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No Fee Access under FDSYS: Past Performance No Guide

In the latest issue of the Federal Depository Library Program’s Administrative Notes, there is this item:

Library Services and Content Management Update
Remarks by Richard G. Davis
Acting Superintendent of Documents
Director, Library Services and Content Management

At the Federal Documents Task Force Meeting
ALA Annual Conference
Saturday, June 23, 2007

Among other issues, Mr. Davis talks about the no-fee access to government information:

GPO Access – No Fee Access

I also want to emphasize that GPO’s commitment to provide the public with no-fee access to Government information through the FDLP, including GPO Access, remains the same. GPO will not allow access to content available through GPO Access to be restricted, diminished, or based on user fees for the FDLP. The public will be able to continue to print and download this information through the FDLP without restriction into the future.

While we at FGI greatly respect the 150+ year tradition of no-fee access and while we believe that Mr. Davis is sincere in his commitment, he cannot bind Congress or future GPO leadership. Free access (leaving aside NTIS and other cost recovery bits) is Congressional and GPO policy today, but only future leadership can determine policy in the future. Whatever access scheme is available in 2095, Ric Davis won’t have put it into place.

While GPO cannot guarantee permanent no-fee public access by simple decree, it stands at a crossroads where it can either facilitate no-fee access or make it possible for future leadership to institute a pay per view model. If GPO were to work with the library community and deposit non-DRM digital publications based on selection profile, those publications would remain available for access and preservation no matter what future GPO policy was. A future Congress and GPO wouldn’t be able to successfully order over 1,000 libraries to destroy their files and sign up for a pay per view system.

Where GPO is currently going however, is a centralized model where users have access to a central repository of files. Today that repository is free. It isn’t subject to Digital Rights Management. But that’s today. Because they have custody of the electronic publication, our free access depends on the the good will of GPO and Congress’ unwillingness to change USC Title 44. But given enough time that can change. Especially in the secrecy and privatization-hungry environment Americans find themselves in today.

That is why what we need is a decentralized, distributed system of depositing electronic files to local libraries willing to host them. Libraries need to step up to the plate, and a Government Printing Office wishing to facilitate permanent no-fee public access needs to help with training, storage estimates and simple section mechanisms like those used to select LOCKSS journals.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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