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The Future of the FDLP: From Conversation to Confrontation. link and comments

The Future of the FDLP: From Conversation to Confrontation, By Jim Jacobs and Melody Kelly Library Journal “Backtalk” (Dec 13, 2011).

Recent discussions about the state of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) and the responsibilities of regional depository libraries have morphed from a conversation into a politicized confrontation. Sadly, this threatens to negatively affect not just depository libraries but all libraries and users who rely on a robust FDLP for long-term free access to government information….


After the above piece was published in LJ, there was one question and a couple of comments posted to the LJ site. Evidently, those comments and responses have been removed from the LJ site, so we reproduce here (as accurately as we can) the conversation that ensued.

  • The Question was from Tim Knight, who asked: “Under your third problem you mention “existing studies” re: digital surrogates as access-substitutes for existing paper collections. Could you provide citations to the studies you’re referencing? Thanks!”
  • Our third point, including the text Tim referred to is: “Third, both proposals assume we can rely on digital surrogates as access-substitutes for existing paper collections. Existing studies of digitization cast doubt on this assumption: many government publications are old and brittle and include more than text; accurate digitization of statistical tables is very difficult and prohibitively expensive with current technologies. While digital surrogates of paper may serve the needs of many users, libraries will still need an adequate number of paper copies for direct user examination when digitization is flawed or inaccurate and for re-digitization with better technologies in the future. We just do not yet have the information we need that would justify the proposed drastic weeding of our valuable paper collections after digitization.” Our response to Tim’s Question:

    The key research has been done at Yale. See

    Green, Ann, Sandra K. Peterson, and Julie Linden, Supporting Economic Development Research: A Collaborative Project to Create Access to Statistical Sources Not Born Digital, A Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 2005).


    Linden, Julie, and Ann Green, Don’t Leave the Data in the Dark, D-Lib Magazine, 12 (2006) doi:10.1045/january2006-linden.

    Also see some mention of the difficulty of accurately digitizing statistical tables in:

    Bicknese, Douglas A., Measuring the Accuracy of the OCR in the Making of America (Ann Arbor, Mich.,: University of Michigan, School of Information, 1998).

    Blando, Luis R., Junichi Kanai, Thomas A. Nartker, and Juan Gonzalez, Prediction of OCR Accuracy.

    Faisal Shafait, Ray Smith. Table Detection in Heterogeneous Documents, 9th IAPR Workshop on Document Analysis Systems, DAS’10. Boston, MA, USA, June 2010.

    Joseph, Lura E., Image and Figure Quality: A Study of Elsevier’s Earth and Planetary Sciences Electronic Journal Back File Package, Library Collections, Acquisitions, and Technical Services, 30 (September), 162-168.

    LDI Project Team. Harvard University Library. Measuring Search Retrieval Accuracy of Uncorrected OCR: Findings from the Harvard-Radcliffe Online Historical Reference Shelf Digitization Project, August 2001.

    Schonfeld, Roger C., and Ross Housewright, What to Withdraw: Print Collections Management in the Wake of Digitization (Ithaka S+R, 29 September 2009), p. 28.

    Tanner, Simon, Trevor Muñoz, and Pich Hemy Ros, Measuring Mass Text Digitization Quality and Usefulness, D-Lib Magazine, 15 (2009).

    see also: Public comments and response to Ithaka S+R Models draft report by James R. Jacobs.

  • Bill Sudduth posted this response to our article:

    Clearly Mr. Jacobs and Ms. Kelly are in need of getting their facts correct.

    Their first point ignores the existence of seven multi-state regionals that have been created and approved by GPO. Their point also relies on a CRS opinion that does not resolve the “geographic question” as to the area to be served by regional depository libraries. Reliance on such thinking ignores the many multi-state consortia that exist in the library community.

    The author’s second point is an even worse fabrication, the ASERL model is based on the concept of “Centers of Excellence” which matches a library’s collection and service strengths and a committment to create and preserve collections by specific agency or topic. Digital copies would be created as an ADDITIONAL ACCESS point and not replace the tangible copy.

    As for authentication, the library community would like to work with GPO to answer any issues related to authenication of digitized publications. The question arises though, if a Federal Depsoitory Library received a publication in paper format and digitized it at preservation level standards, does that not provide a true representation of the orginal piece? My institution and many other libraries have mature digital departments that follow national standards and even engage in major national digitization projects funded by the federal government. Where is GPO?

    As for the author’s third point focuses on very narrow issues that can not be resolved to their satisfaction, however, I would point out that many libraries also rely on several major vendors for access to the United States Congressional Serial Set, a publication rich in images and statistical tables, if these same objections are true then why have these products been so popular?

    Finally, the fourth issue is but a strawman, the ASERL IMLS grant and guidelines seeks to have multiple copies available throughout the southeast and has no setminimum, which in my opinion would be based on the expertise of the community and the perceived needs of the users. The ASERL model identifies the potential ability to maintain as many copies as possible and links that with collection expertise. I encourage anyone with questions about the ASERL project to contact any of the participants and ask questions. The members have always been open to questions and criticism from the beginning of the project. see www.aserl.org

    In conclusion, the information offered by the author’s is inaccurate.

    ASERL has always welcomed the conversation, provided transparency on their project, reached out to the community, and responded openly. We wish to continue the discussion and avoid the “politiced confrontation” this piece continues.

