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Off the Shelf - Spring 2002

"Information is the Currency of Democracy"

by Leslie Foster

That’s one of my favorite adages, one I like to think we government publications librarians try to live and work by. Recently our right to be well informed has been eroded. This is of such concern that some librarians, historians and journalists have gone so far as to claim that the public’s right to know as we understand it is under attack.

It seems to me that virtually everyone living in this post-911 era recognizes America’s need for heightened awareness, caution and concern for public safety. On the other hand, one of the essential foundations of a democracy is a well-informed and educated citizenry. With this in mind, I want list a few of the historical landmarks in public access to information, and highlight recent events that have caused concern among my colleagues.

The federal depository library program was established to provide the people of the country with free public access to government information. The federal government began sending printed government materials to libraries free of charge. In return, 1350 participating libraries housed, took care of and allowed free access to the resources.

In response to the Watergate scandal, the Freedom of Information Act of 1974 was created to force government entities to disclose public records and documents to the public, items that were not part of the depository library program. The process established by the FOIA has been used successfully for many years. This act was followed by the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which provided open access to a president’s records after twelve years.

In reaction to calls for less government, privatization, smaller budgets and fewer federal employees, there was a reduction in the distribution of depository materials. Microfiche formats replaced some print publications, and while fiche was less convenient to use, the information was still available in libraries.

“It is universally admitted that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently
a free people.” — James Madison

The “new technologies” made dissemination of government information simultaneously easier and more complex. CD-ROM software did not always work and data structures were not always user friendly. The development of federal government websites resulted in much more information and data available online to the public . . . if they were able to find it. The quantity of tangible, print publications decreased as websites expanded exponentially. Depository libraries and the public learned to rely on websites for Census data, trade information, environmental impact statements, federal regulations and many other government information needs.

Despite what many people believe, neither the National Archives and Records Administration nor individual agencies are responsible for preserving electronic government information. Problems with the preservation of electronic information have become very apparent and with no single governmental entity assigned to guarantee continued public access to data, it may appear and disappear. A turnover in agency personnel, the redesign of a web site, a reduction in funding, election results — all can have profound effects on the availability of government information on a website. An example that attracted considerable attention was the instant disappearance of the Clinton Whitehouse Website and its replacement by the Bush Whitehouse Website.
“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government. Whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.” — Thomas Jefferson
Recent Events

The Attack
The terrorist attack on 9/11/01 had a significant impact on government websites. Almost overnight federal, state and even local governments began examining and reassessing public access to data. Maps, information about dams, nuclear power plants, airport security breeches, pipelines and water supplies vanished without much consideration given to a legitimate need for it by citizens, professionals, researchers, by everyone from urban planners to individual citizens concerned about hazardous materials in their areas. Of course, in a free society there also exists the potential for abuse as well as use. The same data can be used for nefarious purposes.

Currently there are no uniform criteria being followed for removal of government information from the web, no standards, no system and no plans for permanent preservation of the information so that it will be readily retrievable at some later date.

Related Policy Changes
The National Institute of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as dozens of other agencies and divisions within the Department of Health and Human Services, have communicated directly with the public about topics viewed as their assigned responsibility. This has allowed the public to hear a variety of government voices commenting on issues, something that is part of the process of government at work. After contradictory messages were released concerning the “government” position on the anthrax terrorism and the government’s plans for stem cell research, the Secretary of Heath and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, decided to consolidate all communications for HHS and end direct communication with the public by subdivisions under his control. Now the Secretary’s Office must approve all public information prior to its dissemination.

10/12/2001-FOIA Memo
U.S. Attorney General of the United States, John Ashcroft, issued a memo urging federal agencies to resist vigorously most of the Freedom of Information Act requests made by American citizens.

11/1/2001-Presidential Records
Executive Order 13233: Further Implementation of the Presidential Records Act substantially revised the Presidential Records Act of 1978 by adding various conditions, terms, and reviews that complicated the process. Both former and incumbent presidents were given veto power over the release of records and no time limitations were established for records review. Historians and professors argued that E.O. 13233 significantly expands the scope of executive privilege and sets new precedents related to the public’s right to view government records.

