MU librarian steps up as federal government websites shut down

Thursday, October 10, 2013 | 6:28 p.m. CDT; updated 8:36 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 11, 2013

COLUMBIA — Government transparency shouldn't suffer while the federal shutdown drags on, and Marie* Concannon wants you to know that librarians are here to help.

Are you seeing the effects of the shutdown?

Some readers told us last week that the government shutdown wasn't affecting them immediately but that it would if it continued. Well, we've entered week two, and the Missourian wants to know whether it has disrupted your life. Are there websites or information that you can't access? Offices or institutions you need closed that are closed? Checks that aren't coming in the mail? In your work or in your personal life, what are the effects?

To share your story, email or call the newsroom at 882-5720 and ask for the editor on duty.

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Concannon, the government documents regional coordinator for MU Libraries, is surveying people hampered by the lack of government information to help connect people with the information they're missing.  

When the federal government partially shut down on Oct. 1, websites like the U.S. Census Data, the Federal Trade CommissionNASA and the National Archives took down much of the content that journalists, researchers and other members of the public have come to rely on.

Concannon posted a survey Tuesday to the Ellis Library website, asking Missouri residents how they've been affected by the shutdown. She had 15 respondents as of Wednesday.

"There are a lot of categories for people writing in," Concannon said. "It's not just students. It's not just professors. It's also organizations that need government information in order to do their work."

More than just a university library, Ellis is part of the federal depository library program established by Congress in the late 19th century to give the public free access to government information, she said.

Back then, it was all on paper. Agencies would send documents to the federal Government Printing Office, which would print lots of extra copies and ship them to the libraries. But over the last decade, federal agencies have published more of their material online, the ideal way to distribute data in the information age.

Unless you have to furlough your IT workers. Then those websites and data feeds go dark. 

Nonetheless, Concannon wants to be sure the public maintains access to information about its government.

Besides just collecting data, her goal is to help point the public to other sources for the information they need.

For example, she said people looking for census data should also try the Missouri Census Data Center, a state-run organization.

Additionally, Concannon said people can usually find important statistics quoted somewhere in records of congressional hearings. The library's subscription to ProQuest Congressional, a commercial product, is still working.

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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