    Posted by Bill Sudduth on December 14, 2011 02:08:05PM

  • John Burger posted this comment to our article:

    The Association of Southeastern Research Libraries finds the content of this op-ed piece to be inaccurate and its tone unhelpful.  As Bill Sudduth, a veteran Government Information Librarian at a Regional Depository Library, points out in his comment above, there are inaccuracies and innuendo here. These serve to raise the political temperature, not improve it. ASERL has asked for face-to-face meeting with GPO’s senior leadership for months to address these issues. We are hopeful such a meeting will happen in the not-too-distant future.

    Specific to the comments by Jacobs and Kelly:

    The 2008 CRS decision regarding the Kansas-Nebraska proposal was about an issue that was significantly different than the recent proposal submitted by the University of Minnesota to provide service to the residents of Michigan. Although the Michigan-Minnesota issue does not affect ASERL libraries directly, we do not believe that a specific CRS decision should be applied broadly to any type of cross-state service proposal. The ASERL proposal for managing FDLP collections in the South is about print retention — to build better print document collections, and to improve access and use by improving cataloging of those collections based on subject strength and local needs, and developing local expertise about the collections.

    The commitment to improve the cataloging and discoverability of these collections is significant, and should be welcomed by advocates for public access to government information. Initial results from pilot sites have shown tremendous increases in the use of documents collections cataloged under this program. And importantly, nowhere in the plan does ASERL advocate for the wholesale weeding or replacement of print FDLP collections with digital surrogates.

    The issue of authenticated digital copies remains unanswered at the federal level and long overdue. It may be that current national standards for preservation-level digitization will meet those needs. Once federal standards for authenticating digital copies are established, ASERL will seek to incorporate those requirements into our guidelines. However, ASERL library deans/directors felt strongly that we cannot wait to implement the broader program while waiting for this question to be answered.

    We agree with the authors that libraries need to retain an “adequate number of paper copies for direct user examination.” Again, building improved, comprehensive-as-possible paper collections of federal documents distributed across the region — and improving the discoverability of these resources — are the overall goals of this program. We also believe these improved paper collections must be supplemented by digital access, both to serve the preferences of the overwhelming majority of users and to reduce wear and tear on the aging paper collections.

    Lastly, ASERL’s plan for managing FDLP collections in the Southeast Region has been under development for several years, after consultation with and positive responses from GPO until recently. It is disturbing that our response to GPO’s change in interpretation is considered by the authors to be a “confrontation” and a “personal attack on the leaders of the Government Printing Office (GPO) and the FLDP.” It has never been the intent of ASERL to personally attack anyone, and if ASERL is the offending party, we request specific examples of these “personal attacks” so we can examine them and attempt to avoid such miscommunication in the future.

    Again, we look forward to meeting face-to-face with GPO’s senior leaders to discuss the issues and rectify any misconceptions. We also welcome additional opportunities to share our perspectives and our desire to advance the availability and use of government information in a forward thinking manner.

    Posted by John Burger on December 16, 2011 11:56:49AM

  • We posted this reply to Sudduth and Burger:

    The comments of Mr. Burger and Mr. Sudduth imply that we object to the goals of the ASERL proposal, but we do not. We share their goals. We have expressed concerns about whether or not the ASERL plan will accomplish its goals. They have not addressed what we see as legitimate concerns.

    As government information librarians who have for years been urging GPO and FDLP libraries to move to a digital FDLP, we support the goals of ASERL to improve bibliographic control of our collections and to provide digital access to older printed materials and we share the frustration of not being able to move forward more quickly. But as digital librarians who have created and managed government-information digital-library projects and who have a combined professional experience of over 40 years of designing, building, supervising, and evaluating digital library and digital preservation projects of all kinds, we also question some of the specific means ASERL is proposing to reach those goals.

    The good news is that ASERL can accomplish the majority of its goals (create better inventories of their collections, increase and enhance cataloging, digitize documents to provide “additional access points”) without GPO approval. They can also build their Centers of Excellence under existing FDLP procedures for Shared Housing Agreements.

    The only thing they cannot do without GPO’s (or, indeed, the Joint Committee on Printing’s) consent, is weed the existing print collections in the regional depositories. Although Mr. Burger says that ASERL does not “advocate” “wholesale weeding” or replacing tangible copies with digital surrogates, we believe the plan will permit just that. Indeed, the ASERL Implementation Plan explicitly allows for “the region” to have “at least two complete cataloged sets of print publications.” To us, this explicitly permits a reduction from twelve copies to two. Although the Plan allows for the possibility of retaining more than two, it does not require more than two nor does it justify how only two copies might be adequate.

    We are further led to this conclusion because for years we have read how ARL libraries advocate weeding their collections, minimizing the number of paper copies, and using digital surrogates to replace paper. (See for example Burger, et al., ASERL’s Virtual Storage/Preservation Concept; ARL, Future Directions for the Federal Depository Library Program; Russell, Remarks by Judy Russell, 142nd ARL Membership Meeting; and Ithaka S+R, Documents for a Digital Democracy.) Now that ASERL has a concrete proposal that could apparently do just that, we are concerned that the plan lacks the necessary safeguards that would ensure it can meet the needs of users for both paper and authenticated digital copies.

    We suggest that ASERL continue to move forward now on its project goals that do not require GPO’s approval, and simultaneously work with GPO and the entire FDLP community to resolve the legitimate, long-term issues regarding digitization and national collection preservation. This will benefit not just ASERL but all FDLP libraries and all users of government information, both now and in the future.

    –Posted by Jim Jacobs on December 18, 2011 07:45:40PM

  • We also posted a longer follow up response to Sudduth and Burger here on FGI: Achieving a collaborative FDLP future

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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