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The Source Documents Behind the News (A librarian reads the news...)

Publications and Presentations

In my classroom...

The Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare): The source documents behind the news

The Primary Source Crusader (my own mashup of images)

With accusations flung from both sides of the isle about health care bills and how they they get moved through Congress, I found myself curious about just exactly what went into the creation of the ACA (the Affordable Care Act, aka the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare).

I’m still working on fleshing this out with links to full text, but I’m ready to share my initial gathering of all the bills, debates, hearings, reports, and presidential documents that ended up creating what we now call ObamaCare.

In this collection, I included the bills themselves and bills that were related (either directly referring to or incorporating substantial wording from each other) and ultimately building on each other until finally the ACA became law, as well as Hearings and Reports that directly related to or mentioned those bills. I also included a few presidential documents that were directly related to health care reform prior to the ACA’s passage, though I have not combed through all speeches and press releases.

I did not include the 60 committee prints that went into the drafting of this law, but if there’s a compelling reason to go back and list those, please let me know. I also stopped including Congressional Research Service Reports that were produced after the bills were finally passed, though CRS of course continues to study issues and impacts of the ACA.

Here is a preview, but if you want to sort and search rather than just scroll, have a look at the full sheet.

Best Practices for Groups using Zotero

I was recently asked to write up some best practices for groups using Zotero, and I thought I’d share them here. While the language and specifics of these practices are all Zotero-centric, I’ve done very similar things with Mendeley and EndNote as well, though they don’t have standalone notes, so you have to make a well-named citation and use its notes fields to fulfill similar functions.

First off, it is worth it to pay for storage from Zotero. There are work-arounds using Box, but that adds a layer of complexity that I have seen go wrong when, for example, you have collaborators spread all over the place and not everyone is tech savvy or has library or IT support.

I’ve also seen people register a Zotero account and then share login credentials to that account with a group. This is not a good idea for a bunch of reasons. Everyone should have their own account and then be added to a group library.

With those two things as ground work, here are some things to consider as you launch a group project using Zotero. The larger your group or longer-term your project, the more these practices will matter.

Setting up the structure

  1. Create a space that serves as your “inbox” for new stuff, before it’s processed/corrected/tagged/whatever. That way you can go merrily along collecting collecting collecting, but not mess up the organizational structure or lose your unprocessed stuff in the giant pool of processed stuff. If it were me, I’d make my own personal zotero library into my inbox area, and only move things to the Group library once it had its PDF associated, metadata cleaned up, etc. Alternatively, you could have a tag that you associate with new stuff so that you can gather it all together and process it.
  2. In the main Group library, have a standalone note that describes the workflow of the group and defines how you are using tags, folders, and “related” items in this group. For example, some people use folders for procedural steps and tags for topic categorization, some people do the opposite, and some people do something else entirely. But this note will make it clear to the whole group how folders, tags, and “related” items function in this space.
  3. In the main Group library, have a standalone note for tag definitions. Name it something that will guarantee it’s at the top of an alphabetical list (like _TagDefs). Apply every tag to this note (so that it comes up whenever any tag is selected). In that note, list each of your tags and a brief definition so that everyone on the project knows what it means and how to apply it. Whenever you create a new tag, be sure to update this tag definitions note and then add that tag to the note as well.
  4. In each sub-folder in the Group Library, have a standalone note that describes what that folder is meant for.
  5. If you’re going to use tags systematically, I suggest UNCHECKING the preference that automatically gathers subject headings from databases, because these are all over the place and will clutter up your tag list. All the other check boxes on that main screen of the preferences help, but this one doesn’t unless you really only use one database/catalog and it has good set of subject terms.
  6. Plan on not having too many tags/folders. “Too many” is subjective, of course, but once you get scores of them they become very difficult to scan through and select. They should hit that sweet spot of functioning to gather together useful chunks of items rather than having only 1 or 2 items per tag/folder or having nearly all your items in a tag/folder. Novices to tagging tend to come up with too many, and constantly add new ones, which really doesn’t help with organizing a group library.
  7. It can be useful to have a way of tracking procedures, either using tags or folders. These would be like “needs ILL” or “follow up” (which I use for things where there’s a gold mine of a bibliography that I know I’m going to want to go back to and start looking up and saving relevant items from the references).

