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DLC Discussion: Wrong Question & Right Answer

Kudos to GPO and DLC leadership for posing a series of discussion questions for Monday’s meeting in Tampa. If you haven’t seen the questions yet, I urge you to visit http://fdlp.gov/component/content/article/184-gpoprojects/376-new-birth-questions and ponder them whether or not you’ll be in Tampa next week.

While most of the questions are good ones, there is one question that just shouldn’t be asked in 2009. It is from the questions about Regionals’ management and it is:

5. For more than 15 years now, certain members of the library community and the Depository Library Council have discussed redundancy and the number of comprehensive collections of content needed to ensure permanent public access. Title 44 requires that regionals retain at least one copy of all Government publications either in printed or microfacsimile form (except those authorized to be discarded by the Superintendent of Documents). In order to consider future models that may be legally permissible as requested by the library community, should regional depository libraries be able to withdraw portions or all of their tangible collection if they have access to digital equivalents? What are the long-term implications for depository library collection responsibilities necessary to achieve the FDLP’s primary goal of permanent public access to both print and digital materials?

This could have been an excellent question except for (Emphasis mine):

“should regional depository libraries be able to withdraw portions or all of their tangible collection if they have ACCESS to digital equivalents?”

Access to third party servers are not a collection and never will be. Think if this was a question for an academic library:

“Should academic libraries discard part of all of their printed journals if they have a subscription to a full text serials database?”

Or even:

“Should academic libraries discard part or all of their printed journals if these journals are currently available freely over the web?”

Who wants to be holding the bag in five to seven years when the publisher goes out of business or charges more than you can afford? Will you be the one to explain the empty serials stacks to your faculty?

Neither I nor my likeminded colleagues are against digital materials. But we insist on custody. The question that SHOULD be discussed in Tampa is:

“In order to consider future models that may be legally permissible as requested by the library community, should regional depository libraries be able to withdraw portions or all of their tangible collection if they HOLD LOCAL COPIES of digital equivalents?”

My answer to that question is an enthusiastic YES! For example, if a Regional is currently participating in the USDOCS LOCKSS PLN that is caching the content of GPO Access around the country, then they (subject to changes in Title 44) should be allowed to discard their tangible holdings that correspond to what has been stored in their LOCKSS boxes. That way even if Congress mandates fee-based access next year, that Regional will still have copies of their digital materials for patrons to access over the web.

With apologies to Stanford, the local copy doesn’t have to be based on the LOCKSS model, but it should be a server located at the Regional or its parent institution. The server should be capable of serving content over the internet.

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