Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has told Congress that it will re-open its shuttered libraries in some form by September 30, 2008 but the libraries will not be restored to their former status and capabilities, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Several of the libraries will re-open with only minimal collections and any new holdings will be subject to a centralized, political approval process.
In a March 26, 2008 Report to Congress, EPA indicated that it intends to obey a legislative mandate that was part of the Omnibus Budget Bill to “restore publicly available libraries.” Congress acted to reverse a two-year closure program by EPA that eliminated library service in 23 states and crated up several invaluable specialized scientific collections.
EPA’s six-page report to Congress is short on details but makes clear that –
- Re-opened libraries would be limited to “core reference materials” and unspecified “resources to meet specific local needs.” The one exception is the Kansas City–based regional library whose collection had not yet been disbursed;
- All EPA libraries will be operated under the direct control of a political appointee who will review whether requests for research materials and services “meet Network standards.” That appointee, EPA’s Chief Information Officer, Assistant Administrator Molly O’Neill, is overseeing “a strategic planning effort” to chart the future direction of libraries and public access practices;
- EPA is not indicating when, how or with whom it will consult in order to determine “stakeholder needs” that are supposed to guide services. For example, EPA is under an administrative order to bargain with affected staff but this latest report was not produced with formal input from either its employee unions or its own librarians.
“EPA is approaching the task of restoring its libraries grudgingly and appears to be trying to get by doing the bare minimum,” stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg, noting that some of the libraries still have no identified space, as their prior locations were leased out or converted to cubicles. “EPA’s current leadership acts as if information is something to be rationed rather than something to be maximized and shared.”
The report also exhibits a tension between rhetoric about the need for access and a stated desire “to streamline operations and eliminate redundancies.” Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office issued a blistering report faulting EPA myopic planning and lack of consultation in its library shut-downs, pointing out, for example, that its plan to digitize holdings did not recognize that almost 90% of the collections are copyrighted and, therefore, may not be digitized.
“The minds that concocted these library closures should not be the ones charged with their restoration,” Goldberg added. “With so little time left in this administration, the users of the EPA libraries, both inside and outside the agency, should begin collaborating directly to develop a plan for the next administration.”