Washington, DC — The brave new world of electronic libraries at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is turning into a nightmare, according to librarian complaints released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). With nearly one third of its library network now closed, internal and external researchers are frustrated by being forced to rely on balky, incomplete digital inventories.
The EPA’s drive to close its physical libraries rests upon the premise that the same materials will be available electronically. The principal venue for this access is something called the National Environmental Publications Internet Site (NEPIS) but even experienced librarians are unable to find materials in the new system. Librarian e-mail messages posted during the past three weeks on the internal library intranet site indicate serious disruptions of research:
“It looks like the main search features aren't working (at least not for the searches I've run) and I have confirmed this with several librarians. I am asking my staff not to use NEPIS to search for documents until we feel confident that we can find what is in there…”
“My first comment is that there is no way a casual or new user would know to go to advanced search and enter the year of the publication because of the different indexes used. They probably won't know the year of the publication for a starter. Secondly, I don't have any confidence in finding what I need to find in this database other than doing it by report number.”
“I'm trying to locate this article/paper for a patron who needs it urgently. I suspect it's in one of the dockets, TSCA/OPPTS, but I've not been able to find an identifying number. And, even with an identifying number, I'm not sure the paper could be located in the docket given the flood damage and displacement of folks and documents, etc. I've been waiting on items from the docket for months and months....”
Citing copyright and other problems, EPA has admitted that large numbers of research materials boxed-up from closed libraries will not be included in NEPIS. In addition, large portions of crated collections will remain in storage for the foreseeable future.
“EPA is now experiencing the worst of both worlds: its physical collections are compromised and its on-line index does not work,” stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg. “It is almost as if EPA’s leadership decided to sabotage its own scientific research program.”
EPA has reportedly pledged to delay any further library closures pending congressional review. The Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works will conduct the first legislative hearings on EPA library closures next Thursday, February 6.