By Adams, John T.,, III
Information Outlook , Vol. 11, No. 3
Plans to slash services at the Environmental Protection Agency's 27 libraries could threaten public health and safety by hindering environmental research.
With that warning, SLA has urged the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to review the EPA's intentions carefully and to encourage the agency to develop a realistic plan and budget to provide continued public access to EPA data.
The EPA aims to trim $2 million--or 80 percent--from its library network budget. In 2006, it closed libraries in Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City and cut access to other collections, including the chemical pollution and toxic substances library in Washington, D.C. The EPA headquarters library also closed to the public. It "transitioned to a repository," the agency reported on its Web site. (http://epa.gov/natlibra/hqirc/index.html)
In a February 5 letter to committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-California), SLA CEO Janice R. Lachance said, "We are particularly concerned about the effects the proposed closures will have, and are having, on the ability to access data and information necessary to scientists, policy makers and corporate entities to operate in the public good."
She added, "We have heard from many SLA members in the scientific and medical community who have told us the closure of the EPA libraries will impact their work directly."
Writing on the eve of the committee hearing on EPA cutbacks, Lachance encouraged Boxer to press agency officials on whether they have conducted formal research on the effect the reduction of services might have on public health and safety.
She also suggested the panel ask environmental officials if they have sought the opinion of the U.S. Justice Department about possible legal ramifications surrounding the digitizing and future use of official EPA documents in legal proceedings.
"While the loss of some libraries may be inevitable, our primary concern is the loss of access to the crucial information contained in these libraries, which could have devastating long-term impacts on public health and safety," Lachance wrote. (www.sla.org/content/SLA/pressroom/pressrelease/07pr/pr2704.cfm)
First to Protest
SLA was the first library association to dispute the library closings in February 2006. It has urged its members to contact their congressional representatives to protest. (http://www.sla.org/content/SLA/pressroom/pressrelease/2006prelease/pr2605.cfm)
In opening remarks prepared for the Senate hearing, Boxer said, "Closure of the libraries hurts Americans' right to know about important information regarding the health and environmental hazards of pollution in their communities."
Further, she said, "Despite letters from 18 members of the Senate and a public outcry, the fate of EPA's libraries remains uncertain."
During the hearing, Boxer mentioned several organizations that oppose the library closures, including SLA.
Supporters of the cutbacks cite cost savings, increased digital access, and low public use of the EPA libraries.
EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson told the Senate committee hearing that the agency plans to retain "a strong network of physical libraries."
"Our vision," he said, "is to be the premier model for the next generation of federal libraries by enhancing the electronic tools and resources that people use to look for information, while continuing to provide traditional library services. Let me also assure you that unique EPA material has been retained. catalogued, and is available to EPA and the public."
Johnson said he has asked his staff "to conduct an assessment of where we are and to evaluate our overall library modernization effort."
(Details of the February 6 Senate committee hearing, including an archived webcastandtranscriptsofpreparedstatements, are at http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Hearing&Hearing_ID=78a52250-802a-23ad-4274-59a54b06a447. …