Washington, DC — Under orders from Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tomorrow will again provide access to library services in 15 states and its own headquarters to agency employees and the public. This ends a 30-month campaign by the Bush administration to restrict availability of technical materials within EPA but leaves in its wake scattered and incomplete collections under new political controls of library operations, says Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
On September 30th, the last day of the federal fiscal year, EPA will re-open its regional libraries in Chicago (serving the Great Lakes region), Dallas (Mid-Southern region) and Kansas City (Mid-Western region) after more than two years. In addition, a long-shuttered library in EPA Headquarters will re-open and include a small portion of holdings from what had been a free-standing Chemical Library, for research on the properties and effects of new chemicals, as a “special Chemical Collection”.
In its September 24, 2008 Federal Register notice, EPA promises that these re-opened facilities “will be staffed by a professional librarian to provide service to the public and EPA staff via phone, e-mail, or in person…for a minimum of 24 hours over four days per week on a walk-in basis or by appointment.”
“While we are happy that EPA is re-opening its libraries, we are disturbed that the minds which plotted their closure remain in charge,” stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg, whose organization first revealed EPA’s plans to shut libraries and maintained a drumbeat of disclosures until Congress finally intervened and directed the agency to reverse course in December 2007. “Tomorrow, EPA will still accord its own scientists and the public less access to information than it did back in 2005.”
Most of the re-opened new libraries will be housed in less space and one, in Chicago (formerly the largest regional library), will re-open without “permanent furniture and shelving.” PEER notes that during the past two years, EPA further diminished its own informational infrastructure by –
- Breaking up collections and disbursing them in a fashion that they may never be reassembled. Most of the re-opened libraries will only provide “core” reference materials;
- Banning any technical holdings (called “mini-libraries”) for scientists and specialists that are not subject to centralized control; and
- Placing all library acquisition and management decisions under a political appointee.
In response to stinging public and congressional criticism, EPA has undertaken an elaborate “National Dialogue on Access to Environmental Information” to develop a new Library Strategic Plan in December 2008, just before the Bush administration leaves office.
“Given its record, the idea that the Bush administration is now sincerely interested in expanding access to environmental information is a bit hard to take,” Goldberg added. “If Congress had not intervened, all of EPA’s remaining libraries would now be on the chopping block.”