Issue 100, NOVEMBER 2003

Table of Contents

  1. Godort of Michigan Fall Meeting, Oct. 24, 2003
  2. MLA Program Report:
    Democratization of Government Data: Available But Useful?
    Navigating the Bureau of Labor Statistics Website
  3. Michigan Council of Depository Libraries Meeting, Nov. 7, 2003

(1) Godort of Michigan Fall 2003 Meeting

As one of her last documents activities in Michigan, Sharon Bradley put together a program on "How Things Are Done" on Friday, Oct. 24, at the Cooley Law School.

Featured speakers included: Professor Kathy Swedlow, Director of the Cooley Innocence Project, who provided us an overview and history of the Innocence Project; Josh Ard, Staff Counsel, Sixty Plus, Inc., Elderlaw Clinic, who gave us some practical advice on probate; and Sharon Bradley, who gave a presentation on Search Warrants, Subpoenas, and Library Records.

I especially enjoyed the presentation on the trials and tribulations of the Cooley Law School Innocence Project. Professor Swedlow explained all the complexities of establishing a program with the dual purpose of training Cooley Law School students about criminal procedures as well as having them review 800 potential cases where dna testing could potentially clear an inmate of a past crime.

The project faced a lot of challenges from the start. Under terms of the Michigan DNA Statute (2001), the staff only have five years to review, select, and challenge court decisions: from January 2001 to January 2006. The project also relies heavily on law student volunteers to conduct the necessary research. Needless to say law school students may not be available over the entire course of an investigation which can easily last a year and a half or more; they may not even be available the next month if they have to get ready for finals or the state bar exam and the like.

Each case selected to be investigated had to demonstrate four criteria before being pursued: 1) material evidence of a crime, 2) evidence was not available or explored at the time of the trial, 3) identity had to be an issue in the trial (the defendant had to profess innocense at the trial, and 4) evidence presented at the trial had to be still available.

As you can imagine, there are all kinds of problems investigating past events. Requests from inmates had to be investigated to see if they qualified. Students had to review trial records at the Hall of Justice here in Lansing to see if cases qualified. Original transcripts of the trials had to be tracked down; most have disappeared with the passage of time. Clients may not have the postage necessary to respond to an initial questionnaire. Clients may have preferred not to contest their trial results fearing an appeal might jeapardize their future parole hearings. Clients may have already been released from prison and so no longer qualified.

One of the successful cases mentioned by Professor Swedlow actually turned up in the Detroit Free Press shortly after her presentation. There is an article about Kenneth Wyniemko in the Detroit Free Press, Nov. 11, 2003, 1B and 4B, describing what it is like to be free after spending ten years in prison for an erroneous conviction.

Also since the presentation, the U.S. Congress House of Representatives has agreed to provide more than $1 billion for DNA testing to help prove the innocence of some death-row inmates and the guilt of rapists and killers who may have gone free. The proposed bill would fund, among other things: states' efforts to clear a backlog of about 350,000 untested samples in criminal laboratories, and testing costs for death-row inmates who say they are innocent.

Notes provided by Jon Harrison, Red Tape Editor.

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(2) Democratization of Government Data: Available But Useful?

Shawn Nicholson, Head of the Government Documents Library at MSU spoke on the topic, “Democratization of Government Data: Available But Useful?” at the recent Michigan Library Association annual conference. He discussed the ways that government information, although available, can be lost to the average patron who does not have the ability to wade through the “data smog” or “information overload.” We can all relate to that!

Shawn went on to present his model for making this task more manageable. He divided the process into four steps:

  • Find (ask/define what is wanted and who would likely collect that data)
  • Retrieve (need to think about time lag and geographical area and whether data is actually published)
  • Analyze (determine whether it fit needs and is unbiased or is there an ideology behind it)
  • Use (this is where we as librarians end our participation in the process because the patron has pre-determined the use of the data)

    In many instances, data collection and presentation is accessible, usable and comprehensible. Shawn used the Department of Treasury’s website as an example, focusing on cigarette taxes. The data was readily available and charts/tables were labeled in understandable language.

    He contrasted this with the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder. He pointed out ways in which it could be confusing to most users; for example, the many acronyms (“SF3”, “CDP”, “MSA”) and the unpredictable page design changes. (He had his entire presentation ready the weekend before MLA, and when he reviewed it prior to MLA, he noticed that the web page was very different from what he had captured for his presentation!) He noted that while the information may be accessible, it may not always be comprehensible. The abundance of acronyms and technical terminology (“thematic map”, “data classes”) can be intimidating as well.

    Shawn concluded that librarians can be bridges to the democratization of data, by helping people with accessing, retrieving and making sense of the data that the government has published, no matter what the format.

