Government Information: You Have A Right To Know

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Depository programs for federal and state governments exist to ensure that important government information is available in libraries where it can be freely accessible to the public. Certain libraries throughout the state have been designated as official depositories for the Federal Depository Library Program and the Utah Publications Depository Program. Library staff are encouraged to learn more about these depository programs in order to make effective and appropriate referrals to libraries where collections of government information are available. Depository collections are especially useful for historical materials.

The vast majority of current government information is distributed in electronic format. This makes it possible for every library to provide access to government information that is of importance to being informed. Government Web sites offer citizens easy access to recent information about important government activities such as research, publishing, and the development of legislation and regulations that impact our lives.

A significant amount of government information is not considered “public information” and therefore is not distributed to depositories or made available on government web sites. Since September 11, 2001, legislation and administrative rulings have restricted the distribution of government information deemed sensitive for security reasons. Government secrecy creates restrictions on distribution of and access to information that diminishes government accountability and the public’s “right to know.” Procedures related to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) should be known by library staff in order to help citizens obtain access to other government information. Librarians can be effective advocates for open government.

GRAMA establishes a “presumption of openness,” a supposition that Utah’s government records are open to the public. GRAMA provides that unless a statute expressly restricts the public’s access to a record held by a Utah government agency, the public may inspect and copy that record. GRAMA applies to all Utah government agencies and publicly funded libraries, including public, higher education, school, and government agency libraries. Library records such as board minutes, purchase records, information about employee compensation, job descriptions, job qualifications, and certain planning documents must be accessible. GRAMA requires librarians to classify, archive, retain, and dispose of their records according to specific guidelines and time frames.

GRAMA also identifies specific records that may be withheld from public inspection, especially where individual privacy rights are at stake (see “Confidentiality”). Libraries that receive requests to inspect their records should, at a minimum, consult GRAMA before responding to those requests.

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