12/5/2001-Web Page Closed
In an order unrelated to the September 11 attacks, a District Court Judge ordered the Department of the Interior to disconnect all of its computers from the Internet, effective immediately. The reason for the order was his concern over security issues related to the Indian Trust Fund court case. The effect was astonishing and highly disruptive. Access to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Reclamation Bureau, the Mines Bureau, the National Parks Service, the Geographic Names Board, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Land management Bureau, the Surface Mining and Reclamation and Enforcement Office, and the Minerals Management Service websites ceased to exist. Three months later access to the essential data they provided is still problematic. Unfortunately with no extant paper formats of the data, there is no alternate source of information.

01/2002-CD-ROM Withdrawn
In 1996 the Safe Drinking Water Act directed the U.S. government to collect and distribute data about public water supplies in the United States. The data was used to help protect the nation’s drinking water from contamination and pollution caused by developmental and agricultural activities.

Federal depository libraries received a U.S. Geological Survey CD-ROM with data about the 437 largest public water supplies. As expected, urban planners and environmental groups found the CD useful — until January 2002 when the depository librarians were ordered to destroy the CD to assuage fears that terrorists might also find the data useful. It took a major effort to make that information inaccessible because it had been distributed in a tangible format to many libraries across the country. Eliminating web-based resources is so much faster and easier — perhaps, as many people claim, too much so.

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin

These are a few examples that illustrate the actions and events that have raised concerns among librarians and other professionals interested in the workings of government, preservation issues, and access to government information and records. Balancing national security and the public’s right to know is becoming a major concern of our times. I find myself wondering how deep and how great the void will be when historians in the future try to understand the events of the late 20th and early 21st century.
It does seem ironic that in this “information age” government information and access to it seems in peril. I hope the issue receives the attention, thought and dialog it deserves.

September 11: The Library's Response to Your Need for Information

by Jill Markgraf,

Reading and research interests are among the innumerable aspects of life-as-we-knew-it that changed after September 11. Librarians are observing and responding to an increase in requests for information about topics such as terrorism, the Middle East, Islam, Osama Bin Laden, Taliban, Afghanistan, anthrax and biological warfare.

McIntyre Library provides a wealth of information on these and related topics, and its website provides tools to help you find it. 

The library has a growing collection of books, government documents, videotapes and other media in subject areas relating to the events of September 11. To find them, search the online catalog under subject headings such as:

  • Terrorism
  • Biological warfare
  • Jihad
  • Bin Laden, Osama
  • Islam
  • Taliban
  • Fundamentalism

These subject headings are just a sampling of possible search terms. Librarians can assist users in finding other appropriate terms or headings.

New books on these and related topics arrive daily. To find out what new books the library has received, click the RECENT ACQUISITIONS tab in the online catalog. There you can browse materials received during the past week or past month, as well as search new books by author, title, keyword or call number.

The library provides access to information resources well beyond what is represented in the library catalog: journal and newspaper articles, the Web, and a variety of online databases are other sources of valuable, relevant information. Librarians have developed tools to assist users in navigating the myriad sources.

Visit the Online Reference Shelf to find background information, factual and statistical information, or biographical information. For example, a search of one of the dictionaries in the Online Reference Shelf will provide a definition of ‘jihad.’ The online encyclopedias are good places to get brief explanations or overviews of ‘Islam.’ The biography resources offer brief factual information about Osama Bin Laden. Under ALMANACS, FACT BOOKS & MANUALS is the CIA World Factbook, a collection of country profiles and maps. It is a good source of information about Afghanistan. For the researcher looking for names of Afghani government officials, a click on Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments under DIRECTORIES will yield such information.

Students, and even seasoned researchers, are often overwhelmed by the abundance of resources and unsure of where to begin. Two recently developed online tools aim to address this problem. Build-a-Guide is a collection of online guides offering research advice on a variety of popular topics. A student interested in writing a paper on some aspect of terrorism, for example, could go to the Build-a-Guide topic “Terrorism.” A student interested in learning more about Islam could find a guide on Islam. Build-a-Guide offers suggestions for finding out how to begin researching the topic, where to find basic or background information, which subject headings to use in searching the online catalog, which databases might be appropriate to use in searching for journal articles, and which websites librarians have identified as good, reliable sources of information. New topics are regularly added to Build-a-Guide. The library invites you to browse the available topics and welcomes your suggestions for additional topics.

