Bridging the Digital Divide: State Government as Content Provider, The Illinois Experience
First Monday

Bridging the Digital Divide: State Government as Content Provider, The Illinois Experience by Anne Craig

Three National Leadership Grants (NLG) (http://www.imls.gov/grants/library/lib_nlgl.asp) from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) provide the foundation for the Find-It! Illinois Program (http://finditillinois.org) at the Illinois State Library (ISL):

  • Grant One: "Exporting Washington State's GILS" (October 1998-September 1999)
  • Grant Two: "Find-It! Illinois" (October 1999-September 2001)
  • Grant Three: "Metadata Tools for State Collaboration" (October 1999-September 2001)

Based on the successful Government Information Locator Service (GILS) program at the Washington State Library (WSL) (http://find-it.state.wa.us/compass), the ISL began a GILS program of its own in the fall of 1999. State-level GILS projects around the country, based at state libraries and some state archives, are distilled from the federal GILS model (http://www.gils.net/). State GILS programs provide a resource discovery methodology for electronic state government information. Each program includes components for access, organization, design, standard metadata creation, state agency Webmaster education and training, and interface development. Essentially, the state libraries and archives involved in these projects act as clearinghouses for and gateways to electronic state government information.

Grant One, awarded to the WSL, provided the ISL and three other state libraries, (Oregon, New Hampshire, and Arizona), with the model framework for starting a GILS program. Grant Two, awarded to the ISL, provided development dollars for the fledgling ISL program Find-It! Illinois. Grant Three, awarded to the WSL and contracted in part to the ISL, provides funding for the enhancement of metadata interoperability and the application of a consortial subject tree.

In Illinois, providing access to electronic state government content is manifest not only in the establishment of the ISL GILS program, but also in the creation of the other databases that comprise the Find-It! Illinois portal. Interoperability among these Find-It! virtual libraries will be enhanced by the application of a single controlled vocabulary for subject searching, called the "Jessica Tree." Additionally, work is underway to establish the Jessica Tree as the standard list for state GILS programs with the goal of promoting interstate interoperable subject searching.

Contents

Content in Electronic State Government Information
Why Users Ask for State Government Information
State Government Content vis-à-vis the Digital Divide
Overview of Find-It! Illinois
Goals for Find-It! Illinois
Find-It! America
What We Have and How We Get It: The Find-It! Illinois Approach
To Convert or Not to Convert: Spelunking in the ISL Stacks
Including Web Content in IGI
Outreach to State Agency Webmasters
The Bottom Line: Our Mission Statement

 

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Content in Electronic State Government Information

State government produces great quantities of Web content. In Illinois, the Find-It! Illinois Web search facility indexes approximately 150,000 distinct URLs. Agencies, boards, commissions, and other groups tangential to state government, create these resources. Content format and the underlying platforms used to create each resource, vary widely because few standards exist for resource design. Additionally, Web content creators have very different levels of knowledge about methods of information retrieval. The lack of widespread appreciation of complex access issues, such as permanent public access, accessibility for the disabled, and standardized metadata, also adds chaos to resource presentation and organization. As true with much of the Web in general, state government Web sites have grown so rapidly in response to user demand that organization has suffered from the absence of a premeditated design or forecast for development.

 

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Why Users Ask for State Government Information

Experience with ISL users reveals that the primary use for state documents is not entertainment, but utility. For example, most Find-It! Illinois customers want to get a permit, a license, or to check a census figure; they come to the Web site with targeted queries. For this reason, ease of navigation and quick, accurate retrieval are the primary goals of the GILS programs. Clearly, as state governments replace hard-copy with electronic formats, there is a vacuum in the area of retrieval methodology. State libraries, traditionally the organizations that fulfilled this role in the paper world, are establishing GILS projects to meet users' needs. Public service, initially a concept that did not transfer easily from the reference room to the interaction between a Web user and a site, is now manifest in GILS program design and goals.

 

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State Government Content vis-à-vis the Digital Divide

Although the concept of the "digital divide" is usually defined as the economic, social, and cultural barriers to electronic information, state GILS programs attempt to resolve a divide between the users and their access to online content. The challenge facing state library GILS programs (and state government in general) is to ensure that the content is universally accessible and complete. Standards organizations have begun to address issues of Web accessibility.

