Robbie LaFleur, Director of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, has been named recipient of the 2008 Peter S. Popovich Award. The Popovich Award is given each year by the Minnesota Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists to “the person or organization that exemplifies the fight for First Amendment Rights.” SPJ will present the award at the 2008 Page One Awards Banquet on Thursday, June 12, at the Town & Country Club in St. Paul.
The award was named for the late Peter S. Popovich, a champion of open government during his years in the Minnesota House of Representatives, as the chief judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals and as the chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
In nominating LaFleur the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information noted that, “for nearly a decade Robbie has been Director of the Legislative Reference Library, the special library that serves members and staff of the Minnesota State Legislature. Though her primary clientele is the Legislature, Robbie has distinguished herself by always bearing in mind and addressing the needs of the public, including investigative journalists who are steady customers at the LRL.”

Nominators noted the immense technological changes that have occurred during LaFleur’s tenure. To address those changes “Robbie has participated in countless significant task forces and committees dealing with state information policy…Thus, the impact of her leadership extends far beyond the LRL and the Legislature.”

LaFleur and staff of the LRL have been honored with numerous awards and citations for excellence in the provision of access to government information.

For additional information contact:
Mary Treacy
Minnesota Coalition on Government Information
612 781 4234

COGI-tations – Patrice McDermott on June 9

COGI-tations: A program of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Patrice McDermott
Director, Open the Government

Monday, June 9, 2008 time: 5-7 p.m.

100 Murphy Hall, SJMC Conference Center
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
206 Church Street, Minneapolis
University of Minnesota East Bank Campus
( Parking in the Washington Ave or East River Road Ramp or try MTC! )

Since 2006 Patrice McDermott has been Director of Open the Government, one of Washington DC’s most effective advocacy organizations committed to transparency in government and an informed public. Previously Dr. McDermott served as Deputy Director of the Office of Government Relations at the American Library Association Washington Office and as the senior information policy analyst for OMB Watch.

Patrice earned her doctorate in political science from the University of Arizona and a Master of Science in Library and Information Management from Emory University. She is the author of several books including Who Needs to Know? The State of Public Access to Federal Government Information. Dr. McDermott is also a member of the prestigious National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame.

Sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information
Minnesota Journalism Center
Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law
Institute for New Media Studies
University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Free and Open to the Public Information:

Reminder: Still time to Register for Afloat on the Wireless Pond – Saturday, March 1

Minnesota’s Hidden Heroes in the News

  • There are many things about MinnPost that are worthy of note – the first rate team of investigative journalists, the style, the tone, the format. From my perspective as an information junky, MinnPost adds a subtle but significant spin by focusing not just on the news but on the behind-the-scenes work. Yesterday’s blog was about hidden heroes of Minnesota history; today’s MinnPost offers some timely examples:
  • There’s a great piece from the Minnesota Historical Society, a MinnPost partner, about how to locate death certificate information collected over the decades by meticulous government employees, now organized and made accessible through the Minnesota Historical Society. This incredible resource, representing countless hours of work by skilled and committed public servants, is now accessible on the web.
  • A second article describes the ways in which the Poetry Foundation is opening up its extensive, and carefully maintained, poetry collection by engaging comic strip illustrators to add their creative interpretation to sometimes inscrutable literary works. Somebody logged and indexed and catalogs those hundreds of thousands of poems now enhanced and shared online.
  • The third story spotlights a different “hidden heroine,” in this case a Spanish-English translator, a woman who connected the dots to solve the puzzle of the mysterious illness that struck packing house workers in Austin. If you ever want to observe the mind of a “hidden heroine” at work, here is a superb example
  • And finally, MinnPost itself plays an essential role by sharing this latent information with a readership that will use that information to achieve its potential. Today is just one example of an ongoing emphasis of the journal.

All of which raises digital age questions: How will MinnPost and other digital resources be preserved, organized, made accessible for future Minnesotans who want to know about what’s going on today? What is the public good of that preserved and organized information? What is the responsibility of public institutions to take the long view? How are we addressing the preparation of Minnesotans to understand the power of information or their information rights?

Announcing: Hidden Heroes of Minnesota History Wiki *

Minnesota Sesquicentennial Question: Who is a “hidden hero” of Minnesota history? How do we know what we know about our state? Who gathered all those files, that data, the maps, the diaries, the photos that tell the story, that give us a glimpse into our past? And who is doing that now in our digital age? What were the skills of the archivist? The selector? The curator? The indexer? The librarian? The genealogist? The publisher?

