ARCHIVED: Response to the Study to Identify Measures Necessary for a Successful Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library Program

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April 26, 1996

Michael F. DiMario
Public Printer
U. S. Government Printing Office
732 N. Capitol Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20401

Dear Mr. DiMario:

Thank you for this opportunity to respond to the recently released Report to the Congress: Study to Identify Measures Necessary for a Successful Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library Program. We are responding to your request to submit written comments based on the oral remarks delivered at last week s joint meeting between members of the Working Group and the Advisors. Our comments today reflect the views of the members of the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries and the Special Libraries Association.

We are pleased that our associations, which represent more than 75,000 professionals in public, academic and special libraries throughout the country, were included in an advisory capacity during the lengthy study process. We commend the Government Printing Office for carrying out this legislatively-mandated study in a manner that considered the views of all three branches of the government, the library community and the private sector. It is especially noteworthy that members of the Working Group consisted of representatives from key agencies, including the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), as well as many Congressional staff. It is hoped that one outcome of this collaborative approach will be improved understanding by all stakeholders of the serious issues of concern to libraries and other users of government information as the transition to a more electronic Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) proceeds.

The FDLP has existed for one hundred and thirty-nine years as a very successful partnership program between the federal government, libraries and the public. This partnership must become even stronger in the future in order that the move to a more electronic program succeeds in reaching its goal: that is, the use of new technologies to expand the public's access to government information. We are pleased with the draft report's principles for federal government information, including the public's right to know and the government's responsibility to disseminate and provide broad and permanent access to its information. The well-articulated goals for an electronic FDLP, as noted in the draft report, must be realized to ensure that these important principles are achieved.

It is especially gratifying that many of the comments and concerns addressed in our previous joint letter to you regarding the Transition Plan were incorporated into the draft report. We do wish to offer some additional general comments on the draft study as there continue to be many areas of serious concern and importance to our members.

TIME FRAME: We are pleased that the draft report offers a more realistic and technologically feasible five to seven year time frame for the transition. The Transition Chronology proposed in the strategic plan better reflects the nation's technological infrastructure; the ability of agencies to create and provide access to information electronically; and the capabilities of libraries and users to effectively utilize such information. We will urge members of the Congressional authorizing and appropriating committees to support this more realistic time frame so that no barriers develop during the transitional years that would reduce the public's access to government information.

VIABILITY OF PRINT: We are pleased that the draft study recognizes the continued viability of a variety of formats, including print, to meet user needs. Format decisions should be based on usage, on the needs of the user community, and also on an agency s own dissemination requirements. While electronic information offers many advantages to paper, including timeliness, the ability to perform full-text searches and to manipulate data, certain types of materials will continue to be more efficiently created, disseminated and used in paper format.

Another problematic area regarding format decisions concerns fee-based products and services; namely, when an agency stops production of a title in print and moves it into a fee-based online service. One example of this is that depository libraries have in the past been able to select the FBIS and JPRS reports in print formats but these are now available online through paid subscriptions to the new World News Connection service of the National Technical Information Service (NTIS). It is planned that by the end of this year these important materials will be available only online while the printed and microfiche reports will be phased out. Valuable materials that have traditionally been available to depositories will no longer be included in the program since NTIS does not offer no-fee access to the World News Connection for depository libraries.

REDUNDANCY AND DIVERSITY: We are pleased that the draft study recognizes the principles of redundancy and diversity as articulated in NCLIS Principle #5: The Federal Government Should Ensure a Wide Diversity of Sources of Access, Private as Well as Governmental, to Public Information. Redundancy--in access, in formats, and in preservation--is both a necessity and an advantage. It provides a safeguard in case of overloaded systems, natural or man-made disasters, and even government shutdowns.

It is the government's affirmative obligation to ensure permanent access to the information that it produces. In the electronic environment, diverse and multiple partners are needed to promote and ensure access and preservation to government information long after its initial creation and dissemination. At the same time, a diversity of other public, private and not-for-profit sources is critical to ensuring that information remains available in useful and convenient ways.

