in that moment but things were moving quickly.

Instead of having discussion, ALA council continued on with its agenda. Was that the best move? I honestly don’t know. Without proper facilitation, I don’t know that small groups would have worked and I didn’t want those groups to treat the POC in them as token. I believe we should have suspended the rules and allowed for a more open conversation of the body, but I again don’t know if that would have worked. Tyler led a sub-group discussion at the end and some suggestions came out of that. You can read those on his listserv post. We are currently having a broader discussion on the listserv. I think we can learn from this experience, but we have to be willing to educate ourselves and to exhibit patience and humility at our failings. This thread is a great point for learning more and maybe all councilors should be required to do some training or group readings/discussion. Ultimately, I believe the fault is with a council that as a body tends to be hostile to outside voices that don’t follow archaic rules, but hey, I just started here.

Yesterday April posted her blog post that described in more detail the situation. That is the only first hand experience that I have heard. ALA needs to respond to her experience and fast. (Update: This is the response from the ALA Executive Board, the governing sub-body of Council).  She shouldn’t have been treated that way. And to be honest, April has been one of the few consistently open and friendly people on Council to newbies like myself. That body is cliquish and even at times hostile to newcomers. Ultimately, I believe her. And even if the situation is nuanced, she felt threatened. No one attending a conference should feel threatened ever. End of story.

Update: Open letter asking for ALA to take a few specific actions

Update: President Loida Garcia-Febo’s most recent message: Last Tuesday during our Board meeting I asked Paul Groller from conference services to share information about the reports on violation of code of conduct received. He is going to do this by next week. ALA will continue this practice. We are going to have an online space this February for Councilors to speak about these incidents, share resources. That is a general description and I will have more including date/time in the next days. For annual conference, we will have sessions for all members, and we will have a session at Council I. There will be more information about this– and other efforts I have been working on with my Diversity Advisory Team related to EDI which is part of my efforts for this year, very soon.

December Help! Webinar on Social Work Resources

Time to sign up for our December Help! Gov Info webinar.  And our November recording on presidential research is posted below!

Help! I’m an Accidental Government Information Librarian presents … Government Information for Social Workers: From students to professionals

The Government Resources Section of the North Carolina Library Association welcomes you to a series of webinars designed to help us increase our familiarity with government information. All are welcome because government information wants to be free.

From regulations to statistics, government information resources are highly utilized and embedded within the field of social work. The type of resources and depth of information needs often vary based on career stages. This webinar will examine the various government information needs ranging from undergrads in BSW programs to licensed professionals. The presenter will cover strategies for subject liaisons to better understand local social work information needs. It will also include relevant website recommendations for inclusion on library online research guides.

Presenter: Michelle Donlin is the Scholarly Communications and Research Librarian and subject liaison for Social Work at East Stroudsburg University in East Stroudsburg, PA. She also serves as Kemp Library’s depository coordinator and holds an MLS with a concentration in E-Government Librarianship from the University of Maryland.

We will meet together online on Thursday December 6th from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. (Eastern). Please RSVP for the session using this link: https://tinyurl.com/grssession82

We will use WebEx for the live session. Information on testing and accessing the session will be made available when you register.

The session will be recorded and available after the live session, linked from the NCLA GRS web page (http://www.nclaonline.org/government-resources).


And from November …

Promoting ICPSR @UNCG

Did you know UNC Greensboro staff, students, & faculty can access ICPSR social/behavioral research data?

The ICPSR Data Fair is always a great opportunity for learning more about their new data tools and services. They are creating lots of new tools for promotions, so I encourage you to check those out.

This year I participated by talking about how to promote ICPSR on campus, including social media outreach, graduate student promotions, and creating targeted messages.

How do you promote ICPSR on your campus? I would love to get some new ideas too!

