Washington, DC — Ordered by Congress to re-open its shuttered libraries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is grudgingly allocating only minimal space and resources, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, EPA is issuing a series of edicts placing virtually every aspect of library operations under centralized control of a political appointee.
In a May 8, 2008 e-mail to EPA employee unions, the agency announced its plan for re-opening four of the closed libraries effective September 1. The unions were given until May 22 to reply or object. The announced plan for the Chicago library, formerly the largest regional library serving the entire six-state Great Lakes area, stipulates:
- The re-opened library will be in a vacant reception area on the 16th floor of a federal building;
- The re-opened library will occupy less than one-tenth the area of the closed library and will be only slightly larger than the typical men’s restroom in that same building; and
- No provision is made to restore the unique Great Lakes ecological collection or to recover any of the other holdings from the former library.
Similarly, the regional library in Dallas serving a five-state area will be reduced to “2 staff workstations and 1 patron workstation, each with a PC, desk, and chair”. It will be open six hours a day for four days a week. The fate of its former collection also remains unknown.
“A library requires more space than a lavatory,” stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg. “These plans appear to violate the Congressional order that the agency ‘restore the network of EPA libraries recently closed…’ What part of ‘restore’ doesn’t EPA understand?”
Adding to the disruption caused by its 20-month library closure campaign, EPA has installed one political appointee, Molly O’Neill, the Assistant Administrator for Environmental Information, as library czar, in charge of all library operations, including those serving laboratories and specialized programs.
New rules issued by O’Neill governing every facet of library operations, including detailed directives on handling research and information requests and priorities for materials disbursal or destruction, will go into effect next month. These new rules will repeal agency protocols that have been in effect since 1977.
“Even as many collections remain in crates, EPA has decided to micromanage what is left,” Goldberg added, noting that the agency has still not accounted for many of the library holdings it had removed. “Professional librarians should be making these management decisions, not political appointees.”