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Comments on DLC Remarks by the Superintendent of Documents

Some of the formal remarks made by Superintendent of Documents Judith C. Russell at the Depository Library Council meeting in Albuquerque (April 17, 2004) both help clarify GPO’s vision of the role of libraries and raise some questions.

Ms. Russell said that, “We need to continue our joint efforts to redefine the characteristics and roles of depository libraries….” While it is clear to everyone in the depository community that the availability of digital information must change how we do things, it is not clear why some think that we must redefine what libraries do. Ms. Russell makes it explicitly clear that GPO thinks that redefinition is required and that the role of depository libraries will be greatly diminished. She articulated GPO’s vision of the role of libraries this way:

…the focus of the FDLP is continuing to shift from managing collections to providing services.

And further, Ms. Russell says that, when a library director asked her why he should remain a depository library, she responded:

…the transition to an electronic collection would allow him to reallocate staff from opening boxes and processing books to providing services to patrons.

Probably Ms. Russell didn’t intend to be patronizing and demean the role of depository libraries or imply that we all we do is “open boxes” and “process books.” But I would much prefer to have the Superintendent of Documents recognize the important role of libraries in selecting, acquiring, organizing, and preserving materials and recognize that we have always provided service for and access to documents and that we have done this for almost 200 years. If GPO understood this, it might be easier for them to understand that this could be the continuing role of what libraries do in the digital age and that what needs changing is how we select, acquire, organize, and preserve information. But GPO’s vision for depository libraries explicitly redefines the role for libraries and does so by excluding “managing collections” and including only providing services for collections chosen and managed by GPO.

That brings me to three questions that Ms. Russell’s remarks raise.

  1. Ms. Russell said that print on demand master files are being created for all Congressional publications and for other sales titles. Will GPO offer these files to depository libraries?
  2. Ms. Russell says that “GPO is not seeking to privatize information.” Will she go further? Will GPO guarantee that it will make all digital files freely available to depository libraries and not just to private sector partners like barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com?
  3. And that raises a question for FDLP librarians: Are FDLP libraries content to provide services without collections and to depend on the federal government keeping all documents available and accessible online for ever?

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