Most of all, who are these people. For the most part, they didn’t make history – and they surely didn’t make it into the history books — but they are essential links to understanding Minnesota at 150 years or at our Bicentennial in 2058.

These are the questions that keep coming to me as we’ve prepared for the March 2008 Afloat on the wireless pond conference. Compulsive surfer that I am I’ve sifted through the digital record to spot and shine a flicker of light on those hidden heroes and heroines. Knowing that I’m barely touching the surface, I’ve made no attempt to go beyond the digital record.

The Afloat conference is upon us now so I’m taking a break in the surfing expedition to post the little nuggets I’ve dug up so far. Just as the Minnesota History Center encourages the public to add to their Sesquicentennial wiki of famous folks I’m asking you to contribute to this mini-wiki by putting a name, maybe a face, on some of those self-effacing public servants, scholars, collectors, archivists, genealogists or much-maligned packrats who’ve seen to it that we know the stories. Be sure to include those who are exploring with gusto the ways in which information age technology is expanding and enhancing access.

That’s what the Afloat conference is all about – the jumpstart to a hidden hero wiki! Thanks for your help!

* My definition of “hero” is inclusive, particularly since an extraordinary number of these heroes are very female

Mary Treacy

Traditional Press & Bloggers Met Monday…

3-2-1 Dive into the wireless pond! It’s not too late to sign up for the “Afloat on the wireless pond” conference set for Saturday, March 1. Curious about the theme? Remember that the genesis of the idea emerged from the 2007 conference focused on Henry Thoreau’s little-known travels in Minnesota. The idea was, and is, Thoreau-inspired — a time, place and stimulus for Minnesotans to reflect on the reality of living in an information world. We spend far more time mastering the tools than giving a passing thought to the social, economic, political and aesthetic upheaval in which we float. The setting on the beautiful Luther Seminary campus sets the stage; the diverse presenters play unique roles – a geographer, data manager, philosopher, educator, city planner, poet, journalist and other thoughtful colleagues willing to share their expertise and their insights. How do you plan to spend the extra day this week? There’s still time to sign up.

The “traditional” press and the bloggers met Monday night in the opulent splendor of the new Minnesota Public Radio to share insights on standards and ethics in journalism. Bob Collins played the ringleader/MPR blogger role while guest Dan Gillmor focused on content. Gillmor has clearly given much thought to what is and what is possible to support an informed society — and a readership that wants to learn. Just about everybody had something to say – several men and at least four women (one a “panelist”) got to speak. Maybe it was the cold outside, but no one seemed in any hurry to leave, even after pretty much everything had been said. Many thanks to the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists which set the stage for this diverse audience. It’s the jumpstart of an essential and more substantive conversation, virtual or mano a mano. The questions raised, sometimes answered, testify to the need for more.

Molnau Sold Farm Near Road She Pushed.
Read this from the information access – investigative journalism – perspective.

For Political Candidates, Saying Can Become Believing. I’ve often thought about this because I sometimes tell a story with such enthusiasm and regularity that I believe it myself. In fact, it often gets better with the telling. Ask any storyteller or Irishman.
GAO Finds Data Protection Lagging The balance between openness and privacy is being played out in Congress. Minnesota’s very own Senator Norm Coleman, along with Susan Collins (R-ME), chairs the committee that called for a study of data protection after the 2006 theft of a data-laden computer from a VA employee. Collins notes that “the findings released in this report are very troubling — indicating that agency after agency has failed to make securing citizens’ personal information a high priority.”
Video on the Net: The Content Question, by Jeffrey A. Hart. On one level this isn’t specifically about access to government information, but it’s certainly grist for the mill of anyone who cares about an informed public. Hart offers a straightforward analysis of the topic, in layman’s terms.
On Tuesday, February 26, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on Electronic Records Preservation at the White House. The Committee, led by Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA-30), has been investigating what happened to millions of missing White House emails and what the White House is now doing to make sure it is preserving its records in compliance with the Presidential Records Act.

New from Sunshine Week — a new partnership with Helium that creates a special page where anyone can write about open government issues or this year’s election theme. The Sunshine Week promos on the SW website deserve an affirmative vote. Check them out.

They Also Serve Who Only Stand

The cadence doesn’t quite work, but it’s still a good idea. For a long time now I’ve been compiling what’s heretofore been known as “Hidden Heroes of Minnesota History”. It’s a Sesquicentennial diversion about which I’m getting more serious. Thus, I’m shedding the allegedly sexist “heroes” title for the more ubiquitous “They.” The point is the same:

We wouldn’t know about the Big Heroes if we didn’t have a legacy of countless unnamed heroes – individuals, organizations, funders, visionaries – who have pack ratted, collected, preserved, organized, tabulated, digitized, mapped, cataloged, indexed, reprinted, reformatted or otherwise opened the doors to the recorded history of our state — or the cosmos, for that matter.