CENTRALIZATION: We are pleased that the draft study recognizes the need for coordination and centralization to meet the goals of the FDLP. The program in a distributed electronic environment requires coordination to bring all participants together on issues of: 1) standardization and guidelines to ensure ease of locating information and guarantees of long-term access; 2) no-fee access to all government information, including fee-based products and services; and 3) usability. The complexities of these issues, particularly when many agencies are creating their own web sites, seems to be underestimated in the draft report. We commend GPO ACCESS as the legislatively-mandated centralized point of entry to electronic government information and the GPO locator service that assists the public in finding information across diverse government entities. Users must have timely and comprehensive finding aids to the growing vast universe of electronic government information, and centralized coordination is the most efficient means.

In addition to the above general comments on the draft study, we firmly believe that the study's goal of ensuring broader public access through electronic means will not be achieved unless the following concerns are addressed. While details of the draft study and the strategic plan remain to be worked out, these issues are critical to the transition's success. We hope also that the collaborative approach which GPO brought to the study itself will be maintained so that all interested and involved partners, including our associations, may continue to participate in the process.

MORE DATA NEEDED: We remain very concerned that although some useful information was gathered during the study process, neither the draft report, the models developed as part of the task force reports, nor the strategic plan are based on substantive data regarding costs to and capabilities of the government, libraries or the public to produce, access and use predominately electronic information. We believe that a technical scan is necessary and we will urge Congress to approve funding for the Technical Implementation Assistance which the report proposes.

NO-FEE ACCESS: We strongly support the study's first goal statement which ensures that the public has equitable, no-fee local access to government information through depository libraries. The draft study addresses this issue by suggesting that reimbursement to agencies for fee-based services could come from the Superintendent of Documents. There are no assurances, however, that there will be continued adequate funding to support the transition plan. Consequently, we are concerned that government information for which agencies must recover costs, particularly fee-based products and services, will become a new generation of fugitive information.

LONG TERM PERMANENT ACCESS AND PRESERVATION: The draft report acknowledges that issues relating to long-term access and preservation of electronic government information require new relationships, indeed new strategies, between all stakeholders: GPO, agencies, NARA and participating libraries. Yet the draft fails to identify what these strategies may entail and the responsibilities for each partner. Long term preservation and access issues are critical to the success of the FDLP; thus it is crucial that additional information regarding these activities be provided.

In addition, the draft report includes the recommendation that GPO will assume new responsibilities in the archival arena. Through many years of maintaining preservation and archival programs and collections, libraries have learned that these efforts require significant investments in Technological solutions (e.g. deacidification and digitization pilots), personnel, and facilities. To be successful in undertaking new preservation and archiving responsibilities, GPO will need to provide additional detail regarding how such tasks will be accomplished. We suggest that a comprehensive study be undertaken among all partners to guarantee permanent long term access and preservation. For example, it is not clear how and when GPO would support the "periodic review and refreshing of data to different mediums."

The issues of long term permanent access and preservation are central to the transition to a more electronic program and thus we are especially concerned that the draft study offers no specifics, no data, no costs and no assurances. We reaffirm that these critical issues are the responsibility of the government and that they must be comprehensively addressed before the transition plan is implemented. The questions are very basic ones: first, how do we assure that electronic information will be available and usable next month, next year, or in twenty-five, fifty, or even a hundred years from now; and second, who will be responsible for ensuring long-term permanent access. In shifting long-term access from depository libraries to the government, as the draft study suggests, we must be assured that funding will remain adequate so that the government can refresh and migrate information. Otherwise, our national historical records will disappear into a black hole and the advantages of electronic information will be nullified.

COPYRIGHT-LIKE RESTRICTIONS: Principle 5 states that Government information created or compiled at Government expense or by Government employees as part of their official duties, regardless of the format in which it is published, is in the public domain. We strongly affirm this principle and note that some agencies are imposing copyright-like restrictions on electronic information. Worrisome patterns are already being proposed; for example, in the case of an agency restricting the downloading of information or its electronic re-transmission. This is an egregious barrier not only to the public's current and long term access to information but also to innovative and creative forces in the private sector to develop enhanced products and services. Further, regarding the proposal of the National Technical Information Service, libraries can neither restrict nor control users from placing electronic information on the Internet.

