Magazine article Information Outlook

Getting a Grip on Government Information

Magazine article Information Outlook

Getting a Grip on Government Information

Article excerpt

Back in August, the United States Department of Commerce submitted a proposal to Congress that would close the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), possibly transferring its archival responsibilities to the Library of Congress and its dissemination functions to the Government Printing Office. Citing the fact that NTIS,:a congressionally mandated "self-sufficient" quasi-government agency, has been unable to operate in the black for a number of years, Commerce Secretary William Daley authorized the announcement in late August.

On the surface, the initial questions that arise within the library community center around whether any new scheme for continuation of NTIS functions can not only work, but improve access for the public beyond that agency's status quo. Unfortunately, the problems with the proposal go much deeper than just a question of access, indexing, and archival. NTIS has caused headaches in the library community, as it has been a chief source of "fugitive documents" that never make it into depository libraries. For years, the simple answer for librarians has been to eliminate NTIS and force all government agencies who use NTIS to funnel their resources through the Depository Library Program. Ever hear the phrase, "Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it?" Now that the opportunity presents itself, where do we go from here? With NTIS out of the picture, many publications could disappear into the ether. Clearly, NTIS produces a valuable array of products that are used across the spectrum of libraries. But given that we are dealing with information produced by the United States Government, which is funded by taxpayers, shouldn't we expect this information to be available in depository libraries?

The issue is a complex one that will not be resolved simply by making NTIS go away and shifting its responsibilities elsewhere. The problems experienced by NTIS would merely be inherited by whatever agency or service takes over. Congress, the Commerce Department, and the non-governmental stakeholders clearly must work together to develop a plan that will work - not just next year, but for decades to come.

Testimony recently delivered before the U.S. House Science Subcommittee on Technology (which has jurisdiction over NTIS) on behalf of the library community reflected the necessity for a careful deliberation over the ramifications of total closure of the service. Carolyn Long with George Washington University Libraries spoke on behalf of SLA and other library associations. You can view her testimony at www.sla.org/govt/ntis_one. …

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