INTERVIEW: Francis J. Buckley Jr., federal document czar

GPO strives to mesh print, online data

Francis J. Buckley Jr.

Francis J. Buckley Jr. left Shaker Heights, Ohio, in December 1997 to become the Government Printing Office's superintendent of documents. Buckley had been the director of the Shaker Heights Public Library for three years prior to heading to the nation's capital.

Between 1966 to 1994, Buckley worked in a series of jobs at the Detroit Public Library, taking off two years for a stint with the Army, including a tour in Vietnam.

He earned his bachelor's degree and a master's in library science from the University of Michigan.

A member of the American Library Association, Buckley has served on several committees, including the Government Documents Round Table, the Ad Hoc Committee to Form a Coalition on Government Information and the Legislation Committee.

Buckley also has written and spoken extensively on the importance of ensuring public access to government information.

GCN staff writer Tony Lee Orr interviewed Buckley by telephone.

GCN: How big a role do electronic documents play in the general scheme of things at the Government Printing Office?

BUCKLEY: The responsibility that I have is for distribution of government information to depository libraries, the sales program'which sells tangible publications'and our GPO Access program in general'which is the distribution and indexing to electronic publications that by and large are replacing the tangible publications.

So, since 1984, we've been in major migration in the depository library program from tangible distribution to electronic online access. We now are distributing more than 60 percent of the publications'I still use the antique term 'publications''as online items, as opposed to sending out the tangible publications.

This has been done partly with materials that we put up on our own servers here at GPO. The production department in conjunction with the printing processes does this because some of these things, such as the Congressional Record and Federal Register, we print ourselves.

These items are both printed and mounted electronically for access. They are made available to other agencies for use as well, such as the Library of Congress' Thomas system [].

Through our online service, GPO Access [], we catalog and provide links to a great many other publications that have been put up by other agencies on their Web sites. We make available over 200,000 titles through GPO Access. We have approximately 120,000 items on our own Web servers and link to another 80,000 publications.

GCN: How has online access affected use?

BUCKLEY: The depository program distributes about 29,000 tangible titles to 1,321 depository libraries. There is a multiplier effect as to how many times they are used in depository libraries. The titles that we have online were downloaded 32 million times in April.

We've seen just huge exponential use, not only by depository libraries but by citizens, companies and people from around the world who now have much better access to the titles electronically.

That is only the use that we track on our own servers. We are unable to track how much use is made of the agency Web sites that we link to or how much use those sites may get directly that doesn't come through us. So, this electronic transition is having a significant impact on the accessibility of government information for everyone.

But I always have to caution that we can't forget every citizen, and not every citizen is linked to the Internet. So some of the titles we distribute are not available in electronic format, and some titles we distribute in electronic format because that is the way they are going to be used the most.

GCN: How does this affect GPO's mission?

BUCKLEY: Our mission is the same: to try to make government information available. And historically, in the era when everything was printed and everything came through the Government Printing Office, it was very easy for us to manage agencies' printing requisitions and just produce extra copies for depository libraries.

In this new environment, where agencies put many electronic files up independently and there is no need to go through the printing process, we have a more difficult time identifying all the publications that we must provide to the public and depository libraries. But we do have'under Title 44 of the U.S. Code'the responsibility to catalog and index government publications in all formats and then to make sure that they are accessible to depositories.

So one of our big concerns is the permanent preservation, for public access, of electronic data that is up now.

GCN: How do you do that when methods of storing electronic data change so rapidly?

BUCKLEY: We are working cooperatively with the National Archives and Records Administration, the Library of Congress and other national libraries to share strategies, techniques and developments that may help us. In fact, we host a quarterly meeting with representatives from these agencies.


  • Age: 58

  • Car currently driven: Buick LeSabre

  • Favorite Web site:

  • Military Service: Army, one year in Vietnam in Army library

  • Leisure activities: Reading, traveling, gardening'particularly orchids and other houseplants

  • Best job: Librarian

  • We are taking action in the sense that as we set up our own digital archive, we set up two programs for those publications that we don't have on our own servers and therefore don't control. We have partnership agreements with some agencies so that if they ever take their information down, they will give us a source file should we ever need to take over management of the information ourselves. It is a commitment to maintenance by an agency.

    In the case where an agency would turn the information over to us, we would look to see if we could mount it ourselves. We also have a series of partnership agreements with participating depository libraries, which might agree to mount some of these files.

    For instance, the University of North Texas runs a cybercemetery for us that hosts the electronic files of agencies that no longer exist. Those things range from the Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, which ceased several years ago, to the National Performance Review, which went out of business in January.

    We also are copying the Web sites of agencies that we don't have agreements with in cases where we consider the information fragile or in jeopardy. We copy these things with the date that we catalog the data, and we create a PURL'a permanent URL'so that if the agency takes down the publication and the old URL doesn't work, we can reroute the traffic to our digital archive.

    All of this is to capture the information currently. But the answer to the point you raised about changing technology is one we don't have. We don't know what the changes will be, and we've got to capture the data now to have it to preserve.

    GCN: Has the electronic age brought a cultural change to GPO?

    BUCKLEY: The impact of electronics on the printing side of GPO grew as agencies began using electronic applications to provide more data for printing. And as the printing processes moved into an electronic environment, expertise grew on the printing side and is now being applied to producing information for use on the Internet.

    There has had a ripple effect in terms of skills, training and reorganization throughout the organization. And it has had a tremendous impact on the libraries. We went through the transition phase of floppies and CDs, but the majority of the information is online, which means that libraries have had to acquire new hardware, connectivity and training.

    GCN: What type of security measures do you take to protect your data?

    BUCKLEY: We are very, very security-conscious of our Web site. We are careful about security in terms of firewalls and access to the data because our systems are connected to legislative systems.

    GCN: Has your site ever been hacked?

    BUCKLEY: There have been, I think, attempts, but nothing major has ever happened. After all, we give people information. We put it out in databases that they can access.


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