Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is closing its Midwest Regional Library serving universities, the public and its own staff in a six-state area, according to an internal email released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The agency is acting without waiting for Congress to approve the proposed budget cuts that are the basis for dismantling EPA’s entire library network.
In a March 13, 2006 memo to employees, EPA Midwestern Regional Administrator Thomas Skinner wrote that “the library will close in the near future” so as “to allow time for an orderly relocation of our library collection.” The affected library located in the Chicago regional headquarters serves the six-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.
The memo cites a 90% loss of funding for the regional library in President Bush’s proposed 2007 budget as the reason for closing the library, even though the proposal has yet to be voted on by Congress and the new federal fiscal year does not begin until October 1, 2006. The Midwest Regional Library is one of 27 libraries across the country whose budget the administration has proposed to reduce by 80%.
“By putting its research collections into indefinite storage, EPA might as well start burning books because these works are not likely to see the light of day again,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the agency has allocated no money for moving collections to other libraries or digitizing the holdings so that they would be available online. “The loss of access to this research will remove potentially key information from the hands of researchers, inspectors and decision-makers.”
The plan to slash library funding is among the $300 million in EPA budget cuts proposed by the Bush administration. As originally proposed, the plan would also have de-funded the electronic catalog maintained by the EPA Headquarters library. When it was pointed out that eliminating the electronic catalog would make it impossible to find any holding within the network, EPA announced last week that it would restore the $500,000 reduction to its headquarters for the catalog. Unfortunately, EPA indicated that it would compensate for this action by spreading even deeper cuts cut among the other libraries.
In his email, Regional Administrator Skinner pledged that limited electronic access to research will remain available to EPA’s own staff but it is unclear what happens to the tens of thousands of research reports that are now only available as hard copies. At the same time, employees in other EPA regions are reporting parallel scrambles to cutback library services in anticipation of adoption of the agency’s FY 2007 budget.
“EPA might want to wait for Congress to act before its shutters its libraries,” Ruch added, noting that EPA spends more than a half-billion dollars a year on research and the total library network budget is only $2.5 million. “EPA’s national research plan is supposed to build on what we already know; but effectively deploying our existing knowledge base will be increasingly difficult if decades of research are locked away in storage.”