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Book Review: Managing Electronic Government Information in Libraries

Sylvie Lafortune reviews a book which addresses the following question: From e-government to t-government. How will libraries keep up?

Today, most governments in developing countries provide essential services and information to their citizens exclusively via the World Wide Web. The benefit of this new means of dissemination is that information is current, available 247 and for the most part, downloadable. The downside of this model is that government Web pages are unstable and not always well designed, often making information difficult to locate. This new ‘digital government information environment’ poses a myriad of challenges which this book addresses. By now, some of you may be wondering ‘what is a t-government?’ It is a government which offers ‘sophisticated interactive and transactional capacities across a broad range of services.’ [1]

Overview and Content

Andrea Morrison has compiled 16 insightful texts written by 18 government information experts who have all been involved with the Government Documents Round Table (GODORT), an active section of the American Library Association. The book is an in-depth examination of the emergence of e-government primarily in the U.S. but also in other countries and within international organisations. There is valuable practical guidance for implementing and improving digital government collections and services. In her preface, Morrison states that the major theme in this work is the ‘future role of libraries in managing digital government information’. This is done first by considering the major issues and then by having a look at current practices.

Some of the Issues Addressed

One of the most pressing issues that libraries face when dealing with digital government information is preservation. As online resources disappear or are rapidly updated, it is currently impossible to guarantee access to them in the future. Fortunately, two chapters are devoted to this topic and they describe major collaborative projects such as LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe), the CyberCemetary and the Web-at-Risk which deal with the problem of e-government information. Another equally important issue for libraries is providing access to e-government information to diverse and underserved populations. These include populations with either low income, low-level literacy skills or limited language skills, all of which drive the disparity of computer use.

Other issues examined are variable government information policies (or the absence thereof) which are now irrevocably driven by technology and the increasing use of electronic government spatial information, presently distributed as maps in PDF format or as geospatial data on CD-ROM, DVD or from government Web sites. According to the author of this chapter, in the U.S. alone, ‘32 government agencies, produce some sort of spatial information, either maps or data.’ (p. 37) Needless to say, spatial information adds to the complexity of service requirements.

Some Innovative Practices

The second part of the book provides an interesting analysis of how libraries are currently adapting to the new digital government information environment. This ranges from collection development to processing – for optimal resource discovery and retrieval – to reference and instruction services. For most libraries, the change in distribution has meant a change in providing reference and instruction. There is a definite trend towards integration of government information services within general information services. Separate chapters deal with various levels of government such as local, regional, foreign countries and international government organisations. In this second part, the reader will find numerous case studies, lists of recommended resources and Web sites and lists of criteria or steps to consider when planning or reorganising e-government information services.


This book is a ‘must-have’ for all libraries. It provides a comprehensive description of current trends in government information dissemination. It gives references to most, if not all, reputable government and non-government collaborative initiatives involved in producing, distributing and archiving e-government information worldwide. The chapters are cross-referenced and contain detailed notes and up-to-date references as well as a useful list of abbreviations which abound in this area. Although this work focuses on the American landscape, this reflects the fact that the U.S. government remains the largest publisher in the world.


  1. Accenture. 2005. Leadership in Customer Service: New Expectations, New Experiences.

Author Details

Sylvie Lafortune
Government Information and Data Librarian
J. N. Desmarais Library
Laurentian University
Sudbury, Ontario

Email: slafortune@laurentian.ca

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