Leviathan: Libraries and Government Information in the Age of Big Data

Event Logistics

Thursday, April 24, 2014 to Friday, April 25, 2014
University of Chicago Gleacher Center
Virginia Kerr - vkerr@crl.edu

Ensuring the survival and integrity of government information has always been an important role for research libraries. The digital revolution, however, radically changed the ways in which government information is produced and distributed, upending longstanding library models for preservation and access. Today, we must find new ways to ensure that the information governments gather and provide to their constituents, and the records of the workings of governments, remain available to researchers for the long term.

Research libraries have always played an important role in ensuring the survival and integrity of government information. In the print era, research libraries acquired and preserved the publications and historical archives of U.S. and foreign governments. CRL, for one, preserves the records as diverse as the files of the notorious Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and the archives of the French colonial government in Senegal.  

The digital revolution, however, radically changed the ways in which government information is produced and distributed, upending longstanding library models of preservation and scholarly access. Therefore new ways must be found to ensure that the information governments gather and provide to their constituents—and the records of the workings of governments—remain available to researchers for the long term. 

CRL’s 2014 Global Resources Collections Forum brought together representatives of national archives, government agencies, publishers, historians, and members of the research library community, to explore what role libraries, collectively and individually, can play today in ensuring the long-term integrity and accessibility of the electronic records, data and publications of domestic and foreign governments.

This event was part of CRL’s 2014 Annual Meeting and Collections Forum, held in Chicago at the University of Chicago Gleacher Center. CRL assembled reports and documents as recommended background reading for attendees at the Forum.

Link to Final Report of the Leviathan Forum

Session 1: Libraries and the Records of Governments

Thursday, April 24, 1:00–5:00 p.m.

Today most government records are created and managed in a multitude of digital systems and platforms, many of them in “the cloud.” With the availability of digital media, moreover, the volume of the records produced has mushroomed. (The Bush administration alone generated over 200 million emails and 11 million digital photographs.)

Both the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service have raised concerns about the long-term integrity of U.S. agency electronic records and data. Add to this the growing frequency of unofficial disclosures of internal communications by WikiLeaks, media organizations like The New York Times and The Guardian, and other third parties, and a number of policy issues surface. This session explored the policy and political challenges the “digital government” ecosystem presents for libraries and the implications of this new reality for the stewardship of important historical evidence.

1:00–1:45 p.m. Welcome and Keynote: Information, Transparency, and  Government Records in the Digital Age: A Public Policy Perspective

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Speaker: Thomas S. Blanton, Executive Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. Dr. Blanton is a leading advocate of government transparency and disclosure. Founded in 1985 by journalists and scholars, the National Security Archive is a distinguished research and advocacy organization that defends and expands public access to government information. 

1:45–2:30 p.m. Historical Research and Government Records in the Era of Big Data: A Historian’s Perspective

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Speaker: Matthew J. Connelly, Historian, Columbia University

2:45–4:15 p.m. Panel Discussion: Preserving the Electronic Records of Governments: Issues and Challenges

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  • Paul Wester Jr., Chief Records Officer for the United States Government, NARA
  • William A. Mayer, Executive for Research Services, NARA
  • Cecilia Muir, Chief Operating Officer, Library and Archives Canada
  • Paul Wagner, Director General and Chief Information Officer, Information Technology Branch, Library and Archives Canada

Session 2: Libraries and the Information of Governments

Friday, April 25, 9:00 a.m.–12:00 noon

In the print era, many CRL libraries served (and continue to serve) as regional or selective federal depositories, bearing the responsibility for providing local access to published government documents and information in print and microform. And most academic libraries also acquired or subscribed to commercially produced databases of government documents and information.

Today, the public information landscape is being transformed: by government agencies’ widespread adoption of social media, their embrace of “cloud” services for storage and management of records and information, and by Open Government mandates that make oceans of agency data freely available on the Web. This session examined the new government information “supply chain” and explored:

  • New and emerging models for dissemination of government political, economic, and population information and data
  • The new strategic benefits and opportunities for libraries in the “post-custodial” age, when government agencies publish directly to the web.

9:00–9:30 a.m.  Keynote: Leviathan: The Dangers and Opportunities of “Big Data”

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Speaker: John S. Bracken, Director, Journalism and Media Innovation, Knight Foundation. The Foundation is a leading funder of new journalism technologies and platforms for mining and exposing government information and data, such as The Texas Tribune, News21, and the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project.

9:30–10:00 a.m.  Government Records and Information: Real Risks and Potential Losses

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Speaker: James A. Jacobs, Data Services Librarian Emeritus, University of California San Diego, and technical advisor for CRL’s Certification Advisory Panel

10:00–10:45 a.m.  The Digital Future of FDsys and the Federal Depository Library Program: A Public Policy Analysis

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Speaker: R. Eric Petersen, Specialist in American National Government, Congressional Research Service

11:00–11:45 a.m.  Panel Discussion: New Models of Access: The Role of Third Party Aggregators and Publishers

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  • Susan Bokern, VP, Information Solutions, ProQuest
  • Robert Lee, Director of Online Publishing and Strategic Partnerships, East View Information Service
  • Robert Dessau, CEO, voxgov


11:45 a.m.–12:00 noon  Q&A and Session Summary

Session 3: New Models of Stewardship: An Agenda for CRL and North American Research Libraries

Friday, April 25, 1:00–3:00 p.m.

Attendees and presenters explored what stewardship means in an age of digital government and big data. Desired outcomes included: consensus on the appropriate role of research libraries regarding government-produced information and records; recognition of how that role relates to the parts played by government, the media, and the commercial sector; a new strategic framework for the collective work of US and Canadian research libraries; and new multi-year strategic priorities for CRL.

1:15–1:30 p.m. Government Records and Information: An Inventory of the Major Threats and Challenges

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Speaker: Bernard Reilly, President, CRL

1:30–2:30 p.m. Panel Discussion: Prospective Roles and Actions for Libraries and CRL

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  • Mary Case, University Librarian, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Ingrid Parent, University Librarian, University of British Columbia and former Assistant Deputy Minister, Library and Archives Canada
  • Brent Roe, Executive Director, Canadian Association of Research Libraries


2:30–3:00 p.m. Conclusions: A New Strategic Framework for Collective Action by North American Academic Libraries and New Multi-year Priorities for CRL

The Impact of CRL

Stories illustrating CRL’s impact on research, teaching, collection building and preservation.

Documenting the Legal Record of Precarious Regimes

CRL’s Official Gazettes and Civil Society Documentation website offers published versions of new laws, legislative debates, and court decisions from at-risk regimes.

Excavating Attitudes on Opium Prohibition from Colonial Records

British Colonial Office records held by CRL reveal the dynamics of a robust opium trade in Southeast Asia in the late 19th and early 20th century.