WASHINGTON - September 21 - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is closing its Headquarters Library to the public, as well as its own staff, effective October 1. This shutdown is the latest in a series of agency library closures during the past few weeks, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As with the other library collections, the books, reports and research monographs in the EPA Headquarters Library have been boxed up and are currently inaccessible to anyone.
The Headquarters Library collection contains 380,000 documents on microfiche (including technical reports produced by EPA and its predecessor agencies), a microforms collection that includes back files of abstracts and indexes, 5,500 hard copy EPA documents, as well as more than 16,000 books and technical reports produced by government agencies other than EPA.
EPA will not say when any of this material will again become available to its staff or the public either via the internet or through inter-library loans. As the agency claims that the library closures are for budgetary reasons, it has no dedicated funds for digitizing hard copies, making microfiche available online or re-cataloguing the tens of thousands of documents that will be relocated to large storage areas called “information repositories.”
“EPA is busily crating up and locking away its institutional memory,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that more than 10,000 EPA scientists and other specialists are protesting the library closures as hindering their ability to do their jobs. “Despite its ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ public statements, EPA has no coherent plan let alone a timetable for making these collections available.”
EPA made a formal announcement of this latest library closure in a Federal Register notice published on September 20, 2006, just days before the complete shutdown takes effect. The notice is required under a federal policy (Office of Budget & Management Circular A-130) requiring that the public be notified whenever “terminating significant information dissemination products.”
Curiously, EPA issued no similar public notice for its closures of its regional libraries in Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City, even though these three libraries provide services for the general public in 15 states and 109 tribal nations.
EPA’s library closures (which the agency euphemistically calls “deaccessioning procedures”) are sparking congressional scrutiny. On September 19th, the Ranking Members of the House Committee on Science, Energy & Commerce and Government Reform (Reps. Bart Gordon (D-TN), John Dingell (D-MI) and Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), respectively) asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the effects that the EPA library closures will have on access to environmental information and the impacts on scientific research, regulatory quality and enforcement capability.
“EPA is taking the hard copies and microfilms and placing them in three giant information dumps, which they call ‘repositories,’” added Ruch, pointing to the agency promise to create three such repositories (one at its D.C. headquarters with the others in Cincinnati and Durham) to serve the entire nation. “Once these mountains of documents are moved into the repositories, what happens next is anyone’s guess.”