Following the announcement of Democracy’s Library at the 2022 Internet Archive Annual Event, the U.S. team conducted a comprehensive 4-month landscape analysis to assess the state of collective knowledge management in the United States. In this blog series, they will delve into their findings, highlighting the complexities that hinder easy and meaningful access to public information within the federated national infrastructure.
For now, they are pleased to share the executive summary of the Democracy Library (U.S.) report. This summary is based on interviews with librarians, archivists, information professionals, reviews of legislation and government agency reports, consultations with government representatives, technologists working on civic-tech and gov-tech applications, and input from users of government information.
The executive summary of the report highlights the following key points:
- The United States government generates a substantial amount of data each year, including reports, research, records, and statistics, which hold significant strategic value. However, meaningful access to this critical data is restricted from the public. There is no publicly-accessible central repository where all government artifacts can be searched and accessed easily. Consequently, it is challenging for individuals to obtain these artifacts.
- Instead of being readily accessible, government data is often locked behind paywalls, sold to multinational corporations, controlled by “data cartels,” or scattered across numerous disjointed agency websites with non-standardized archival systems. Under-resourced librarians and archivists are responsible for managing these siloed datasets within agencies. As a result, journalists, activists, democracy technologists, academics, and the general public are denied meaningful access to this data, despite their legal entitlement.
- If the burden on the public to access this knowledge can be reduced, in line with the federal government’s stated priority, it could serve as a crucial catalyst for transforming democratic systems, making them more efficient, actionable, and auditable in the future. This effort could facilitate a renaissance in political science and public administration through the analysis of big data. It could empower local journalists with comprehensive access to policymaking across the country, enhancing their investigative capabilities. Moreover, it could provide essential insights to ensure the survival, growth, adaptation, and evolution of democracy in the digital age.
- To achieve a more resilient and prepared democracy for the 21st century, the establishment of Democracy’s Library is proposed. This is a 10-year, multi-faceted partnership initiative aimed at collecting, preserving, and linking data related to democracy in a centralized, searchable repository. This repository will source data from all levels of the U.S. government, serving the purpose of fostering innovation, promoting transparency, advancing fields like mass political informatics, and ultimately digitizing democracy. Access to this data is a fundamental requirement for innovation and to propel the current outdated system into a faster, technologically advanced future. Challenges at both the artifact and system levels need to be addressed.
- Fortunately, the Internet Archive, in collaboration with partners like the Filecoin Foundation, is well-positioned to tackle these challenges comprehensively through this initiative. It has gained significant legislative and political support, and the necessary tools are largely already developed and being deployed. Now, funding partners need to step forward and scale the effort to revolutionize the U.S. government once again.
The team invites feedback from librarians, archivists, and government information professionals to further enhance their understanding. They encourage those interested to participate in a survey to share their experiences.