FEE-BASED PRODUCTS AND SERVICES: In order to fulfill the goals of an enhanced FDLP program, it is vital that materials not currently in the program, such as those created by self-supporting agencies who are by law required to recover their costs, be included. While the draft report proposes models through which these materials would enter the program, the key question is, of course, who is going to pay. GPO suggests that the Superintendent of Documents would reimburse agencies for the cost of including these products and services in the program. However, there are no guarantees that Congress would assure the necessary funding.

This issue addresses the troubling question of cost recovery and quasi-business corporations. Regarding the NTIS proposal for example, it is very troubling that libraries would be asked to become watchdogs to ensure that these electronic materials do not leak out into the public domain. We are also concerned that these or similar restrictions could potentially be used by agencies for access to services for which users have paid subscriptions. A strong affirmation on redistribution without copyright-like restrictions for agency cost-recovery programs is imperative.

ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF PROGRAM LIBRARIES: We are concerned that since all depository libraries will soon be required to have Internet access and since, according to the plan, most government information will be available in electronic format, even the smallest program library will by default become a regional for electronic government information. Requiring all libraries to fulfill the regional depository libraries statutory responsibilities of access and service will place undue burdens on selectives. In order to prevent this occurrence, more flexibility must be built into the program that allows libraries to provide access to electronic information in a manner they can accommodate. We must all acknowledge the tremendous value of program libraries and it is important to provide incentives for their continued participation in the program.

CONCLUSION:

These comments on the draft study and the strategic plan supplement our oral comments delivered at last week's joint Working Group and Advisors meeting. We will submit additional comments on the draft study and particularly on some of the specific Task Force Reports within the next few weeks. In particular, we are troubled that some proposed alternative models in several of the Task Force Reports may not be wholly in accord with the study's affirmed principles and goals and thus are very problematic to our members.

We are especially pleased to see the new draft language of the definitions in Chapter 19, Title 44 that acknowledge that electronic information is explicitly defined in the law as being a key component of the FDLP. It is crucial that Chapter 19 be amended to reflect these changes in definitions and the broader scope of the FDLP to assure that the goals for a more electronic program are achieved.

We believe that funding for the technology grants will provide seed money for small selective libraries which otherwise would be unable to provide access to electronic products and services to members of their local communities. One-time technology grants are a step in the right direction although they may not be sufficient since technology itself changes so rapidly as do user needs. To strengthen the justification for these technology grants, we suggest that GPO determine the number of libraries that would be unable to provide access to the expanding array of electronic FDLP materials without these start-up grants.

We would like to make the following recommendations:

  1. that the substantial progress and inter-agency dialog achieved throughout the past year continue;

     

  2. that GPO and agencies work together to determine consistency regarding format and standards; and

     

  3. that the Working Group model continue with Information Resource Management representatives from GPO, the Library of Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, as well as the library community and users.

We remain concerned that the draft study lacks clear incentives for agencies to participate in the program, particularly when their budgets are being cut. We also firmly believe that means of oversight and compliance must be provided in a meaningful and effective way. Our associations, representing the broader library community, are willing to work with you to supplement and strengthen the study by offering additional information in the following areas: the capabilities of and impact on libraries and users; the role and responsibilities of regional and selective depository libraries; and the troublesome questions of oversight and compliance. Thank you very much for this opportunity to comment on the draft report.

Sincerely,

Robert L. Oakley
Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries

Carol C. Henderson
Executive Director - Washington Office
American Library Association

Prudence S. Adler
Assistant Executive Director
Association of Research Libraries

David R. Bender
Executive Director
Special Libraries Association

cc:
Members, House and Senate Legislative Appropriations Subcommittees
Chair and Ranking Minority Member, House and Senate Authorizing Committees
Ms. Linda Kemp, Staff Director, Joint Committee on Printing