Completeness, however, is an elusive goal and proves quite difficult to achieve in the arena of electronic state government information. Many state documents published on the Web only as serials were traditionally disseminated in hard copy. Providing Web access to retrospective holdings is difficult because it involves digitally imaging older materials. Because the value of a serial publication is frequently measured in its retrospective completeness, the dilemma of shifting formats automatically widens the digital divide between information seekers and access to the information they need. Adding to the problem, many state agency Web content creators provide no access to deleted Web information. ISL surveys show that state government is rushing to provide everything on the Web with no consideration of long-term access or precision discovery.

 

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Overview of Find-It! Illinois

To date, the Find-It! Illinois Program is comprised of three major sections, the Illinois Digital Archives (IDA); the Virtual Illinois Catalog (VIC); and the Illinois Government Information site (IGI), the ISL's GILS program. The second IMLS NLG provided funding to enrich these virtual libraries.

  • IDA is the Web based portal to digital images in Illinois, with searchable database records.
  • VIC is the ISL's Web interface to twelve different consortial catalogs in Illinois, containing bibliographic records and holdings from approximately 800 libraries.
  • IGI is the ISL's GILS program that currently indexes about 150,000 distinct URLs.

In late 1999, the ISL hired professional lexicographer Dr. Jessica Milstead (http://jelem.com/) to write a subject tree that could be used by all state GILS projects for the purposes of resource description. The resulting product, the "Jessica Tree," is at http://www.finditillinois.org/metadata/webmasters.htm The implementation of a consortial subject tree will facilitate interoperability for subject searching. Using an existing established vocabulary such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), presented a variety of problems, in that no scheme was designed in content or structure for state government Web documents. Yet, some form of controlled language was necessary to facilitate precision retrieval.

Additionally, sharing a single controlled language set is a vital underpinning for interstate interoperability among GILS programs. State government information seekers usually want to know what other states are doing about issues currently confronting government, such as spending tobacco settlement money, charter schools, or health care reform. Because state government information is most highly valued by users when it can be compared to other states' activities, such interstate interoperability is highly desirable.

The IMLS awarded Grant Three to the WSL, in part to promote interstate implementation of a common subject hierarchy. The goal is to facilitate interstate interoperability for the future. The ISL, which had been seeking to encourage the development of a common controlled vocabulary, eagerly contracted with the WSL to take on the task. A survey instrument has been designed and distributed to every state, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The response will help gauge the current status of GILS and similar programs in each jurisdiction, and the receptiveness or obstacles to the adoption of a consortial subject tree. The survey results will be discussed at the Third Annual GILS Conference held in Springfield, Illinois in late March 2001.

 

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Goals for Find-It! Illinois

From its inception, Find-It! Illinois has been an ambitious program, whereby the ISL charge has been to provide a service that would "delight the user." The sustained vision of the staff lies beyond simply meeting the immediate requirements of the 1995 state legislative mandate that dictates the ISL's responsibility for providing public access to electronically published state documents. Of course, fulfilling the requirements of the two-year IMLS NLG is a top priority. However, in the longer view, a major goal is to allow users to move seamlessly between services (IGI, VIC, and IDA), offering maximum information on various subjects in multiple formats and from the complete range of databases and collections. That goal is based on the conviction that information seekers do not care where or in what format the information comes from. Rather, they want reliable information quickly. Use of the Jessica Tree for all Find-It! Illinois libraries will facilitate interoperable searching at this level. Additionally, the interstate adoption of a consortial subject tree is a major goal because it is key to supplying information to our users, no matter what state originated it. All of these goals are unified by one overarching goal: Provide access to information for the citizens!

 

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Find-It! America

The collaborative use of a consortial subject tree is an essential component of the "plug and play" Find-It! America concept. This concept is the vision of interoperable searching among state systems, based on uniform standards, profiles and best practices. An apt example of this type of interoperability is the Z39.50 standard because it illustrates the amazing possibilities for query and retrieval across dissimilar systems while simultaneously demonstrating the problems and frustrations if systems do not share the same profile of the standard.

