Government Online: One-Click Access to 3,400 Federal and State Web Sites

Preface

Six years ago when I put together Finding Government Information on the Internet which was published by Neal-Schuman also, the world of government publications was vastly different. Though clearly in the midst of sweeping change, the state of Internet access to government publications had evolved barely beyond an embryonic state into infancy. That book aimed to study the steadily-increasing movement of Federal, state, local, foreign, and international government information from print to a networked electronic format. This book is a sequel and not a second edition. Too much has changed to merely update the previous book. I needed to find a different approach to come to terms with the overwhelming mass of government web pages and make them useful to a wide range of potential users.

Audience

The audience for the first book was primarily librarians. I hope to broaden the audience for this book to include anyone for whom federal and state government information is useful. This book is a place where librarians, business people, and any members of the general web-surfing public can check the index to find out where the Federal government's Recommended Daily Allowance chart is, or where its Food Pyramid can be found, or Census tract data, or images of the planets, or health topics a-z, or a list of endangered species, or the official time, or any other pertinent question government information can be used to answer.

How to Use This Book

Like the earlier book, I again have employed a group of subject experts to do the bulk of the researching and writing, but to achieve a consistent style in this book, I established a strong standard format for all authors of subject-oriented chapters to follow. Each chapter begins with a short narrative describing the key federal agencies for that subject and what they have to offer the public electronically. Next, is an Agencies Website Map for the chapter, a hierarchical listing of government department and agency sites to be discussed in the following 20-30 entries. The structure of Federal government agencies resembles an interconnected web, and the Agencies Website Map is intended to provide an overview of how several different governmental bodies may approach the same topic. The entries themselves are of essential sites and are the focal point of each chapter. As the sample entry below demonstrates, each entry includes the URL, a brief description of the site, and a bulleted list of 3 or 4 (or many more) highlights from the site. These highlights are reference tools that answer common questions and are the centerpiece to the book's usefulness as I see it. The Websites index is specially keyed to the entries' bulleted highlights for this purpose. Multiple access points are given in this index for many of the sites.

Sample Entry

11.2 Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services

(www.fns.usda.gov/fncs/)

As part of the Department of Agriculture, the mission of Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services (FNCS) is to ensure access to nutritious, healthful diets for all Americans. FNCS works to empower consumers with knowledge of the link between diet and health by providing dietary guidance based on research. While one arm of the agency, the Food and Nutrition Service, is concerned with Food Stamps and school lunch programs, the other, the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, tries to link dietary research with the nutritional needs of the public. [See Also 9.5]

A. Dietary Guidelines for Americans (www.usda.gov/cnpp/dietary_guidelines.htm)

B. Food Guide Pyramid (www.usda.gov/cnpp/pyramid2.htm)

C. Food Guide Pyramid for Kids (www.usda.gov/cnpp/KidsPyra/index.htm)

D. Expenditures on Children by Families (www.usda.gov/cnpp/using2.htm)

E. The Nutrient Content of the US Food Supply (www.usda.gov/cnpp/foodsupp.pdf)

F. Official USDA Food Plans (www.usda.gov/cnpp/using3.htm)

Perhaps of greatest interest and utility is the accompanying disk which contains Web pages for each chapter, each chapter's state-by-state listings, and the Website index itself. To use the disk, simply load it into your drive and use your Web browser to open home.htm. I hope that readers will find this a convenient way to get at the often vital government information at the core of this book.

Scope

The focus this time is primarily on Federal documents and secondarily on state ones. In addition, more emphasis is given to pinpointing direct access to the most useful items produced by the government. At the same time, less emphasis is given to overarching topics, technical procedures, and general subject overviews. In the book's introduction, I discuss the importance of government information, the decentralization of its dissemination on the Web, and what all that means for citizens and netizens, librarians and cybrarians, and depositories and digital libraries.

The first section of the book, Starting Points, provides both an overview of the electronic environment for government information and an introduction to the basic tools to explore it. To begin, Duncan Aldrich has updated his excellent opening chapter on the past, present, and future of the depository library system. As Past Chair both of the Depository Library Council and the American Library Association's Government Documents Roundtable (GODORT) as well as being a onetime member of the Government Printing Office's (GPO) Electronic Transition Team, Duncan is supremely qualified to discuss the issues confronting free and equal public access to government documents in the chaotic and technologically-challenging information age. From this background, we can get started with online finding aids, be they search engines, directories, pathfinders, or gateways. In Chapter 2, Stacy Nowicki examines the strengths and weaknesses of GPO Access as well as other governmental, academic, and commercial approaches to access tools for all government information: federal, state, local, foreign, and international.

