EPA: Online Collections To Make Agency Materials More Accessible

Defending their decision to close several agency libraries, EPA officials announced on Dec. 11 that they are making agency library materials available through the agency's public Web site.

"When libraries go digital, everyone benefits," said Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock. "By modernizing our libraries, EPA is bringing our cutting-edge science to your fingertips, whether you live across the street, or on the other side of the world."

Retrieving materials will be more efficient and easier to locate by using EPA's online collection and reference services, agency officials said. To date, more than 22,000 of 51,000 EPA documents are available through the agency's public Web site and all EPA unique documents will be online within two years, according to EPA. Documents from libraries within the network that no longer have physical space will be online as of January 2007.

However, EPA scientists, as well as library experts and members of Congress, have complained that the agency is digitizing only its own materials. There have been allegations from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that important documents have simply been thrown away without being added to the new digital system, and others have been packed up never to be seen again.

"It's imperative that as we switch from the traditional library system to the digitized system EPA wants to implement, we make every possible effort to ensure no information is lost in the transition and that all information will remain open and accessible to the public," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club.

The agency has closed regional libraries in Kansas City, Kan., Chicago and Dallas. EPA also closed its headquarters library and its specialized library on chemical research. The $2 million budget cut that brings about these closings -- initially proposed by EPA and included in President Bush's budget proposals for Fiscal 2007 -- reduces the 35-year-old EPA Library Network's budget by 80 percent, according to the American Library Association (ALA).

On Dec. 14, ALA President Leslie Burger will speak at a meeting of the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT) on the impact of EPA library closings.

"The closure of these EPA libraries has given rise to grave concern in the library, science and environmental communities," Burger said. "Public access to vital environmental information needs to remain open, and the skilled librarians within those libraries need to remain on hand in order to assist scientists and the public in accessing those materials.

"I will share the concerns of librarians across the country -- not to mention scientists and those who care about the environment -- to this council meeting," Burger continued. "I will make it clear just how important these libraries and their respective librarians are."

The meeting will be held on Dec. 14 and 15 at The Madison Hotel, 1777 15th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20005, and Burger is scheduled to speak on Dec. 14 at 12:30 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). The meeting is open to the public, with limited seating on a first-come, first-served basis.

Additional information on EPA libraries can be found at http://www.epa.gov/natlibra/index.html.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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