NTIS plans to put FFRDC tech documents on-line

The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) plans to offer an alternative to the Government Printing Office's Federal Depository Library program that would provide libraries with electronic access to government documents that are not available through GPO.

In a pilot program to begin this spring, NTIS will provide free access through its FedWorld Internet site to electronic images of federal scientific, technical and engineering publications, according to NTIS director Don Johnson. Some 20 depository libraries are expected to participate in the test program.

"We want to make sure that libraries don't miss out on access to those documents," Johnson said.

The depository libraries will be able to download the documents and print them on demand as many times as they want, either on their own printers or through Kinko's Inc., a copy services company with whom NTIS recently signed an agreement. Kinko's would charge an undetermined fee for its print-on-demand service.

NTIS plans to offer around 7,000 documents during the pilot, but that number will grow to tens of thousands in the future. Libraries utilizing the NTIS system will be restricted from releasing the electronic image of the documents or from using them commercially.

"It's curious that NTIS places restrictions on redissemination," said Julia Wallace, head of the Government Publications Library at the University of Minnesota, a regional federal depository library. "That will be difficult for libraries to do."

GPO maintains that the move is an effort by NTIS, which is self-sustaining, to lay the groundwork for a fee-for-service program. "NTIS' goal is a sales program, and ours is primarily an access program," said Wayne Kelley, superintendent of documents at GPO. The restriction "is a method where [NTIS] might get those people to buy more"—for example, through print-on-demand services through Kinko's.

"Government information is in the public domain. The government is not supposed to exercise control over a document after it is published," he added.

Johnson said he did not know how the NTIS service would be structured in the future, saying only, "It is not our intent to charge libraries for this service." He said NTIS plans to offer the same service via FedWorld to other users for a fee.

GPO's Federal Depository Library Program serves 1,400 libraries throughout the country that house federal documents and make them available to the public. GPO is now working on a transition plan that will require most of the information GPO receives and sends to libraries to be in electronic format instead of paper. NTIS wants its service to be seen as an alternative to that plan and also a complement in terms of the information it will provide.

"As long as taxpayers are willing to subsidize these things, then the GPO approach is a good one," Johnson said. "But we still need to explore alternatives."

Kelley maintains that there is not a very large market for the documents NTIS wants to distribute to the libraries, but libraries seem interested in having the choice.

"There would certainly be libraries that would be interested in participating in the NTIS program" because the libraries could offer feedback to NTIS, Wallace said. She added that the effort has not been publicized to libraries.

Prue Adler, assistant executive director of the Association of Research Libraries, views the NTIS system as a complementary service that would provide another opportunity for libraries to have access to government information.

"From a library's point of view, it's good," said an executive in the federal publishing community who asked not to be named. "On the other hand, I'm wondering why GPO and NTIS are competing about disseminating information to the same customer."

Ken Rogers, director of STAT-USA, an electronic, fee-based service of the Commerce Department, said he can "sympathize with NTIS because they are in the same position as us; they're fee-financed."

Fee-financed agencies are in a bind, he added, because they are expected to be self-sufficient, but the public is reluctant to pay for data available for free from other sources.

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