Cutting through the Fog: Government Information, Librarians, and the Forty-Fifth Presidency

Kian A. Flynn, Cassandra J. Hartnett


The presidential election of 2016 and the ensuing forty-fifth presidential administration have been marked by an increasingly polarized electorate, concerns about “fake news,” and a greater use of social media. President Trump and his administration have utilized the increased disintermediation of information consumption by communicating directly to the public and going around the “experts.” These phenomena raise issues for government information librarians concerned with the production, distribution, consumption, and preservation of government information, and impact the public’s understanding of—and trust in—government information. The government information issues we see today are not entirely new, as past governmental obfuscation has been well documented, but confronting these issues in the twenty-first century poses unique challenges. Fortunately, individuals, institutions, and libraries across the country are responding to this unique moment with a host of innovative solutions that promise to keep Americans informed in these turbulent times. Current engagement around these issues is reflected in educational programming at universities and public libraries, citizen actions such as the Data Rescue movement, and hybrid projects such as the End of Term Archive. The Government Publishing Office (GPO) is due for modernization, and statutory reform of 44 U.S.C., chapter 19, is being debated by the Committee on House Administration, library associations, and the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) community. To meet the long-term needs of our users, librarians should advocate for the strengthening of existing structures for federal information such as the FDLP, LOCKSS-USDOCS, and the Hathi Trust Digital Library. Future initiatives must ensure that official legal processes remain in place to protect government information, while leaving room for creative nongovernmental collaborations as well.

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