    Report supplied by Catherine Federspiel, Reference Librarian, Macomb County Library, 16480 Hall Road, Clinton Twp., MI 48038; Telephone: (586) 286-6660; Fax: (586) 412-5958; Email: federcm@yahoo.com.

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    (3) Navigating the Bureau of Labor Statistics Website

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics is part of the Department of Labor, and is a fact finding, rather than a policy-setting, agency. They use a variety of data sources; from data collected by field agents, to data reported by each State.

    Ronald Guzicki, Regional Economist with the BLS in the Chicago office, spoke at the MLA conference and walked attendees through the BLS website. The website can be somewhat overwhelming, but it is a treasure trove of economic and labor information.

    Many of the most popular statistics can be found in the center of the main page in a box labeled “Latest Numbers”. The current Consumer Price Index (CPI), unemployment rate, Producer Price Index (PPI), Employment Cost Index (EPI) are all found here.

    Historical numbers are also available on the site. For example, clicking on Consumer Price Index under Inflation and Consumer Spending (on the left hand side of the page) brings up a page with more in-depth information on the CPI. A box on the right has current numbers and a link, marked with a dinosaur icon, to 10-year historical data by month. The historical numbers are displayed as a graph and a table. The table, as are all tables on the site, can be copied and pasted into an Excel document.

    The At a Glance Tables (on the right hand side of the page) allow a user to quickly get to all tables that are available, without having to go to each individual indicator’s page.

    Users can also create customized tables. Get Detailed Statistics, which is along the top of the page, links to a page from which a variety of tables are accessed. The Customized Tables link goes to a form that allows a user to create a table based on a variety of indicators. Once the table is created different formatting can be chosen, such as years to include.

    Many of the formerly print publications of the BLS can now be found under Publications and Research Papers. The Occupational Outlook Handbook, Monthly Labor Review, and Occupational Outlook Quarterly are among the publications available here. The BLS is trying to put all their back issues on the web. Some titles are available back to 1975.

    The BLS also collects international labor and economic statistics. These can be 2 months old and come from foreign agencies comparable to the BLS.

    Obviously, from looking at the BLS homepage, there is a lot more information available. Take a deep breath and dive in!

    Report provided by Jocelyn Shaw, Librarian and Web Mistress, Hackley Public Library, 316 W Webster Ave., Muskegon, MI 49441; Email: jshaw@hackleylibrary.org.

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    (4) Michigan Council of Depository Libraries Meeting

    The Michigan Council of Depository Libraries meeting was held at Central Michigan University on November 7, 2003.

    Becky Cawley, Statewide Databases Administrator for the Library of Michigan, provided an overview on the Michigan Electronic Library (MeL) in general and then focused on describing MelCat in detail (the statewide catalog and resource sharing part of MeL). MelCat offers the possibility of retrospective conversion of individual documents collections as well as the mutual benefits of cooperative retrospective cataloging and collaborative maintenance (holdings and URLs). She encouraged documents librarians to be involved in implementation committees and involved in the setup (identify targets, catalog formats, search issues, etc).

    Michael Samson, Documents Librarian, reported that the Wayne State Law Library just finished the first phase of a process of moving towards a more electronic depository law library. As a result, his library has reduced selection from 31% to 7%. There was no discussion of the possible impact on users, as the focus of the presentation was on portals. The speaker demonstrated work portals and tools for managing depository operations and keeping current. Tools used or mentioned include CatchTheWeb, Powermarks, Adobe Acrobat 6.0 (full version). RSS Internet agents AmphetaDesk and NewsGator were introduced as examples of new ways to share information in real-time. Michael wishes GPO and state agencies would develop RSS feeds for documents as this would be an excellent promotional and current awareness tool. He also complimented Red Tape!

    The State Plan for Federal Depository Libraries has been substantially revised. It is much less prescriptive than the old one and was generally well-received by attendees.

    The question concerning the composition of the Michigan Council of Depository Libraries was raised with no immediate resolution. The group felt this could not be resolved until more information about the future of the regionals was known. Other issues raised were whether representation by geography and/or library type needed to be considered, the total number of Council members, and the balance of regionals to selectives, appointment by State Librarian or ballot.

    General News:

  • All Michigan depository library inspections are now complete with 3 public libraries currently on probation.
  • At least for the time being, there is no Regional Depository Librarian at Detroit Public Library.
  • Ray Dickinson (Ferris State) is the first librarian to be awarded Ferris' Distinguished Teacher Award.

    Report provided by Hui Hua Chua, U.S. Documents Librarian, Michigan State University Libraries; Phone: 517-432-6123 ext. 109; Fax: 517-432-1192; Email: chua@mail.lib.msu.edu

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    Jon Harrison : Page Editor
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    Michigan State University Libraries
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    Last revised 11/14/03