Section two of the book, Subject Access to Government Information, takes a broad topical approach according to the strict format described above and has been compiled by subject experts. We begin with Anita Daniel's thorough look at Web resources related to Legislation and Regulation -- the laws and codes we live by. Next, Louise Buckley also checks out two branches of government in her chapter to dissect Justice and the Judiciary sites. With Public Policy and the Census, Suzanne Taylor accepted a forbidding task. She reviews a broad range of mostly social service sites that relay and have an impact on public policy issues. Two of the most visible being the White House and the Census. The Census site in particular with its overwhelming wealth of data is a challenge for all librarians.

To begin our "Be Like Mike" segment, Michael Van Fossen focuses on the parts of our government that interact positively and negatively with other nations in the chapter on International Relations. Our second Mike, Michael Oppenheim, tries to remember the campaign catchphrase "it's the economy, stupid," as he tackles two related subjects in two separate chapters Business and Labor followed by Banking and Taxation.

McKinley Sielaff covers a subject of personal importance to all Americans in Health and Medicine. Linda Johnson inspects one of equal personal importance to Al Gore at least, the Environment. Your humble editor pops up again searching out Science and Technology sites, including everything from agriculture to information technology to space physics.

My Rutgers colleague Vibiana Bowman narrows in on the more tightly-focused topic of Education. Another Rutgers colleague, Julie Still takes on a very broad topic that is treated almost tangentially by the government, Arts and Humanities. Finally, Kim Gallon contributes the final chapter on the multidimensional topic of Transportation, Travel, and Recreation. She surveys a range of information from air and highway safety to the beautiful vistas of our national parks.

The final section, Special Sources for Key Users of Government Information, provides direct access to certain "high interest" types of government information. Subject chapter authors have culled from within their discipline government agency libraries, statistical sites, and pages designed for kids and teachers, and these are listed in this final section of the book. All library and statistical sites are included both in the subject chapter entries and Chapters 13 or 14; in contrast, some of the kids pages featured in Chapter 15 are only found there.

While I theoretically tried to stake out distinct subject areas for all the authors, that is an impossible task in reality. These subjects do overlap, and you will find some duplication of entries in different chapters. As editor, I deliberately left most of them in figuring that the reader reasonably might be looking for those subjects in either chapter. Every chapter also includes a list for all 50 states of the highest state agency(ies) pertaining to that subject. Subject treatments of international, foreign, and local documents are too voluminous to be melded into this volume. With roughly 2,200 unique Federal government Websites listed in these pages in addition to over 1,200 State sites, we have selected only a fraction of what's available, but I think we have hit the highlights and provided a great starting point for users.

Conclusion

As has long been obvious to librarians and government documents librarians in particular universal access to government information is of the utmost importance in a free society. We the people are the government; its information is ours. The World Wide Web provides a wonderful opportunity to expand that access in ways previously inconceivable. Meeting this challenge, though, requires coming to terms with such issues as what is published, how it is preserved, and whether it will continue to be available permanently. We were asking those same questions in the first book; the quest for satisfactory answers has not abated. While keeping that struggle in mind, the main aim of this book is to ensure citizens are able to find what they need from this government when they need it. I hope these pages can serve as a useful guide for all users.

Acknowledgments

No project is complete without acknowledging those who made it a reality. The authors of the chapters were handpicked because of the quality of their work in the past, and they have all maintained that standard here. The people at Neal-Schuman are ever-helpful, and I must single out my longtime editor Charles Harmon who pushed for me to do this sequel longer than he should have needed to. Finally, thanks as always for the support given by my beautiful wife Suzanne and our lovely daughters (and research assistants) Juliane and Katie.


from Government Online: One-Click Access to 3,400 Federal and State Web Sites. Edited by John Maxymuk. Copyright 2001. Available from Neal-Schuman Publishers. ISBN 1-55570-416-6.

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Updated 8/15/05