Librarians say the proposal endangers scientists’ access to environmental articles.
President Bush’s fiscal 2007 budget proposes an 80 percent funding cut for the Environmental Protection Agency’s library network. The resource provides access to tens of thousands of electronic and paper documents that are unavailable elsewhere.
To cut $2 million from the current $2.5 million library budget, the agency plans to eliminate many library buildings and reference assistants, said EPA officials, who are developing a cost-savings plan. The EPA will digitize some collections and make them available online, while other works will be available via interlibrary loans from EPA libraries that are not shut down.
Although the proposed cuts to the library program are severe, the president’s overall budget requests a significant increase in the EPA’s funds for research on nano-technology, air pollution and secure drinking water systems. Bush cited the initiatives as part of his innovation agenda.
In his State of the Union address, Bush announced a three-part program called the American Competitiveness Initiative, which focuses on research and development, education, and workforce and immigration policies.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) worries that outside scientists might not have free access to some EPA materials in the future.
Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, said internal agency documents and EPA employees have indicated that the agency appears inclined to start charging outside users, including other libraries and the public, for access to EPA documents.
“It also seems like a fair number of the documents that are not digitized — the older holdings — may not be as accessible as they are now,” Ruch said.
Established in 1971, the EPA’s library program offers a wide range of information on environmental protection and management; basic sciences, such as biology and chemistry; applied sciences, such as engineering and toxicology; and topics featured in legislative mandates, such as hazardous waste, drinking water, pollution prevention and toxic substances. The EPA operates a network of 28 libraries from its Washington, D.C., headquarters and 10 regional offices nationwide.
The proposed budget cuts would force the headquarters library and most of the regional libraries to shut down, PEER officials said.
Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association (ALA), said that the association has a long-standing commitment to promoting free public access to government information. “We are troubled by what seems to be an accelerating trend in increased restrictions on access to government information,” he said.
EPA officials said the agency would save a substantial amount of money by digitizing the libraries’ holdings. Officials said fewer people are visiting the library buildings, choosing instead to use online services.
The fiscal 2007 budget would still fund public and interagency access to an electronic catalog that allows scientists outside the EPA to search through the library program’s holdings.
“EPA’s commitment to providing staff with access to the library services they need to carry out the agency’s mission-critical functions remains unchanged,” said EPA spokesman Dave Ryan earlier this month.
An EPA statement on the fiscal 2007 library budget states that “whenever possible, the agency seeks to use new computer technology to provide services at less expense.”
Electronic services that have been available to EPA employees via the agency’s intranet will continue to be accessible, officials said.
Some people argue that digitizing the libraries’ holdings is not a viable solution for providing mission-critical research services at a lower cost. Patrice McDermott, deputy director of ALA’s Office of Government Relations, said the EPA has 50,000 documents that are available nowhere else.
The feasibility of offering online access is not the only concern, McDermott said. “Libraries are not just electronic documents,” she said. “You need the human assistance and intervention.”
McDermott said the EPA’s response to budget constraints is a cause for concern. “This puts at risk important environmental information and the public’s ability to access the information they need to protect their health and safety,” she added.
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