Saving/organizing items

  1. Save into your “inbox” space, however you’ve set that up. (Be aware that whatever folder is selected in Zotero, that’s where all your new saved items will go, so check this before going on a saving spree.)
  2. Check all the metadata Zotero pulled in when you save an item. Frequently there are capitalization/spelling/data errors that need to be corrected manually.
  3. If Zotero wasn’t able to pull in the PDF automatically, download and then drag the PDF in (and having the OpenURL resolver set up in preferences can help you with this — and if that didn’t sound like English to you, check out the instructions under “Making the “Library Lookup” option work like the library’s “Find It” button” in the top left-hand box on this guide for an example, though of course Carleton’s URL won’t work for other colleges).
  4. Once you’ve saved and cleaned up your item information, open the list of sub-items (the little triangle next to the item citation in Zotero) and right-click on the PDF, and then select “Rename File from Parent Metadata.” That way the PDF itself will have citation information in its file name, which saves headaches if you download it later on and end up with a million “out.pdf” or “1957ty3593.pdf” files on your computer.
  5. A single item can be saved to more than one sub-folder, which is far better than having multiple copies/versions of a single item.
  6. An often-overlooked function is the “related” function. This can link together versions of the same work, or an item with items it cites/is cited by, etc. In group work this helps other people see the connections that you’ve found between works. (It can be helpful to have a written definition of how people think of “related” so that, for example, someone doesn’t put all the books on cats together as “related” rather than just tagging them with the subject “cats.”)

So basically, the theme of all of this is to make it so that there’s explicit shared understanding of how to use the various functions, and then give every new item the TLC it needs in order to coexist with all the other items.

Have a favorite tip or practice? Leave it in the comments here!

Trump’s Budget Proposal: The source documents behind the news

The Primary Source Crusader (my own mashup of images)

The Trump administration has released its first federal budget proposal, America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again. This proposal has sparked considerable controversy, so I got interested in how the federal budget even works. With my standard caveats,* here are some common questions and the source documents that help answer those questions.

It’s called a proposal. How much control does the President actually have over the Federal Budget? And how does that process work?

The History, Art & Archives site from the House of Representatives gives an overview of the “Power of the Purse,” which the Constitution grants primarily to Congress. The House further outlines the Budget Process and provides a timetable for that budget process. This process begins with the President’s budget proposal and proceeds with the Congress proposing appropriations legislation (12 “regular” appropriations bills emanating from 12 sub-committees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees) which may or may not take the President’s suggestions. Some or all of these bills may be consolidated into an omnibus bill for passage. Appropriations legislation is just like most other legislation in that it must be passed by both the House and the Senate and then signed by the President. The President can veto the bills (in their entirety, not line-item), Congress can override the veto, etc.

In years where they can’t agree by October 1st (frequent) they can pass Continuing Resolutions to keep things funded at current rates until they can make a decision about the future.

The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 requires the President to submit the initial budget proposal to Congress, and the budget process as a whole is governed by Title 31, Subtitle II, Chapter 11 of the United States Code. Prior to 1974, presidents were able to “impound” funds (not spend them even after they had been budgeted), but due to perceived abuses by Nixon the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 reorganized the budgeting process to place more control in Congress’ hands. This, too, has been amended several times, so if you want to read current law you can look at Chapters 17, 17A, and 17B of Title II of the United States Code.

For comparison, you can look back at previous White House budget proposals.

How will I know what Congress’ budget looks like?

You can track the various bills as they appear and move through the budget process. (Remember that Omnibus Bills can gather up many of the smaller bills, so just because a bill didn’t become law by itself doesn’t mean it didn’t become law as part of an omnibus bill.)

What does Trump’s proposal actually propose?

The President’s proposal is available online. Reading it as a message to Congress about this administration’s priorities, the most succinct articulation of Trump’s priorities occurs in the “President’s Message” at the beginning of the document. President Trump entitled this message “America First: Beginning a New Chapter of American Greatness.” Here is an excerpt:

One of the most important ways the Federal Government sets priorities is through the Budget of the United States.

Accordingly, I submit to the Congress this Budget Blueprint to reprioritize Federal spending so that it advances the safety and security of the American people.

Our aim is to meet the simple, but crucial demand of our citizens—a Government that puts the needs of its own people first. When we do that, we will set free the dreams of every American, and we will begin a new chapter of American greatness.

A budget that puts America first must make the safety of our people its number one priority— because without safety, there can be no prosperity.  (page 1)

Note that this proposal does not include everything that will be proposed:

The 2018 Budget is being unveiled sequentially in that this Blueprint provides details only on our discretionary funding proposals. The full Budget that will be released later this spring will include our specific mandatory and tax proposals, as well as a full fiscal path. (page 5)

Additional key statements providing policy guidance to Congress include:

  • “The Federal Government can—and should— operate more effectively, efficiently, and securely.” (page 13)
  • “Each year, however, Federal agencies issue thousands of new regulations that, taken together, impose substantial burdens on American consumers and businesses big and small. These burdens function much like taxes that unnecessarily inhibit growth and employment.”  (page 15)
  • The phrase “private sector” shows up 12 times in the document, signaling an emphasis on moving support for some activities out of the government and into the private sector.

Following these opening sections, the proposal covers 17 major areas of the federal budget. Below I’ve linked to each of those agencies’ budget pages:

When would any changes take place?

Assuming the legislative process wraps up on schedule, the new budget for Fiscal Year 2018 would swing into effect on October 1st, 2017.


Two caveats: 1) Not all knowable things are knowable using official, original published sources, but that’s the limit I’ve set for myself even when that’s inconvenient or frustrating, and 2) I am a librarian trained in tracking down and evaluating sources — nothing more or less than that. I’m doing my best to find the most authoritative version of the primary sources behind the news, and I welcome suggestions and corrections.

Steel Made in America: The source documents behind the news

The Primary Source Crusader (my own mashup of images)

I was recently asked about the often-repeated claim that all new oil pipelines will be made with American steel, whether this really meant all new pipelines, and specifically whether it meant the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Will these specific pipelines be made from American Steel?

As usual, this turned out to be far more complicated than I anticipated. I’d thought it was easy because there’s an Executive Memorandum calling for American-made steel in pipeline construction from January 24th. But it turns out that this memorandum actually calls for the Secretary of Commerce to come up with a plan to use American-made steel “to the extent permitted by law.” Here’s the actual text:

The Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with all relevant executive departments and agencies, shall develop a plan under which all new pipelines, as well as retrofitted, repaired, or expanded pipelines, inside the borders of the United States, including portions of pipelines, use materials and equipment produced in the United States, to the maximum extent possible and to the extent permitted by law. The Secretary shall submit the plan to the President within 180 days of the date of this memorandum.

Meanwhile, the two Executive Memos dealing with the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline don’t mention American-made steel. And Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on March 3rd that in fact those two pipelines would not be covered under the American-made steel memo because steel was bought some time ago and is “already literally sitting there.”

Will any pipelines be made from American Steel?

Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, has to present a plan for making or repairing all new pipelines with American steel “to the extent permitted by law,” so it’s likely there will be pipelines made with American steel. However it turns out that the World Trade Organization has a say in this that complicates things.

Members of the WTO agree to certain fundamental principles, one of which is National Treatment. According to the WTO’s guide, this boils down to the following:

Imported and locally-produced goods should be treated equally — at least after the foreign goods have entered the market. The same should apply to foreign and domestic services, and to foreign and local trademarks, copyrights and patents. This principle of “national treatment” (giving others the same treatment as one’s own nationals) is also found in all the three main WTO agreements (Article 3 of GATT, Article 17 of GATS and Article 3 of TRIPS), although once again the principle is handled slightly differently in each of these.

National treatment only applies once a product, service or item of intellectual property has entered the market. Therefore, charging customs duty on an import is not a violation of national treatment even if locally-produced products are not charged an equivalent tax.

This means that foreign suppliers of goods and services can and do sue if there is preference given to domestic products (assuming equal price and quality) once everything is washing around in the domestic market. Most recently Japan lodged a complaint against India in early January, saying that the “minimum import price” that India imposed on imported iron and steel violates the principle of National Treatment (Article 3.1).

Sometime on or before July 23rd, 2017, we’ll see what the Secretary of Commerce presents as a plan for building pipelines using American-made steel. I’ll update this post as events unfold.