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More notes from EPA Q&A sessions

I’m still getting my notes together from the several sessions in which EPA officials fielded questions from librarians at GODORT sessions. The notes below are from the session presided over by the ALA Committee on Legislation Subcommittee on Federal Libraries. Over the coming days, I’ll be posting more notes from others who were there. Please leave comments and/or recollections. One of the most potent points made at this session was about precedent. The questioner was extremely worried that EPA’s decisions would set a precedent for other federal libraries (and we already know that other federal libraries are planning closings etc.). By leaving your comments (remember they can be anonymous), you’ll be adding your voice to the discussion.

And now to the notes. As always, these are my notes based on my own memory, hearing and poor typing skills 😉 Any errors are completely my fault.

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EPA meeting sunday 1/21/07
ALA Committee on Legislation Subcommittee on Federal Libraries
EPA staff: Mike Flynn, Rick Martin and a few others who’s names I didn’t catch

During EPA’s introduction, you mentioned that you had a number of takeaways from the various meetings during the ALA conference. What are the most important things that you’ve “taken away” from these talks?

EPA: Concern about loss of documents and information. EPA’s collections are critical to so many operations. We must make sure we don’t lose critical materials in the digitization process.

Concern about the digitization process, make sure there is proper metadata, they will make available the technical specs of the process and will have an independent review of that process.

There’s a need to continue to communicate, a sense from the stakeholders that there has not been enough communication with those that are affected by this shift. We need to do more outreach outside our (EPA) community and a stronger connection inside the network. Information access is our primary job. Libraries and librarians are a key part of that.

Concern about the physical closures and loss of physical presence. Contract librarians have been dropped. We will go back and look at that and make sure there is enough support for public services.

Question: Transparency is key to this process and that includes posting specs etc on your website. There are MANY other stakeholders (academics, law librarians etc). Transparency is above all of the previous items listed in the last question.

The Questioner looked at the statutory provisions (PLA?) and EPA manual to see if these changes are in compliance with those provisions. How does this apply to the closing of libraries to the public?

EPA: Delivery is shifting and we’re still committed to doing access electronically. Trends in regional offices is such that there have been less walkins.

Questioner: Do you have statistics on walkins for the regionals that have closed for the last 5 years?

EPA: It’s not that there are none, but walkins have dropped off. Our intentions are not to go and shut the remaining 20 some EPA libraries. There is a consistent pattern of less walkins. There are other public access avenues depending on the region. There may be a public information center/officer in addition to or instead of a librarian. Some places integrate the services and make multiple uses of the people.

Question: All of us work in libraries with undiscovered collections. We’re worried about the precedent that EPA sets in terms of the closing of *other* federal libraries. In Chicago, a lot of the federal regional libraries are looking at this. As the only expert in the area, this person was negatively affected by the number of users who were now going to the university for research assistance because they could no longer get help from EPA.

EPA: We are sensitized to the issues and concerns. We’re not just closing down but are shifting and helping to set a new model.

Question: 3 comments. This person is also concerned about the precedent setting. Part of that precedent is that there was no communication and dialog with user communities before the process went forward. Depository libraries will take all comers and want to have access to materials. 3rd, the real question is, what will you do with those walkins? Will you refer them somewhere else?

EPA: All regions have a public intake process and those things will continue. Walkins in need of information and research will be referred.

Question: You mentioned email reference question. Is there a system of email question management? how is email reference done at EPA?

EPA: We have automated the process and have created a knowledge base and FAQ. But each of the areas/programs deal with email. There are a number of professional librarians who are answering email and phone questions. Regional offices are in the process of putting a research assistance process is in place. We’re making sure there is information for the public on how they can get help.

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