Digital information may strain GPO and library system, CRS says

As more and more government information goes digital, the Government Printing Office is likely to be confronted with rising costs, gaps in authority and possible conflicts with regional library systems, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

For many years, the GPO has been distributing paper-based items to libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program. During FY2011, GPO distributed approximately two million copies of 10,200 items to the 47 libraries in the program. It distributes digital documents through FDSys.

Many of those depository libraries are in the process of digitizing existing government information. In addition, new government information is being produced in digital forms.

Those trends are raising several concerns that Congress might need to address, suggest the authors of the CRS report, which was dated March 29 and recently published online by the Federation of American Scientists.

The concerns include rising costs for the libraries and GPO, along with lack of specific authorities over digital materials, the authors wrote.

“Depository libraries appear largely to have borne the costs of the FDLP program since its establishment,” the report said. But due to tight budgets, those costs “have become prohibitive to some depository libraries.”

Furthermore, as the information goes digital, GPO is likely to bear a larger share of costs.

“Whereas the costs of tangible support rest largely with depository libraries, the costs of providing digital materials, including storage of digital materials, Web development, maintenance, and upgrades, fall on GPO for FDSys and other entities that provide content through the FDLP Electronic Collection,” the report said. “Over time, the costs of digital delivery could require additional appropriations for GPO and other federal content providers, or force those agencies to reevaluate service levels.”

GPO’s digital costs “may continue to increase” as more data is created, and older systems need updates, the report added. No cost estimate was provided.

In addition, GPO’s legal authorities over the library system are limited and may not cover digital materials, the authors suggest.

“Digital distribution authorities provide for online access to publications, but are silent on GPO’s retention and preservation responsibilities for digital information,” the report states.

Other concerns are being raised about maintenance and availability of the tangible items, retention and preservation of digital information; public access to library resources; authenticity and accuracy of digital material and the robustness of the digital item collections, the report added.

The authors of the report were R. Eric Petersen, specialist in American National Government, along with Jennifer Manning and Christina Bailey, both information research specialists.

GPO officials were not immediately available for comment.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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