A similar resource, Core & More, takes a broader approach to guiding researchers to appropriate resources. Rather than leading a researcher through the steps in finding information on a specific topic, Core & More organizes resources by broad discipline. So, for example, to find journal articles on some aspect of Islam, click on the Core & More discipline of PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGION. There you will find a list of the core databases and indexes available for that discipline. You will also get a list of more databases that touch on or include aspects of the discipline. In addition to journal article indexes and databases, Core & More suggests sources of background information and websites selected by librarians and UW-Eau Claire faculty relating to the discipline. Depending on your research interest, you may want to consult several disciplines under Core & More. For example, a researcher interested in the role of women in Islamic cultures may also want to look under the discipline of WOMEN’S STUDIES.

Core & More also includes a link to newspaper databases. A researcher interested in current or recent events will find a wealth of information from local, regional, national and international newspapers and wire services. Academic Universe, one of the news databases available, includes transcripts from radio and television news programs as well. A researcher interested in reading the CBS or NPR transcripts from broadcasts on September 11, for example, will find them here.

Another source for current information relating to September 11 and its aftermath can be found on the library’s Government Web Sites Quick List under DOCUMENTS IN THE NEWS. Clicking on TERROR ATTACK results in a list of links to news resources and sites, responses and opinions, and relief efforts.

Resources and finding aids abound for tracking down information that helps us understand the new climate in which we live. But the list of resources would be incomplete without a mention of your McIntyre library faculty and staff, always ready and willing to assist you in your quest for the information you need.

Resources mentioned in this article:

  • Online Reference Shelf
  • Build-a-Guide 

View from the Third Floor: Serials Cancellation Project Loans

During the remainder of the spring semester, McIntyre Library will undertake a serials review and cancellation project. This unfortunate circumstance is necessitated by the “double-whammy” of continued high inflation for serial titles and a flat materials budget that I described in the last issue of Off the Shelf.

What has this double-whammy meant in real terms? Say we spend $400,000 on journals in one year (and our actual journal expenditures are somewhat higher than that this year). If the average inflation rate for those titles is 8%, then we would need $432,000 to purchase the equivalent journals next year, or $440,000 if the inflation rate is 10%. In a flat budget environment, that additional $32,000 or $40,000 must come from some other materials budget — such as the one for one-time purchases, including books and videotapes. If this 8-10% inflation pattern holds — as it has been doing for some years then the following year it would cost us between $466,560-$484,000 for the same number of journals. Obviously, this is an inflationary cycle that would soon consume the materials budget if we did not reduce the number of journal subscriptions.

As we experience high inflationary price increases for journals, demand for electronic databases continues to soar. Even though we have access to the majority of our databases through centralized UW cooperative purchases, the database subscriptions specifically for our UW-Eau Claire students and faculty are eating up a considerable — and increasing — portion of our budget. From spending $8,000 in 1992 we are now spending $126,000 in the current fiscal year. The total increases to the entirety of our materials budgets in the past 5 and current budget biennia (a period of 14 years) have only been $212,000. It doesn’t take a financial genius to determine we’re in fiscal hot water.

The reality is even worse than it would appear to be from the above. Although book, standing order, and other materials prices are not increasing as rapidly as journal prices, they are increasing more rapidly than inflation. Not only do we have less money for such purchases in the above scenario, what money we do have will buy fewer titles than the equivalent amount would have bought the year before. It’s an exceedingly ugly picture. Add in the unknown budget cuts that may be coming over the next year or so and the picture becomes even uglier.

Almost every library is facing a similar situation and this is certainly true within the UW-System.

The serials review and cancellation project is a result of this unfortunate scenario. Although we will be looking primarily at cutting journal subscriptions, we will also be looking at other serials expenditures, including electronic database subscriptions. How large a cancellation project will this be? Our initial target is a rather frightening $50,000 although we hope it needn’t be that high. We could aim somewhat lower than this, but if we do we’ll no doubt be repeating this exercise a year from now.

