How the Federal Depository Library Can Participate in the Open Government Directive

In December of 2009, President Barack Obama issued the Open Government Directive, a memorandum to guide Federal agencies in implementing the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration1. This new directive gave Government agencies the freedom to share information with the public in new ways. As a result, many agencies created Facebook, Twitter, and other types of social networking/media accounts. This gives Government employees a unique way to communicate with each other, the country, and the world. Four steps were provided to help agencies develop their own Open Government Directive2. Federal depository libraries can use these same steps to share Government information with their friends, immediate community, and surrounding area.

The first step is to publish Government information online.
Agencies were told to begin making information available online, provide the data in an open format, use modern technology to disseminate useful information, and create an Open Government Web page to serve as a gateway for agency activities. Federal depository libraries can help this process by creating their own accounts with Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking/media sites. They would be free to follow or friend the Government agency and route posted information to their followers, in effect, turning the information into an “endless” chain that can reach more citizens.

The second step is improving the quality of Government information.
The Office of Management and Budget’s Information Quality Act2 gave agencies an idea of what information should be shared with the public. While this policy was created previous to the social media age, the information is still valid and applicable to Federal depository libraries who are concerned with providing quality over quantity when it comes to getting information to their followers.

The third point of the directive is to create and institutionalize a culture of open government. Agencies were advised to integrate various disciplines such as policy, legal, procurement, finance, and technology operations. They are to work together to develop solutions for open government. Your Federal depository department can become involved in the use of social networking/media technology used in the library. If your library has any type of social networking/media account, become involved in providing content to be shared. If your library does not have a social networking/media account, you may consider starting one for the in general or for your department.

We have always provided information and forms for patrons during tax season in the Government Documents department at University of South Alabama’s Main Library. Our efforts were shared on University Library’s Facebook page3. A link to our Tax Information Resources Guide4 was also posted on the page. The collaboration made these vital resources available to a much larger audience, fulfilling our part concerning the Open Government Directive.

Our Government Documents department also used social media to work with other depository libraries, Federal agencies, and citizens. In 2009, we developed our own Twitter account using USAGOVDOC as our identification. Since its creation, we have promoted the account by asking people to follow us at various national and local conferences and speaking engagements and by following other Twitter feeds of interest. At the writing of this article, we were followed by over 200 various organizations, people, and agencies, both locally and nationally.

The fourth and final step is to create an enabling policy framework for open government.
Depending on the policy, the rules Federal agencies follow can be very relaxed or strict. This same principle can be applied to libraries. If your policy for communication with the general public was developed previously to MySpace and Facebook, two popular, older social networking technologies, it could be time to re-evaluate the policy. Patrons can now communicate with a librarian through face-to-face contact and virtual-to-face contact. Have you addressed this in your policy?

Just like Federal agencies, Federal depository libraries need to begin their own Open Government Directive. If we do not meet the public where they are and show them why our collections are special, we run the risk of being forgotten. Using social media technologies can help us stay connected to a citizenship that needs the provided information.

1 Orszag, P. R. (2009, December 8). Open Government Directive. Retrieved September 15, 2011, from The White House Web site:

2 Office of Management and Budget. (2002). Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, Utility and Integrity of Information Disseminated by Federal Agencies. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office.

3 University of South Alabama University Library. (n.d.). University of South Alabama Library. Retrieved September 16, 2011, from Facebook:

4 Tate, V. (2011, August 25). Gov Docs: Tax Information Resouces Guide. Retrieved September 16, 2011, from University of South Alabama University Library: