CONTENT MyGovernment provides one-stop shopping for information about elected and appointed officials at all levels of government. Users can search and browse the database from three basic tabs: Who, What, and Where. Using the Who tab allows researchers to look for an individual by name or browse by level of government, which provides listings of elected officials in selected governing bodies and from various political parties. Also available is an easily browseable list of all county legislators, senators, or top officials in the major federal departments (Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, etc.).
The What tab helps patrons to identify elected officials serving on committees relevant to their interests. Users first select the level of government (state, federal, etc.) and then choose a topic by browsing a list or searching for a keyword. One limitation is that the interface searches only committee, subcommittee, and caucus titles and brief descriptions. As a result, current subjects of interest to patrons (e.g., hydrofracking, SOPA) aren’t really covered. Users would have to know which committee(s) are discussing the topic, then locate information accordingly.
Where empowers users to find information quickly on their own elected officials. After an address is entered, a list of officials representing that place is presented. This works well at the state and very local levels, but the system was unable to resolve the county legislator for the address entered and instead provided a list of all county legislators. In addition, MyGoverment includes only municipal officials for municipalities with a population over 10,000.
Despite those limitations, this resource allows most users to locate contact information, links to official websites, and profiles of officials ranging from their town supervisor all the way up to the president of the United States on a single page.
Clicking on a name uncovers a wide variety of information. In terms of basic biographical data, users can pull up the representative’s birthdate, family information, education and work experience, and a brief narrative biography. Party affiliation, eligibility for reelection, staff, district offices, and seniority are included under political facts. Typically, more information is available about federal officials than state and local ones, although some appointed officials only have basic biographical information available.
Links are provided to additional information about elections and campaign finances from icons at the top of the profiles. Some of this information was not yet available at the date of this review. For federal representatives, the database offers voting records and a list of sponsored legislation. Information about the history of that legislation is provided, as well as links to additional resources through links to GovTrack.us.
USABILITY While the content of MyGovernment is highly useful, the interface needs to be improved. Although the Who, What, and Where tabs provide simple search options, it isn’t immediately obvious where certain material is found until the results appear. My first instinct was to use the Who tab to find a list of all my representatives. Fortunately, the homepage provides easy access to tips and tutorials, and after a bit of reading I was able to get what I wanted.
Most links open a new window, eventually cluttering the screen with opened windows. Since the new windows don’t include basic navigation for the database, they almost always need to be closed to navigate back to the original material. It would be better to keep everything in one window and provide consistent navigation.
One interesting map feature shows potential but was buried in links from representatives’ profiles. The map, which uses a Bing map base, shows labeled icons indicating the center of legislative districts, color-coded by party. Clicking on the icons will display the district boundaries and brief details about federal representative districts. Information about representatives from New York State was missing at the time of this review. While this feature could be incredibly powerful, at the moment it seems almost like an afterthought.
Nearly all lists, reports, and profiles are easily exportable into PDF form for printing. The designers of MyGovernment have carefully thought about this process: links to webpages and email are all typed out on the printable PDF reports so the user will always be able to go back to them. MyGovernment’s utility as a civic engagement tool is also seen in the availability of a Spanish-language interface.
PRICING Pricing is based on the FTE of an academic institution or the size of the population served by a public library. Pricing starts at $495 for a one-year subscription for a public library and $695 for an academic library.
VERDICT Although just about all of this information is available gratis on the web, it is in multiple locations. MyGovernment will save patrons time by, for example, allowing them to email all of their elected officials easily from a single screen.
A necessary tool for civic engagement, this straightforward database will be useful in most libraries; selectors will need to balance the cost of easy access against the labor needed to find freely available data elsewhere.