Beyond the Numbers Day 2

Because I teach a semester-long course sometimes and I have duties elsewhere, I haven’t been able to attend many smaller conferences lately. Even NCLA has been a struggle. Beyond the Numbers is the perfect small conference that brings together people really interested and knowledgeable about a concentrated topic (or related topics). Not only was I able to connect with librarians I haven’t seen in a while, I was able to put several names to faces and meet new people. Day 1 didn’t disappoint.  Day 2 was a half-day so not as much going on, but there were some interesting sessions.
The keynote was by Wendy Stephens, a professor at Jacksonville State University. Her presentation titled All About You, Up For Sale: How Data Brokers Like Cambridge Analytica Construct Consumer Identities looked at data as a commodity and ways that organizations collect information about us. She made the case for controlling the data that we put out online or allow others to connect. She suggested a number of readings for more information some of which are well known and others I’ve not heard of.
Next, Jennifer Boettcher, ALA Councilor and Business and Economic Liaison and Reference Librarian at Georgetown, talked about intellectual property governance for government data. Her slides were quite good and complete, so I will post a link when they are up on the BTN website. She talked about the difference between copyright and public domain, the open data movement, intellectual property, and more. She mentioned her article in Online Searcher so definitely check that out for more info:  Boettcher, J., & Dames, K. (2018). Government data as intellectual property: Is public domain the same as open access? Online Searcher, 42(4).

After Jennifer, Marie Concannon, Katrina Stierholz, and I presented on the PEGI project looking at the preservation of economic data and information. Marie is the Head of the Government Information and Data Archives at University of Missouri and Katrina is the Vice President and Director of Library and Research Information Services at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. I discussed the history of PEGI and current focus of the project. Marie talked about issues she had come across in her work with economic data (and by the way check out her awesome Prices and Wages by Decade libguide). She discussed several of the issues that we’ve encountered including lack of data documentation, the move to cloud services that require a fee for extraction of government data, and the commercialization of government data. Finally, she mentioned the decreasing number of electronic documents available through the GPO, despite the move to electronic formats. For example, she searched the GPO’s Catalog of Government Publications for the “L” SuDoc, which includes the documents for the Labor department, and only 30 items came up. Keep in mind, these aren’t print documents; these are the electronic documents. Her presentation  brought home the scale of the problem that we face regarding the loss of government information.

Katrina then talked about the process of revising economic data and the importance in capturing those revisions over time. She talked about how current versions of economic data are less accurate, but those are the ones on which policy is often made. Therefore, we need to collect the past data so that we can better understand how policy was decided and what the errors were. Moreover, ALFRED, the historical economic data database, only captures series that are in FRED, but there are a lot of data series that aren’t in FRED. Furthermore, the Federal Reserve Banks aren’t government agencies and aren’t subject to the same rules for retention.  So, the question becomes how do we coordinate with these kinds of special nongov organizations that are producing information necessary to the functioning of our government? What becomes the highest priorities?

Lots to think about. PEGI will hold a national forum in December at the CNI meeting with the goal of bringing in stakeholders from the wider communities (librarians, community leaders, activists, archivists, journalists, and government employees). More to come on those discussions soon.


Finally, for our working lunch, representatives from Census, the Federal Reserve Board and Banks, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the World Bank, the OECD, and FRED sat on a panel to discuss various issues. Ron Nakao, the Data and Economics Librarian at Stanford, asked an interesting question about the priorities for data in these organizations. He noted that there are three threads in data: data creation/collection,  metadata creation/collection, and tool creation/collection, and that the metadata curation aspects often do not have enough infrastructural support. Several of the representatives agreed and noted the activities at their institutions for metadata creation. For example, the Census Bureau is requiring all surveys to use the same metadata and the BLS is working towards a glossary of terms. Hopefully those efforts will help to reduce the creation of metadata as an afterthought in the data collection/creation process.
Great conference. Really happy that I went although it was whirlwind! BTN is on the list for next year!
P.S. Thanks for the mug! It’s like they know me … and my coffee addiction.