Washington, DC — An agreement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and one of its unions to re-open shuttered libraries with adequate librarian services and research facilities takes effect today, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The agreement settles an grievance complaint prosecuted by the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238 against EPA for depriving scientists and other specialists of the tools needed to do their jobs.
Beginning in 2006, EPA management began a stealth campaign of closing its regional and technical libraries, ultimately eliminating library service in 23 states and scattering invaluable scientific collections. In December 2007, Congress ordered EPA to re-open the libraries, but by this spring it became apparent that EPA would only grudgingly comply, restoring only minimal holdings in small spaces, in some cases no larger than the lavatories in the buildings they occupied.
In February 2008, a Mediation and Conciliation Service arbitrator sustained grievances filed by the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238 on behalf of all affected agency employees, finding that EPA acted “unilaterally without the benefit of” employee input in reducing access to seven of its ten regional libraries. The arbitrator ordered EPA to bargain with AFGE Council 238 on library conditions.
The two parties reached a Memorandum of Agreement on July 10, 2008 which became final today. That agreement stipulates that EPA will reopen closed libraries by October 1st and in so doing provide –
- Adequate space, trained librarians and equipment to handle staff requirements and to accommodate usage by the general public;
- An “on-site collection of materials developed and tailored to meet local/regional needs”; and
- A union-management Advisory Board to monitor library operations and the agreement’s implementation.
“The public and the current and future public servants within EPA owe AFGE Council 238 a big thank you for a job well done,” stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg. “This agreement means that
EPA will not be able to put a computer terminal and a bookshelf in a cubicle and call it a library.”
EPA will reopen and consolidate its Chemical Library, for research on the properties and effects of new chemicals, as part of its re-opened Headquarters Library in Washington, D.C. The Chemical Library will, however, have a “professional librarian with knowledge of chemical information” and access to an unspecified “specialized chemical collection.”
“These libraries should never have been closed nor should it have taken months of bargaining to get EPA to agree to put them back in order,” Goldberg added. “The architects of these library closures cannot leave public service soon enough.”