The process of making history available demands vision, collaboration, and a commitment to the past and to the future. Headline seekers need not apply. If egomania is not your thing, you too can join the ranks of the “also servers” by adding to this fledgling compilation of hidden heroes, heroines, and heroic organizations.

I’m about to post my totally random compilation, leaving it to others to amend and/or organize the list. Most important, please add your suggestions by emailing me with a jot or a treatise describing the “also servers” who have opened the door for you.

Preserving Minnesota’s digital resources: Along similar lines, the Minnesota office of Enterprise Technology recently submitted a mandated report to the Minnesota Legislature. Preserving the Present: Creating, Accessing and Maintaining Minnesota’s Electronic Documents, now available online, reflects the collective work of the agency and a survey of stakeholders. Citing the dynamic nature of technology innovation, the report specifically declines to recommend the adoption of a particular format standard. The study concludes that “the choice or use of a standard must not be to adopt a standard for the sake of adopting a standard. Any choice must be in the context of what value such a decision adds to government.”

The report goes on to identify several concrete, practical steps that the state can take to address electronic records policy issues.

Our Cells, Ourselves. Joel Garreau of the Washington Post poses a whole lot of tough questions for a Sunday morning. Taking a global look at the impact of the cell phone, Garreau ponders the question of whether the cell phone, now a global factor, frees or tethers us. He doesn’t answer that question, either, but he does leave me turning it over in my mind. Turn your cell off for the few minutes it will take to read this thoughtful piece.

Quote: “When information which properly belongs to the public is systematically withheld by those in power, the people soon become ignorant of their own affairs, distrustful of those who manage them, and – eventually – incapable of determining their own destinies.” Pres. Richard Nixon, 1972

Scientists Call on next President to End Political Interference in Science; Guarantee Scientists’ Freedoms. A panel of leading scientists recently issued a significant call for openness at the annual conference of the AAAS (February 15). Speaking at the announcement event Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at UCS, observed that “good federal policy depends upon reliable and robust scientific work… When science is falsified, fabricated or censored, Americans’ health and safety suffer.”

Mary Treacy

Afloat in the Wireless Pond – A Week Away

Not your “in the box” day: We have room for a few more participants in the March 1 conference affectionately (?) known as “Afloat in the wireless pond.” All the details at If you’re looking for the same old, same old this is not your venue, but if you’re looking for original perspectives on our digital environment, check it out! Where else will you find a noted journalist, a geographer, a poet, a philosopher, a data manager, city planner, librarian and high school students – plus numerous demos and a room full of creative thinkers — all focused on the realities and possibilities of information age life in Minnesota. Note: Students are invited to participate at no charge.

Kind Words for COGI

It’s always great to receive a pat on the back – even better when the “patter” is held in high esteem — and better yet when you can share it….We rec’d this note today from the Free Government Information, i.e. the federal government document librarians .

In the spirit of openness, we’re sharing….We Salute MnCOGI by dcornwall

…About the only quibble we have with MnCOGI is that we believe that collection, maintenance and preservation of information are responsibilities too important to be left to each government office. They must be

assisted in those tasks by third parties with fewer axes to grind, like
libraries. But this is a minor quibble given the level of involvement by
libraries in MnCOGI.

One last thing we appreciate about MnCOGI is that they have signed up
nonlibrarian organizations like the MN Newspapers Association to their efforts.
Congratulations on that. Keep up your important work!

Thank you FGI – we appreciate your plaudits and take seriously your quibble.

Nominations open

Minnesotans promote and protect the right to know in strange and wondrous way. Think about the individuals and organizations that carry the torch in times of great social, political and technological change. You still have time to submit a nomination for the 19th annual John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award. Nominations due Monday, March 3. The awardee(s) will be honored at the annual Freedom of Information Day celebration on Friday, March 14, Noon at the Minneapolis Public Library.

State Highways and Bridges

Because the Minnesota Legislative Auditor’s Report on State Highways and Bridges grabbed all of the headlines today you probably know that it was little critical of MnDOT’s decisions and forthright communication with the public. Che

Come to hear more from Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles at the premier “COGI-tations” program sponsored by MnCOGI and Common Cause Minnesota – Tuesday, April 8, 5:00 p.m. at the TIES administrative office, Snelling and Larpenteur in St. Paul.