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I watched the live webcast of the EPA library closures hearing at the House Committee on Science and Technology’s website this morning (the webcast was recored and is still available for viewing at their website). The opening and witness statements are now transcribed and posted as well. A summary of the hearing is described in the committee’s press release.
Also, the GAO released a report of Witness John Stephenson’s statement, entitled “EPA Needs to Follow Best Practices and Procedures When Reorganizing Its Library Network”. This coincides with a February 2008 GAO report entitled “EPA Needs to Ensure That Best Practices and Procedures Are Followed When Making Further Changes to Its Library Network”. The main recommendations from these reports include: the creation of a comprehensive plan to guide library re-organization; creation of an outreach process for garnering opinions and needs assessments of library users; create mechanisms to oversee and monitor impact; and develop procedures for the proper handling of materials.
Charles Orzehoskie, aka Chuck O, testified on behalf of the American Federation of Government Employees Council of EPA Locals #238. He declared that:
“The Council tried to work with EPA management but was stonewalled. Management was apparently not interested in what the Agency engineers, risk assessors, and scientists had to say about EPA libraries. The Administration’s action in shuttering EPA Libraries appears penny wise, pound foolish and a step backwards in protecting the environment. Unfortunately, so many of the Administrator’s decisions appear to be based on the President’s Management Agenda, and not on the mandates of Congress, the will of the American people or what would be in the best interest of accomplishing EPA’s mission”.
Jim Rettig, ALA’s President-elect, testified and focused on two points: 1) “the vital importance of access to scientific, environmental, legal, and other government information for EPA employees, scientists and the American public. 2) the necessity of the information specialist – the staff librarian – to ensure the most effective access to this information. Because there are fewer libraries and professional library staff, scientists and the public will have limited access to this
The Q & A session after the witnesses read their statements was the most entertaining portion of the hearing. View the last 20 minutes or so of the webcast to see Chairman Bart Gordan questioning (with some truly great quips and jabs) Molly O’Neill, CIO of EPA. Ms. O’Neill was rather vague and unsure of herself when asked to give specifics, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a wide-eyed deer in headlights. Lots of: “We have not done X yet but we are committed to doing so” or “I’ll have to get back to you” or “I can’t answer that question for the record”. She was unable to answer the question by the Chairman in regards to exactly who is authoring the report for the committees on appropriations, due on March 26th. Witnesses were surprised that they had not been contacted by EPA for commentary on the report, although Ms. O’Neill claimed EPA was “working closely” with the EPA libraries and those affected by the regional library closures.
In conclusion, the committee ordered that the witnesses’ organizational representatives meet with Ms. O’Neill and her staff for consultation and to offer input and commentary on the report to congress before March 26th. Chairman Gordan also had Ms. O’Neill state for the record that closed EPA libraries would re-open before the end of the fiscal year.
The House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight will hold a hearing: “EPA Library Closures: Better Access for a Broader Audience?” today (Thursday, March 13th) at 9:30 a.m. in Room 2318 of the Rayburn House Office Building. You can view the hearing from your computer via a live webcast. I’ll be watching and blogging about it afterwards.
The five key questions to be addressed, as indicated in the Hearing Charter, include:
Did EPA Have a Plan for Maintaining Continuity of Library Services When the Plan Was Implemented in 2006?
Did EPA Realize Budget Savings Through Implementation of Their Plan?
Has EPA’s Effort to Digitize Library Holdings Resulted in Greater Access to Library Collections?
Did Implementation of EPA’s Plan Ensure Continuity of Library Services to EPA Employees and the Public or Improve Library Services?
What Is The Path Forward?
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) announced that Federal Labor Relations Board Arbitrator George Edward Larney ruled that the EPA acted in bad faith when it abruptly ordered to close seven of its ten regional libraries during the past two years.
The arbitrator did not order EPA to re-open the closed libraries, because Congress already ordered them to restore the libraries in pg. 35 of a statement attached to FY 2008 budget (H.R. 2764) passed on December 26th, 2007.
Later this month, the EPA is supposed to report to Congress as to how and when it will reopen the libraries with the $3 million that was allocated for them to do so. Hopefully, the EPA will pay heed to the public’s input (including the library and depository community) in regards to planning the restoration of these libraries.
PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg echoes this sentiment, stating that “EPA employees are not the only ones negatively affected by library closures; the public now has a much harder time learning about toxic sites in their neighborhoods, the effects of new chemicals or even their local ecological history…while this ruling is a welcome development, EPA should not continue to shut the public – which is paying all the bills – out of the planning for restoration of these invaluable assets.”
The Special Libraries Association Government Information Division has an article on EPA Libraries Budget Info on its blog.
The Government Printing Office recently posted a small sample of EPA documents harvested from the EPA web. I’m not writing about this effort today, but so far it looks promising and I commend GPO for sharing part of the results with the community. There will be more about this later.
Today I’m writing about one of the fruits of their web harvesting. One of the reports that GPO pulled and I hope is eventually widely distributed in print is:
Business case for information services : EPA’s regional libraries and information centers
by United States. Office of Environmental Information.; United States. Environmental Protection Agency. National Library Network.
EPA 260-R-04-001, Published January 2004
Because I’m uncertain what will happen to the current GPO page once the pilot is finished, I’ve elected to post this report to the Internet Archive at http://www.archive.org/details/BusinessCaseForInformationServicesEpasRegionalLibrariesAndCenters.
What really impressed me about this report, which might have been mentioned before, is how the authors found a strong financial benefit to EPA running regional libraries. Here is their Executive Summary (bolding mine):
The Environmental Protection Agency?s network of regional libraries and environmental center libraries provides substantial value to the Agency, its professional staff, stakeholders, and the public. Calculated conservatively, the benefit-to-cost ratio for EPA library services ranges between 2:1 and 5.7:1. Libraries and librarians are nonetheless a significant investment, costing the Agency roughly $6.2 million annually to operate and maintain. It is an opportune time to initiate an Agency-wide dialog on the extent and nature of library services at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The rest of this 24 page report basically expands on these findings. Unsurprisingly, time as well as money were saved. According to a table at page 16 of the PDF file, 2003 reference for EPA staff saved the agency over 16,000 hours and over 14,000 hours in serving external users.
So, speaking conservatively, keeping the EPA libraries open provide $2 of benefits for every dollar spent on the libraries PLUS freed up over 30,000 hours a year that EPA staff could spend on other tasks. Makes you wonder why the agency chose to close the libraries anyway.
According to Open WorldCat, there is only one paper copy of this report in the nation’s libraries. Hopefully some of you will change that.