Find-It! America is envisioned as the product of cooperative efforts, not an organizational structure. As the state GILS programs move forward and continue to share the successes and disappointments of experience, a body of common standards, profiles and best practices will accrue and be available for any jurisdiction that wishes to implement a state GILS project. In effect, this collection would become a "plug and play" scheme enabling faster, less costly start-up. Find-It! America also represents an acknowledgement that cooperative efforts exhibit responsible stewardship of limited state and federal resources.

 

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What We Have and How We Get It: The Find-It! Illinois Approach

The ISL Find-It! Illinois program focuses on maximizing content discovery, capture, and access. The content for IGI and IDA comes from two sources: electronic resources whether on the Web or sent to the ISL in some storage medium; and paper-based materials, which are digitally imaged.

A strong outreach program, which is part of IGI, solicits Webmaster cooperation in implementing uniform metadata tagging. That is, Webmasters or authors embed content description in the electronic file in a standard, machine-readable way to allow fielded searching. The ISL provides a tool, the Metadata Generator, http://www.finditillinois.org/metadata/webmasters.htm, to ensure that the metatagging process is as quick and easy as possible. The response of the agency Webmasters has been overwhelmingly positive; they want users to find their content and recognize the benefits of cooperation.

Further, the strategy includes implementing a technology as part of the IGI search facility that does machine indexing. Based on a set of algorithmic rules, the system analyzes content harvested from State of Illinois Web servers and sorts resources into subject categories that correspond to the Jessica Tree. This sorting gives the user the option of browsing subject headings and narrowing the search without the need for knowledge of the controlled vocabulary. The IGI search facility also blends with these two methods, i.e., subject classification based on metadata values and machine indexing, traditional keyword searching capability.

 

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To Convert or Not to Convert: Spelunking in the ISL Stacks

"Have you heard that the Library of Congress is digitizing all of its materials to offer on the Web?" Misconceptions like this spread because it seems plausible to those who do not comprehend the process and complexity of digital imaging, and especially, authoring intellectual access tools. For institutions that choose to serve content online, finding grant dollars for digitization, making decisions about physical preservation of the original, and identifying materials that are "significant" is an enormous undertaking. It is necessary to determine which materials are worth the resources that would be required to digitize them.

The ISL has developed the following selection criteria for its IDA program. Each of these factors is considered carefully prior to making the decision to digitally imaging a title from the ISL collection:

  1. Citizen demand;
  2. Physical condition;
  3. Shift in format;
  4. Significance to agencies;
  5. Access and availability; and,
  6. Copyright considerations.

The Digital Imaging Program at the ISL has several basic components. IDA, the Web site for presentation of digitally imaged government documents, and index to digital imaging projects funded by ISL grant dollars. The ISL received a $75,000 grant from the Illinois Board of Higher Education that was used to outsource the digital imaging of the complete runs of the Illinois Blue Book and the Handbook of Illinois Government. ISL staff also scans smaller quantities of materials in-house.

This fall, when imaging grants are awarded, the ISL will sponsor digital imaging bootcamps for grantees, modeled after the Cornell University workshop, "Moving Theory into Practice: Digital Imaging for Libraries and Archives" (http://www.library.cornell.edu/preservation/workshop/). The bootcamps are in response to an ISL assessment that past imaging grants have been inconsistent in terms of quality of product and use of funding. The 1998/1999 grants (a moratorium has been in effect since 1999) lacked coordination of subject orientation. Additionally, grantees underestimated the difficulty of the projects; few projects had built in intellectual access points or historically documented technique and procedure.

