A Failure to Communicate EPA's Libraries on the Brink

Article excerpt

A year ago, I wrote a brief article for an Infotoday.com NewsBreak entitled "Will Budget Constraints Sound a Death Knell for EPA Libraries?" [http://www.infotoday.com/news breaks/nb060221-2.shtml]. Since then, numerous articles in various publications--newspapers, magazines, newsletters, etc.--have appeared discussing the closures of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) libraries. Scientists, legislators, government workers, and librarians have all weighed in and the tone has not always been cordial. In this piece, I want to voice my own disappointment, not about the closures per se, but in missed opportunities all-around extending over several years.


For those unfamiliar with the situation, here's a brief summary. Established in 1971, the EPA Library Network comprises libraries and repositories in the agency's headquarters, regional and field offices, research centers, and specialized laboratories located throughout the country. "The libraries differ in function, scope of collections, extent of services, and organizational reporting structure. Each library also differs with respect to the amount of support they offer for public access; their use of new technologies; and their level of budgetary support ... Separately, each library is charged with providing services to EPA staff and external users with access to their location. However, each library within the Network has always leveraged the capabilities of other libraries to assist patrons with information not available at their own locations" ("Business Case for EPA's Regional Libraries and Centers," 2004, p. 1). "The libraries cost the Agency roughly $6.2 million annually to operate and maintain"; "calculated conservatively, the benefit-to-cost ratio for EPA library services ranges between 2:1 and 5.7:1" ("Business Case," 2004, p.1).

(A list of the 28 libraries within the pre-closure Network appears in the report cited and remains available via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine [http:// web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.epa.gov/natlibra/ libraries.htm]. Readers will want to compare this list with the list of libraries available on EPA's Web site currently [http://www.epa.gov/natlibra/libraries.htm]. As of press time, libraries serving Headquarters, Regions 5, 6, and 7, and the Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances [OPPTS] had been closed.)

In the proposed budget for FY2007 (submitted by George W. Bush in February 2006), "$2 million of support for EPA libraries, amounting to 80 percent of the agency's total budget for libraries," was eliminated (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility News Release, 29 June 2006). This announcement accelerated plans already drafted for the EPA Library Network, plans designed to assure the continuance of core services provided by the Network to the staff in the 10 EPA regional offices and at EPA Headquarters. According to a report prepared by the EPA Library Network Workgroup ("EPA Library Network: Challenges for FY 2007 and Beyond," p. 4), core services of the Network include:

* Support for EPA scientists and technical staff

* Support for EPA enforcement staff

* Collection cataloguing and maintenance

* Support for members of the general public

The EPA Headquarters Library provides these core services to staff and program offices based in the Washington, D.C., area. "In addition, the Office of Environmental Information (OEI) provides some coordination functions for the rest of the libraries in the EPA Library Network," the most important being the Online Library System (OLS) electronic catalog, allowing "anyone with internet access to see what is catalogued in any of EPA's 27 libraries," and the EPA Desktop Library, connecting "staff to the commercial journals and databases acquired" ("EPA Library Network: Challenges for FY 2007 and Beyond," p. 5).

The EPA FY 2007 library plan (2006) talks about the budget allocated to the headquarters and regional libraries, "which comprise 11 of the 26 libraries in the EPA Network. …