Magazine article Information Today

Federal Libraries Continue Their Mission in the Face of Challenges

Magazine article Information Today

Federal Libraries Continue Their Mission in the Face of Challenges

Article excerpt

When you think of the U.S. federal government and libraries, your first thought is probably of the Library of Congress (LC). As the nation's largest library, it is devoted to both the research needs of the U.S. Congress and the progress of knowledge for the American people. However, the LC is actually part of an extensive network of more than 1,100 libraries in the U.S. federal government. The federal libraries are dedicated to many subjects, including research disciplines, such as agriculture and medicine, and focused programs, such as the establishment of miles-per-gallon ratings for all makes and models of cars (National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory Library).

Federal libraries range in size and scope and mirror the types of libraries in society: public, school, research, medical, legal, and more. There are primary and secondary school libraries at Department of Defense facilities around the world, as well as branch libraries in national parks, federal prisons, and field offices of federal agencies with a large number of employees and visitors. Each of these libraries shares a common purpose of providing its department, bureau, or field office with access to critical information and services to support the mission of its organization.

The Federal Library Directory is available online from the LC. Developed in 2012 as a joint project of the Federal Research Division (FRD) and the Federal Library and Information Network (FEDLINK), the searchable listing provides information about each library, including size and location. FRD supplied data to the directory that it compiled from a federal library survey and supplemented it with its research on federal agencies and departments. FEDLINK, which supports libraries across all three branches of government with purchasing products and coordinating activities, also provides services to federal libraries to help achieve optimum use of library resources. The directory raises awareness of these federal libraries and aims to increase more effective use of the resources available.

Library advocate Bernadine E. Abbott-Hoduski shares, "Federal libraries are key in providing back up services to the users of all kinds of libraries. Many librarians refer their users to federal libraries." Her 2003 book, Lobbying for Libraries and the Public's Access to Government Information, provides valuable guidelines and tips for library advocates and users of public information. She writes, "Federal librarians need to reach out to all of the staff in their agencies to educate them about the resources available and to ask them for advice on what is needed for the future."

Challenging Times

Despite the effectiveness of illustrating the number and variety of libraries operating within the federal government, the Federal Library Directory does not expose the challenging times they face. For example, it does not capture how well or how poorly federal libraries are funded. Nor does it demonstrate how well those libraries support research and provide resources that are critical for the decisions required to carry out the mission of the hundreds of different agencies responsible for regulation, judicial review, stewardship, and the support of the American people.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has 28 libraries listed in the Federal Library Directory. In 2005, the EPA experienced a significant challenge to its network of regional and laboratory libraries. Facing a severe proposed budget cut, the agency closed three of its regional libraries and took deep cuts in the subscriptions budget for its research laboratory libraries. After swift and persistent intervention by concerned scientists, environmental groups, and the library community, Congress restored funding to ensure that every EPA regional office would continue to have a library. While the experience was painful, it ultimately allowed the EPA to streamline its operation of libraries, digitize a significant portion of its collection, and focus on the service it provides to agency staff and the public. …

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