Academic journal article Collaborative Librarianship

Providing Access to Government Information: A Survey of the Federal Depository Library Community

Academic journal article Collaborative Librarianship

Providing Access to Government Information: A Survey of the Federal Depository Library Community

Article excerpt


Since 1895 Federal Depository Libraries (FDLs) have offered free, public access to federal government document collections, which are distributed to them via the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) by way of the Government Publishing Office (GPO). Additionally, government information specialists are available at these libraries to assist patrons in locating federal information. Several concerns have recently developed in the government information community around preservation of print and born-digital materials. Part of this concern is over what the community calls the "legacy collection," which consists of tangible materials distributed to FDLs through most of the 20 (th) century. The other part is how to manage capturing and preserving born-digital government information. This study was conducted to discover what collection development issues depository libraries are experiencing concerning access, weeding, and preservation of government information, and their opinions on how the community should deal with these issues.


In order to understand the issues facing FDLs, the structure of the FDLP needs explanation. The GPO works with federal agencies to acquire their information, to make it more accessible by creating catalog records for representation, and (if in a tangible format) to distribute it to the FDLs. While many types of libraries participate in the FDLP (e.g., Public, Academic, State, Agency), they are divided into two categories in the FDLP program, regionals and selectives, and all work collaboratively to ensure access to government information. Regional libraries, of which there are usually at least one per state, receive all documents that are processed through the FDLP, and are expected to retain tangible copies permanently, ensuring access to government information across the nation. They also must provide support for selective libraries in their region by providing access to government information that the selectives do not curate, the interlibrary loan of materials, reference assistance, and a system for the disposal of unwanted tangible government documents for the selectives to follow. Many regionals also provide training activities or do site visits to help selectives meet FDLP requirements. Selectives, as the other category of depository library, are able to select what information they are willing to provide access based on what best meet the needs of their patrons. Selectives are also allowed to weed the documents they receive, with the permission of their regional library.

Historically, the distribution of government information was primarily in print format, but that started to change with the passing of the Government Printing Office Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act of 1993 which pushed for government information to be available in electronic formats. With born-digital materials, federal agencies post their information directly onto their websites and no tangible item is distributed. The only way to access this information is through the internet. Access to these born-digital publications is usually through a Persistent Uniform Resource Locator (PURL) provided by the GPO, and depository libraries provide access to these online publications via catalog records containing PURLs. These PURLs provide stable URLs to online federal information so libraries do not have to constantly update broken links in their catalogs. To put this movement to born-digital information in perspective, as of 2017 fiscal year, the GPO added 18,351 new records to their Catalog of Government Publications (CGP) catalog, but only distributed 4049 tangible titles, demonstrating that most information going through the FDLP is information in a born-digital format. (1)

The GPO is aware that preservation of born-digital and tangible government information is an important topic and is creating a strategy to deal with this issue. The Federal Information Preservation Network (FIPNet) is a plan for collaborative networking to ensure access to the national collection of government information remains freely accessible for future generations. …

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