An ISL goal is for all imaging projects in the state's cultural organizations to be available through IDA. Only imaging grant recipients can be mandated to comply with program structure, so the ISL will extend the following benefits for all imaging projects as part of participation in IDA:

  • IDA offers uniform search strategies in terms of consistency with other libraries in Find-It! Illinois;
  • The ISL/Secretary of State has available server space and a protected environment;
  • The Digital Imaging Program offers proven methodology, which will lessen the impact and stress of having to learn technical information without guidance;
  • The bootcamps will be available in some manner for Illinois projects that are non-grantees;
  • The ISL has developed Best Practices for Scanning; these guidelines will be reviewed as part of the bootcamp curriculum (http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/library/digital/guidelines.html#Best Practices); and,
  • The bootcamps will include the provision of tools for compliance with the Best Practices

The ISL awarded to the University of Illinois Digital Imaging Institute an LSTA grant for the purpose of bootcamp curriculum development, which will include hands-on and Web-based components. Attendance will be mandatory for successful imaging grant applicants. The Best Practices were developed based on recommendations from the University of California at Berkeley Library and other academic research facilities' projects. All benchmarking is based on Cornell's research.

 

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Including Web Content in IGI

The success of any state GILS program is based on involvement from state agency Webmasters. Webmaster participation is crucial in order to build a body of metadata in the IGI index. In order to begin the ISL GILS program (IGI), partnerships were started. ISL staff began by identifying state agency librarians who could establish a liaison with their own agency's Webmasters. ISL staff also began program activities by identifying agencies with lots of Web content, presumably the creators most invested in resource discovery, and attempting to get their practices to comply with the IGI.

 

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Outreach to State Agency Webmasters

One of the strengths of the state GILS projects is the emphasis on partnering with state agency Webmasters. The GILS staff benefits from the partnership because there is value in embedding the metadata at the point of origin, both because the agencies creating the content better understand how it fits into the subject tree, and because the labor to relocate and index Web pages is usually not available.

The partnership benefits agencies because libraries and archives have a history of customer service experience that can be shared with Web content creators to help meet user needs. The culture of state government cultivates the value of enhancing the image of public officials, often under strict time constraints. Bridging the digital divide between users and online information has involved encouraging a new awareness among Webmasters concerning download times, interface accessibility for the disabled, and clear navigation tools. The partnership enables all parties involved to better serve the public.

Benefits to Agencies

If cooperation from the Webmasters is to be expected, it is the library's responsibility to clearly articulate how value is added to agency information already on the Web. Fortunately, that is not an onerous task.

  • First, offer the improved access of the triple search strategy for agency employees and their constituents.
  • Second, share the librarians' experience of the users viewpoint that promises improved Web information presentation.
  • Third, educate concerning the uniformity of metadata and controlled vocabulary, which results in consistent, precise retrieval that most netizens have never thought possible.
  • Fourth, tout the tremendous value in uninterrupted runs of titles from paper-based beginnings through current Web presentations to future archiving of electronic versions.
  • Fifth, relate the vision of interstate searching that beacons in the future!
  • Sixth, make it easy!

Following is a communication piece from the ISL to Webmasters:

Dear Webmaster,

Look at what our program can do:

  • Help you find your own agency's material easier.
  • Archive your material.
  • Provide subject access to your documents.
  • Provide feedback to you about your users' needs.

We'll make it as easy as possible by providing you with an online, automatic metadata generator that has pull-down menus to select headings from a subject tree and support from ISL staff. Don't tag everything; we'll help you decide where to begin.

P.S.: Did we mention that we share missions: getting information to public and serving constituencies?

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The Bottom Line: Our Mission Statement

Find-It! Illinois is dedicated to providing permanent public access to government and library information free of charge, free of copyright restrictions and organized in a user-friendly way. End of article

 

About the Author

Anne Craig has been employed since 1989 by the Illinois State Library in Springfield, a Department of the Office of the Secretary of State and State Librarian, Jesse White. She has served as Associate Director for Library Automation and Technology since July 1999, the head of the Reference Department from 1993-1999, and ILLINET/OCLC Services Coordinator from 1990-1993. Ms. Craig is part of the ten-member Find-It! Illinois team under the leadership of Jean Wilkins, Director of the Illinois State Library.
E-mail: Acraig@ilsos.net


Editorial history

Paper received 5 March 2001; accepted 16 March 2001.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2001, First Monday

Bridging the Digital Divide: State Government as Content Provider, The Illinois Experience by Anne Craig
First Monday, volume 6, number 4 (April 2001),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue6_4/craig/index.html





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