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Your library may have the only paper copy of a government publication

On page 24 of issue 136 of the U*N*A*B*A*S*H*E*D Librarian, there is an article by Bernadine Abbott Hoduski that you should read today even though you have to go offline for it.

The title of the article, like my blog entry, is Your library may have the only paper copy of a government publication. The thrust of the article is that often you cannot be sure you are not tossing the last copy of a given government publication. Ms. Hoduski cites a number of reasons why this may be so:

Collections in depositories are not complete because 1) libraries came into the [Federal Depository Library] program at varying dates and they did not receive retrospective publications, 2) after the 1962 Act was passed it took at least 20 years before the law was strongly enforced, 3) most depository libraries did not and do not collect everything, 4) GPO often received insufficient copies of a publication and therefore many libraries, including regionals did not receive the publication, 5) some of the microfiche received is of such poor quality that it is unusable, and 6) there are gaps in the microfiche runs because contractors failed to deliver all the fiche in a series or never received the publication to fiche.

Ms. Hoduski goes on to explain why we cannot expect a complete collection of all government publications at the National Archives, Library of Congress, or any of the other national libraries.

Ms. Hoduski concludes her article by noting the Government Printing Office’s proposal to digitize what they call the legacy collection. Ms. Hoduski appears to support this concept if the project does not inadvertently destroy the last paper copy of a publication. I share her concern and mostly agree with her plan to avoid the destruction of last copies:

Before this project goes any further we need a complete inventory of what is out there at in NARA (National Archives), the Library of Congress, National Library of Medicine, National Agricultural Library, other federal libraries, the Senate and House libraries, the regionals, selectives, and former depository libraries. We need the pre-1976 cataloging records digitized, edited and made a part of the new integrated library system at GPO. Where there are no cataloging records we need them.

I believe that such an inventory would have uses far beyond insuring that we did not destroy a last paper copy. Such an inventory could:

  • Help us determine the optimal number of preservation copies, by comparing the number of surviving copies of a given item to the number of copies originally distributed.
  • Radically raise the number of government publications accessible through OCLC Open WorldCat, which would increase their use.
  • Open up new print-on-demand markets for the Government Printing Office as more people became aware of materials.
  • Improve collection development plans of depository libraries because they would know neighboring collections better.

There is more interesting material in Ms. Hoduski’s article. Go find yourself a copy and start reading. Let me know what you think about it.

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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