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Monday, November 26, 2007

Livin' in the Future

For the past three months, a small group of PERS retirees have been working to construct a comprehensive library of Oregon PERS material in an attempt to address the public information access problem. This repository will eventually include more than 1,000 documents containing material related to litigation, legislation, studies, communications, audit reports, administrative rules, internal but public e-mails, and articles. The site currently offers a manual search of a limited number of documents. The manual process has many limitations especially when trying to follow a sequence of events about an issue over time.

Team members (myself included) have volunteered time, expertise, and money to get us to this point. Now the library development group has contracted with a developer to construct a database that will greatly simplify and amplify the process for locating records. Other database options have been considered and rejected. We believe this is the best and most cost effective solution. The cost of the database is estimated to be between $3,000-4,000. Half of this amount has already been pledged by members of the development group and generous donors have contributed nearly $2000. We're so close to our fund raising goals that I'm hoping another repeat of this message will send us over the top.

In the past, many PERS retirees have expressed interest in contributing to the struggle to preserve retirement benefits. While not directly related to current litigation, the PERS document library will be an important resource of information for the public about PERS decisions.

Contributions can be sent to:

OPDG Library Project
c/o PEG
6550 Huntington Cir SE
Salem OR 97306-1481

Make checks out to: OPDG Library Project. Credit card donations may also be made through a Pay Pal link at the library site.

For a better understanding of this project and for a view of the density of material already collected, visit the library web at:

I have written previously about this in my entry "Power To The People" (October 5, 2007). Support for this grass roots effort affords all PERS workers and retirees an opportunity to make a difference in the struggle for our retirement benefits. No donation is too small. We will publish a final accounting of the project when work on the database is complete. Questions should be directed to :
In the information age, documents are the raw material that fuel research, analysis, and understanding of decisions and events. Complex issues unfolding over many years produce a flood of documents. Often these originate from many sources and are stored in many forms. Access can be difficult under the best of circumstances which means that most people don't know where to go or how to locate needed records. Over time, documents are destroyed, lost, archived, or otherwise made unavailable. With critical information unavailable the media and public are often unaware about key facts in events which can lead to skewed perceptions of events and decisions. Your support for this effort is one direct way you can make a difference.

PERS Library Development Team:

JRS, Marc (mrfearless47), PEG, & Greg

**Post appeal footnote:
When the project is complete, any balance in the donated development funds will be returned to contributors on a proportional basis. The only exceptions will be for refunds that are less than $1. To be eligible for a refund, contributors will need to provide a return mail address with their donation.

P.S. If this note looks familiar to subscribers to OPDG, it is because Greg, our chief cook and bottle washer, entered a variant of this appeal on the OPDG newsgroup. We are looking at empowering as many PERS members, retirees, legislators who do not always have a clear view of history, journalists who also do not always understand the central issues or the seemingly peripheral elements that make the trivial seem meaningful and the reverse, lawyers, indeed anyone with an interest in PERS history over the past dozen years. We hope you'll contribute to this incredible asset and we hope you'll use it. It is there, and once the new searching suite gets posted, will be quite simple to use for complex searches.


Alan Bluehole said...

Thank you for your email. It looks like google site search DOES index pdf files, which could save you thousands of dollars.

http://www.google.com/coop/cse/ and http://tinyurl.com/2a28n4

mrfearless47 said...

Yes, it does, but there are a bunch of other database features, including SQL commands that we want integrated into a front-end that permits users to search in ways that the average user wouldn't even have a clue how to do in Google. Google is remarkably crude when it comes to pdf files, archived files, tarred files, and linking files by lots of simultaneously boolean operators. We plan to have a bunch of predefined searches available so that if you entered "PERS Crisis", for example, it would be smart enough to know that you are searching for documents that effectively cover the period from 2002 to current. These are contextual searches and if you used Google and entered "PERS Crisis" without knowing the bounding dates, for example, you'd get a whole range of answers that were entirely irrelevant to the question. Since we control the search engine, we don't have to worry about getting articles about Washington PERS, Georgia PERS, or any other state's PERS. Yes, someone could enter "Oregon PERS", but I'd be willing to bet you a lot of money that if you asked someone to do a Google search on "PERS", they would not even begin to think about "Oregon". In any case, we tested out Google thoroughly and found that we could not control the searches sufficiently to make it useful for what we're trying for. That's why we chose to roll our own (or to have a developer do so), and why we're seeking donations. Most of us are really familiar with database searching and we simply felt that Google wasn't adequate for what we were trying to accomplish. All I can say is that you'll have to take my word that if we thought Google would do the trick, we'd never have gone this way.


Alan Bluehole said...

As a librarian by profession, I totally understand what you want, but I still question the cost. I'm not being critical; I just know that you're probably already spending a lot of time and money on this and hope you won't feel burned when there's little support or thanks even. I do hope that whatever developer you choose for this admirable project, be sure to do a little usability testing because techies often think they know what the end user needs without knowing what they really need.

mrfearless47 said...

I appreciate this exchange. You echo almost everything we've discussed amongst ourselves. Our developer has been in on our conversations from the beginning and has a clear understanding the the precise problem statement we've asked him to solve. As a programmer myself, I know the importance of clearly specifying the problem. It is not the developers problem to determine the usability; it is the buyer's problem. We spent a great deal of time working on usability issues and we hope the database will be more widely used than you seem to think. Our donations are running quite positively, so our expectations are that the database will be useful to at least the donors. Site statistics seem to indicate that we have a ratio of donors to users in the ratio of 1/10, suggesting 10 times as many users as donors. As long as we're up there with PBS, I'll be happy.

Alan Bluehole said...

OK. I'm hopeful the db will get used a lot. I'm of the age group which will likely get screwed by both PERS and Social Security. And we're a single income family of two, otherwise I'd make a contribution. You've convinced me of its importance. Perhaps I can volunteer to help with searches for the less-computer inclined once the db is up and running.

mrfearless47 said...


We appreciate any support we can get, in whatever form it takes. I understand your situation and hope that PERS and SS stabilize before your time comes. In the meantime, with your librarian skills, you would be a great addition to our support team. I'll let our team leader know. I'm sure he will be thrilled by your expertise and willingness to help out in the implementation phase.

mrfearless47 said...

OK folks. We're only a few hundred short of our goals. If you haven't taken a look at the database, please do. It is at http://oregonpers.info. It now numbers over 1000 documents and the developer is cruising along towards a very user-friendly search engine. Won't you help us out?

PMG said...

Are you saving "Your Own Worst Enemy" for a PERB loss in the Kantor courtroom?

"Your fingerprints on file, left clumsily at the scene" would seem apt for the flimsy defense they've presented...

mrfearless47 said...

So Paul. I take it you're a Springsteen fan too? Yeah, that would be a perfect title for a post-PERS loss in Kantor's court. I have a few others in mind, but I like your suggestion best for right now. Depending on how Kantor might choose to spank the monkeys (another good title), I might choose one of them.