Thoughts at the end of an information shutdown

Now that the government shutdown is finally over, I thought I’d take a moment of my Friday to reflect on how it affected me personally and LIS institutions broadly over the last few weeks.

Cataloging

Many cataloging students in my library school were affected when Library of Congress sites went down at the start of the shutdown. Looking for LC subject headings? Head elsewhere! This came to a head for me when a graduate worker at my library couldn’t use the LOC site to find subject headings for an archival processing project. Luckily our university can afford to subscribe to a product called Cataloger’s Desktop (which has LC subject heading info) and I was able to direct her to it. But other smaller libraries & archives were probably out of luck for the duration of the shutdown.

Census Data

I’m in a GIS (geographic information systems) course this semester and many of our assignments involve downloading data from government websites. Thus, when census.gov went down, our professor was forced to scramble to find alternative data sets and tables for us to use to complete our assignments and tutorials.

Gimme that census map data. I need it! (Image source: census.gov)

Social Services

Another student in my Community Informatics class who completes his service learning at the Urbana Free Library (as I do) commented that the library saw a huge spike in patrons needing help with online social services forms (as the local in-person offices were closed due to the shutdown). An effect I had not considered: that public libraries become harbors in the uncertain/murky waters of a government shutdown.

Final Thoughts

While there are certainly many other fields that the shutdown affected in more serious ways (e.g. federal research money for medical trials), the 16-day shutdown definitely took its toll on the LIS field. We look to our national library and archive for standards, practices, and data that suddenly could not be accessed. And part of our job is to help others access information, much of which was completely cut off during the shutdown. For us, the last few weeks were a partial information blackout that affected librarians and our patrons. Hard to understand how our politicians could let us get to such a place and could consider information a “non-essential” service; I beg to differ.

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