Almost every library is facing a similar situation and this is certainly true within the UW-System. UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee together are canceling or have cancelled about $500,000 worth of subscriptions this year. To help overcome this decreasing access to physical journals, the UW libraries are continuing their efforts to find new ways to cooperate and to leverage their resources — including possible desktop delivery of articles. The saving grace in this dire situation has been the access to thousands of full-text electronic journals afforded by the cooperative efforts of the UW libraries.

How will we decide which subscriptions to cut? We will try to be as objective as possible in making these decisions and we will seek faculty input in the process, although the final decision will be the library’s. We have been keeping shelf-displacement use statistics for some years and they will prove very useful in this effort. Among other things, we will be looking at average cost per use. If a journal costs $500 but our use statistics show it was only used 10 times during the year, it will be a likelier candidate for cancellation than one that costs $1,000 but that was used 100 times. Very expensive journals will be looked at carefully as cancellation candidates as will those showing steep price increases. In some cases, we will be working with faculty to identify alternative, less expensive titles that might suit their purposes. We will look at whether journals are available in full-text databases to which we subscribe and whether they are available in full-text or full-image, which will make a difference in some disciplines. We will also be looking at how easily obtainable copies of articles will be from cancelled titles, e.g., whether or not they are held by other UW libraries. Backing up this decision-making process will be the relationship of particular titles to their support of the curriculum.

Over the past several years, several people have suggested to me that we simply cancel the popular titles to which the library subscribes. While these titles will be considered for cancellation, the fact is that the total cost for all our so-called popular titles is less than the cost of a single subscription to a number of our scholarly journals. Generally, popular titles are used relatively heavily — and not just for leisurely reading. For certain kinds of classroom assignments, use of these particular titles is entirely appropriate and may better serve the student than a scholarly journal.

More information will be forthcoming as we put together the specific framework of the cancellation project. In the meantime, we ask your patience in discussing specific titles. However, if you would like to suggest a particular title for cancellation please feel free to forward your suggestion to Janice Bogstad, Head of Collection Development,

Guest Column-Zhang Xiaodan - What I hope to Learn from my Visit in Eau Claire

Hello, I’m Zhang Xiaodan. You can call me Tom. I’m from Yitong, a small town in Jilin province, northeastern China. I came here from Jinan University in Guangzhou, southern China where I work as a librarian. I have a B.S. in library science and I’m working on my Master’s degree in computer science. I will be here until the end of May.

While I’m here, I hope to learn three things and to perform at least one service for the library and the university.

First, I want to observe the library instruction program here. It will be very useful back home if I learn how librarians develop guides and handbooks for faculty and students and how librarians train end users here. So, I also plan to take samples back to my colleagues when I go home.

Second, I want to know how user data is collected and used to help planning budget decisions and collection management. We have no method for doing this at home. We have an online catalog and we can see if a book is checked out online. But we do not yet use circulation information to help us manage our collections.

Third, I’m also interested in library management: how the reference department works, how the automation department fits in to the plan, and how the director here manages the library as a whole.

Finally, I want to do something for this library — which is my favorite place. Right now, I am working to improve the web site, by redesigning some databases using Access, JavaScript and ASP. Hopefully, you will see my work soon!

Collaboration in Online Development

by Kathy Finder and Jill Markgraf, and

Online courses represent the latest phase of UW-Eau Claire distance education initiatives. Information & Technology Management services and resources in support of online education continue to improve as our experience grows, the tools evolve, and the curricular needs change. Collaboration among DE instructors, administrators and ITM support (library and instructional design) is imperative in ensuring distant learners equitable access to resources and services.

Here are some myths we have encountered.

Myth: An online course is simply a traditional course delivered via the web.

Reality: While an online course meets the same objectives of a traditional face-to-face course, the online course has unique parameters. Converting a course to the online environment takes a lot of time, effort, and resources.

Myth: If I want to teach an online course, I am solely responsible for developing and delivering the course.

