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Service Provides Virtual Access to Government Information

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April 5, 2005
Beth Clausen

Beth Clausen

How many times has the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its own decisions? Which of the 50 states still have blue laws on their books? Do states with colder winters have higher winter rates of birth than those with more temperate climes?

These are just a few of the questions being fielded by Beth Clausen and other librarians in the Government Publications and Maps Department as Northwestern University Library takes part in a national pilot project called “Ask a Government Information Librarian.”

The service providing information about state and federal government is available at <http://govtinfo.org> to anyone with Internet access. It offers easy options for e-mail or in-person answers to all kinds of questions about government services, policies, statistics and resources. And it guarantees a response within 48 hours of receiving a question.

Known also as “Government Information Online,” the national pilot project is trying to establish a viable model for virtual reference online. “The idea is simple,” says Clausen, head of Government Publications and Maps at University Library. “Our users are on the Web. We should be, too.”

Clausen calls the virtual service, which is coordinated by the Illinois State Library in collaboration with Northwestern University, Kent State University, the University of New Mexico and the University of Illinois at Chicago, “a terrific supplement to existing reference services.”

The program provides access not only to Clausen and her Northwestern University Library colleagues but also to government reference librarians like them at 30 libraries across the country. Its users include researchers, students, business people and parents helping their children out with homework, she says. “The virtual reference service gives just about anyone access to government materials and reference specialists throughout the country.”