Washington, DC — Despite promises to consult with Congress before proceeding with dismantlement of its library system, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered its libraries to “disperse or dispose of their…contents,” according to agency directives released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The move to eliminate physical collections comes as EPA’s own enforcement branch warns about the risks of hampering environmental prosecutions.
New “interim” policies issued by EPA on April 10 –
- Direct EPA libraries to “disperse or dispose of” their physical collections and lay out procedures for offering EPA holdings to outside libraries and for recycling journals and other technical documents;
- Place all EPA libraries, including those serving agency laboratories, under a single political appointee, Molly O’Neill, the Chief Information Officer; and
- “Discourage establishment of divisional or branch ‘mini-libraries’” to prevent the physical accumulation of technical materials except at pre-designated “repositories.”
“Significantly, the end users of the EPA libraries – the agency’s own specialists as well as the academic community and the public – have been excluded from all decisions about the future of this incomparable network,” stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg, pointing to the fact that a major labor union is pursuing an unfair labor practice complaint over EPA’s failure to even consult with agency scientists over library closures.
To illustrate the dangers of EPA’s plan to rely solely upon centrally-maintained digitized documents, the Office of Enforcement and Compliance (OECA), in a memo dated April 9, 2007, lays out its concerns about the negative effects on ongoing pollution prosecutions. The memo outlines the “three primary issues that OECA is concerned about”—1) information access, especially to original documents; 2) timeliness of services, worrying that the centralized system EPA is espousing may not be able to meet tight court-imposed deadlines; 3) cost and funding, pointing out that uncertainties surround how much EPA’s centralized all-digital system will cost and how it will be funded.
“EPA is determined to leap before it looks as it barrels ahead to shut libraries,” added Goldberg, noting that nearly one-third of EPA’s 27-library network has been closed or had services reduced. “EPA has declared war on libraries and the services they provide without offering an adequate substitute.”
In an extraordinary mass letter of protest last June, labor representatives for more than half of all EPA staff ascribed the agency’s drive to remove physical collections from libraries as an attempt to “suppress information on environmental and public health-related topics.”