Catching Fugitives with Zotero

Written by: Julia Frankosky

Primary Source: Digital Scholarship Collaborative Sandbox

When you think ‘fugitive’, the first thing that probably comes to mind is a criminal on the run from the law. In the world of government documents, however, the term ‘fugitive’ has a totally different meaning. Libraries participating in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) receive federal government publications from the Government Publishing Office (GPO). GPO gets the publications directly from the agencies and then sends them to these depository libraries to ensure public access to and preservation of information. However, there are instances in which agencies publish documents, but these publications never make their way to GPO for whatever reason. Because of this, these documents never get distributed even though they should; these documents are called ‘fugitives’ or ‘lost docs.’

As more government agencies publish their documents on their own websites, fugitives are a growing concern for government documents librarians and the GPO. Without going though GPO and the FDLP, these documents are at risk of being lost, since they may not be properly archived or backed up and once the agency removes them from their websites, no one has access to them anymore. For years now, GPO has asked that if FDLP participants find a fugitive, that they report it to them so they can investigate, catalog, and archive the document. Additionally, there is a “Lost Docs Project” that compiles a public listing of these fugitives, so it’s easy to see what has been reported so far. These projects have been great, but without some sort of coordination of work, there are fugitives slipping through the cracks.

Here’s where Zotero comes into play. Zotero is a free citation management tool that lets you easily save citations (including websites, PDFs, etc.), with an option to share them with others. It’s a fantastic collaborative research tool and because of this collaborative aspect, it also makes it an excellent tool for finding and tracking fugitives. The way that this works is that interested fugitive hunters download and install the Zotero plugin or standalone client and then join the Zotero group “Everyday Electronic Materials.” The intention is that you’ll modify your workflow to include routinely check specific agency sites for fugitive publications and save any fugitives that you find to this group (additional information on the steps and requirements can be found on the Free Government Information site). Items in the Zotero group are automatically added to the “Lost Docs Project” page and GPO staff are also monitoring this group to catalog and archive appropriate documents.

This is an interesting use of the Zotero citation management tool and a good way to work on collaboratively curating digital publications, which has applications outside the realm of fugitive hunting.

-Julia Frankosky

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Julia Frankosky
Julia Frankosky is the U.S. and International Government Information Librarian at Michigan State University. She also serves as liaison to James Madison College, providing reference assistance and library instruction to this residential college. Prior to this position, she was the Assistant Copyright Librarian at MSU. She holds a B.A. in History from MSU and a M.L.I.S. with a concentration in Records and Information Management from Wayne State University.
Julia Frankosky

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