Oregon State University
D-Lib Magazine, March 1996
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, Oregon State University Libraries has developed a World Wide Web site to provide remote access to government information. The Government Information Sharing Project allows anyone with an internet connection and a Web browser to access these government resources issued in CD-ROM (compact disc) format. Through a user-friendly graphical interface, users query data which are extracted from the CD, compiled, and presented on-the-fly at impressive speed. The project's URL is: http://govinfo.kerr.or st.edu
The Government Information Sharing Project evolved around the goals of both convenient and broad access to government information, especially for the general public and remote users. It aimed to demonstrate that CD- ROM access could be provided through the Web, with a more user-friendly interface to government databases. In contrast to the DOS-based software, the project's interface offers point-and-click selection, clickable maps and icons, searchable report text and searchable documentation. In addition, the Web interface allows the convenience of remote access to multiple databases in one location. The project's success in demonstrating a user-friendly interface is evidenced by the number of other sites already linking to it (about 200). The site's pages receive over 13,000 accesses per week. An on-line survey will be conducted to follow up an initial survey of government documents librarians regarding user needs and government CD-ROMs.
The technical challenges to offering CD-ROM data through the Web began with connecting multiple CD-ROM drives (currently forty-nine) to the project server. Developers then adapted the DBUTIL software by Nathan Parker at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories to retrieve 1990 Census of Population and Housing Summary Tape File (STF) reports. For other CD-ROMs in dBASE format, subroutines from DBUTIL's dBASE library were adapted to open, index and read data files. New dataset-specific software needed to be created for all other data access and compilation, as did cgi-bin scripts for the Web interface. In the case of the Census Bureau's Population Estimates by Age, Sex and Race, the ASCII data file was reformatted as an indexed dBASE file and summary statistics and reports were created.
The broad user audience of the site has ranged from libraries to businesses, researchers, schools, journalists and local governments. Potential and reported applications include education, quick access to useful statistics, community development and electronic democracy projects. As of February, 1996, the site offers nine major databases and continues to grow.
In the area of demographics, the U.S. Census Bureau's USA Counties compiles useful social, economic and governmental information spanning several years and sources for all U.S. counties. The 1990 Census of Population and Housing STF3A and STF1B reports are available for the Northwest and will be expanded to all states. The Census Bureau's Population Estimates by Age, Sex and Race for states and counties between 1990 and 1992 are also on-line.
Economic databases available include the Regional Economic Information System (REIS), from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the 1992 Economic Census, 1992 Census of Agriculture and 1994 U.S. Imports/Exports History, from the Census Bureau. The 1994 Consolidated Federal Funds Report (CFFR) from the Census Bureau covers Federal Government expenditures by program to the city and township level of detail.
In the educational field, the new School District Data Book, an information resource of the National Center for Educational Statistics (Department of Education), offers social, administrative and financial profiles on each school district in the nation.
In addition to the CD-ROMs, the home page includes links to other government data available on the Internet, such as legislative information, texts of bills, regulations and court decisions.
A second related project is to help public libraries in Oregon access the Internet. The OSU Government Information Sharing Project is cooperating with the State Library of Oregon and PORTALS (a Portland-area consortium of universities and libraries) to provide hardware, software and training to small and rural school and public libraries in Oregon that have limited or no access to the Internet. This joint venture is part of a larger "Oregon Internet Connectivity Grant Program" administered by the State Library of Oregon.