Congress ordered the EPA to restore its library services across the country and earmarked $3 million for that purpose, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, a national association of workers in natural resources agencies.
The report language attached to the omnibus appropriations bill for the remainder of the 2008 fiscal year directs EPA to use $3 million to "restore the network of EPA libraries recently closed or consolidated by the Administration…" and to report within 90 days on its plans to “restore publicly available libraries to provide environmental information and data to each EPA region…”
Beginning in early 2006, without public announcement or congressional approval, the EPA began dismantling its network of technical and research libraries.
In total, EPA has closed regional libraries serving 23 states and its headquarters library in Washington, DC, and has reduced services and hours in libraries covering another 14 states.
In addition, EPA has shuttered several of its specialized, technical libraries, such as its unique library dedicated to the effects of pesticides and new chemicals.
The EPA claimed it was "providing broader access to a larger audience by making agency library materials available through its website. "Retrieving materials will be more efficient and easier to locate by using EPA's online collection and reference services," the agency said in December 2006.
"When libraries go digital, everyone benefits," declaimed EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock. "By modernizing our libraries, EPA is bringing our cutting edge science to your fingertips, whether you live across the street, or on the other side of the world."
But the agency's original claim of cost savings clashed with the enormous expense of digitizing hundreds of thousands of documents. In addition, the agency did not anticipate copyright restrictions, which barred many of its holdings from being digitized.
Now some at the EPA worry that the congressionally mandated restoration will be bungled.
"We have already been contacted by EPA librarians who are concerned that the same officials who destroyed the libraries will be in charge of their restoration," said PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg. "We hope that Congress continues to closely oversee whether EPA fully restores the full range of library services it had provided."
Before the closures, the budget for the EPA library network was $2.5 million. By earmarking $3 million, Congress increased the total library budget, allowing the agency to absorb the expense of collecting dispersed collections and replacing jettisoned facilities.
For example, "EPA closed its largest regional library in Chicago and sold all of its fixtures, valued at more than $40,000, for less than $350," PEER says.
"While the intervention of Congress is most welcome," said Goldberg, "it comes after several closures and much disruption, leaving the remaining EPA librarians with the task of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.