Reality: Not at all! ITM staff can help you explore options, identify needs, tailor resources, assist in the production of the course, and help facilitate connections with others who can provide valuable resources and information throughout the process.

Myth: Because technology and instructional design staff may take on an increased role in an online course, I will lose some control over my course.

Reality: The faculty member remains in control — making the decisions about tools, content, structure, evaluation, student interactions, and other curricular decisions.

We recommend that the online courses be well developed prior to the beginning of the course. However, once the course has begun, you can make changes to meet the unique needs of your students and “tweak” the course. If an activity needs more structure, you can add the structure. If something isn’t working, you can substitute a new activity.

Myth: Students in an online course can’t do library research.

Reality: McIntyre Library has a full array of services for DE students, including remote access to the library catalog, journal article databases and other resources; reference assistance available electronically and via toll-free telephone; home delivery of books and journal articles; electronic delivery of journal articles; electronic reserve; and an ever-increasing bank of online instructional services and tools.

Myth: A link to the library web page is sufficient for incorporating library research into an online course.

Reality: It’s a good start, but simply making services available is not sufficient for getting students to use them or understand them. Through communication and collaboration faculty and librarians are coming up with innovative ways to incorporate library instruction into the online curriculum. Such efforts have included online research tutorials, librarian-monitored discussion threads and the development of online library research tools in support of specific courses and research projects. (See for an example of such a tool developed for marketing classes). Faculty and librarians work together in the development of courses and assignments to ensure that the library can adequately support specific online endeavors.

Myth: Course packets are necessary for providing students with required readings.

Reality: While a course packet may be an efficient means of providing students with assigned readings, faculty should also be aware of the library’s electronic reserve (e-reserve) service. Required readings can be posted electronically, which may eliminate the expense of purchasing materials already available through the library.

Myth: The internet provides sufficient resources for online students to conduct research.

Myth: The internet is unacceptable as a research resource.

Reality: Yes and no. The Internet provides a wealth of valuable information as well as intellectually useless sites. Estimates still put the percentage of scholarly information available via the Internet in the single digits. Therefore, the Internet should be viewed as just one of many information resources to which students should have access.

The Internet is also a medium that delivers other types of information, such as access to our library catalog, licensed databases, electronic books, and government documents. To view as unacceptable anything found on the Web may be akin to saying that one does not believe anything heard on the telephone.

The concept of information literacy comes into play. Students need the skills to sift the wheat from the chaff. In the rapidly changing online environment it is increasingly important that ITM staff, including librarians and instructional technologists, and faculty members work together to give students the skills they need to access, find, evaluate and use information. For more information about services available to assist you in the online environment, please contact:

Kathy Finder (, CITI Manager & McIntyre Library, 715-836-2865

Jill Markgraf (, Distance Education Librarian, McIntyre Library, 715-836-5357 or the Reference Desk at 715-836-3858

Donna Raleigh (, Instructional Design/Technology Training Coordinator, Media Development Center (MDC), 715-836-5162

Planning Class Assignments

Have you given an exercise to show your students all the wonderful resources available in the library, but still find the resources for their papers are from web sites? 

Have you assigned a simple project requiring library sources, but your students tell you “the library didn’t have anything on my topic”?

Do your students tell you they can’t find InfoTrac? (They’re right!)

It’s time to sit down with a librarian to develop course projects that will really teach them what you want them to know about research in your field.

The library has many new resources and ways of finding information, but we have also eliminated many older resources. Library faculty are available to assist you and your students in using McIntyre Library and Internet research resources. We will be happy to consult about new research information in your field, to custom-design in-person class presentations, or to create curriculum-based information literacy modules for use in your courses.

The information literacy curriculum includes strategies to assist your students to:

  • Refine a research topic
  • Develop effective research strategies
  • Retrieve source citations 
  • Locate and access print, microfilm, electronic, or audiovisual materials
  • Critically evaluate the content of information sources
  • Learn to properly cite sources

We have been developing a web site to make it easy for you to connect with the right people: go to the “Meet the Library Instructional Faculty.” There you will find a list of librarians showing their research interests, phone numbers, and email addresses. There is also a link to a new online class session request form. This form gives you the opportunity to select a par