Shutdown Cuts Off Public Access to Government Information

Access to government information is important in the daily lives of the people of the United States. During the shutdown of the federal government paper and digital versions of government publications are either not available at all or the web sites are not being updated. The Government Printing Office FDsys is only inputting legislative information. Federal libraries, including the Library of Congress [Editor's note: The Library of Congress restored access to its sites on October 3, 2013 with the caveat that these sites are not being updated] and the Superintendent of Documents are not being produced and provided to the libraries of the world. Contracts to produce government publications in paper and digital formats are in danger because they need to be place for the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Librarians around the nation report that they are unable to help patrons find the information they need to do research, write articles for journals and newspapers, prepare class assignments, find laws and regulations relevant to the conduct of their businesses, find information needed to file law suits, complete mortgage applications, access weather information, do historical and genealogical research, and contact government officials through agency web sites.

Professors teaching future librarians, teachers, geographers, scientists, and so on are unable to access web sites needed for their classes. Professors at the University of Oregon and the University of New Hampshire are unable to access the National Geologic Map Data Base and his librarian was unable to help him because the site is not available.

Libraries receiving IMLS [Institute of Museum and Library Services] grants due to start November 1st are delaying the hiring of staff for their projects until the know if they will receive the funding. Libraries dependent on Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds have canceled training for public librarians, canceled travel, and are considering the possible need to furlough staff working on state wide projects such as state wide catalogs.

Following are some of the information requests that were not answered during the shut down:

  1. A researcher needed a certified copy of climatological data for a legal case in Connecticut. The librarian called three state agencies, tried commercial versions, and the Wayback Machine [the Internet Archive] to no avail.
  2. An EEOC litigant in Connecticut was unable to file suit because there was no one available to assist in the process and the law does not allow an extension in filing the suit.
  3. People applying for mortgages are in danger of losing their homes because no one is available to finish the paper work and issue checks.
  4. National Park sites are down and librarians are being asked to provide information from other sources. Questions include whether the public has the right to use the National Mall for first amendment events.
  5. An author was unable to access historic NOAA images for an article on the 1938 Hurricane.
  6. Those seeking to replace birth certificates and social security cards are denied access to the Social Security site.
  7. State and local officials are unable to access the Center for Disease Control site for data needed to protect the health of their communities.
  8. A university student conducting a research project for a professor can not complete the project because the Censuses of 2000 and 2010 are only available on the Census web site.
  9. A researcher at the University of Oregon was unable to print out nautical charts of the Columbia River.
  10. A student at the University of New Hampshire was unable to access basic Census demographic characteristics on the block level for her project.
  11. Patrons at the Stony Brook University in New York were unable to access information about imports and exports.
  12. A small start up company in North Carolina wants to hire veterans but can not access the information giving the number of unemployed veterans in his county.
  13. Current and future teachers are unable to access ERIC, the data base that provides full text articles and studies in the area of education. EBSCO, a commercial company was able to supply some of the information but not full text articles.
  14. A patron needing information for property tax issue was unable to access the National Register of Historic Places.

This paper was compiled by Bernadine Abbott Hoduski, from the stories shared by librarians on GovDocL on October 11, 1013. Reprinted with permission. The author seeks additional stories from readers so please contact her and LLRX will continue to update this article. Thank you.