ARCHIVED: Public Access to Government Information in the 21st Century

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September 12, 1996

The Honorable John W. Warner
Chairman, Committee on Rules and Administration
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Mr. Chairman:

On behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries, I would like to commend you and your colleagues on the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration for the recent series of hearings on "Public Access to Government Information in the 21st Century." We applaud the two goals you set for these very timely and important hearings: first, to determine how the government can best utilize new technologies to improve, not lessen, public access to federal government information; and second, to lay the groundwork for bringing USC Title 44 into the 21st century using advanced technologies in a cost-effective way.

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is a nonprofit educational organization with over 5,000 members nationwide. Our members respond to the legal and governmental information needs of legislators, judges, and other public officials at all levels of government, corporations and small businesses, law professors and students, attorneys, and members of the general public.

AALL was pleased when last year the Senate mandated that the Government Printing Office (GPO) conduct a study to identify measures through which all three branches of government could use new technologies to improve the public's access to government information (S. Rept. 104-114 and H. Rept. 104-212 on H.R. 1854, the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act of 1996). Just as your hearings began in June, GPO released its final report on the Study to Identify Measures Necessary for a Successful Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library Program.

One of the strengths of this year-long process was to bring together many partners within government as well as the public and private sectors. AALL participated in the GPO Study in an advisory capacity and coordinated joint letters to the Public Printer on behalf of the principal library associations at key points throughout the year (Attachment M of the Final Report). These letters articulate many issues, reiterated in our joint testimony before your committee on June 18, 1996, which we believe must be resolved before moving ahead too quickly on the transition to a more electronic Federal Depository Library Program.

We applaud your committee for so effectively designing the four-part series of hearings on public access that provide a comprehensive public record of the many issues and challenges ahead. We are especially pleased that you brought together a group of witnesses representing all participating partners. Taken together, the testimonies from representatives of the Government Printing Office, the library community, the executive and judicial branches, key agencies, the printing industry, the private sector, and experts in the fields of technology and demographics combine to provide a comprehensive foundation for the enormous task ahead.

Like you and the esteemed members of your committee, AALL is strongly committed to the principles of public access to government information on which the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) is based. In fact, approximately 250 law libraries participate in the FDLP, serving the legal information needs of the American people in academic, state, county and public law libraries.

Your committee's commitment to public access is particularly critical at a time when the move to a more electronic program presents so many new challenges for us all and when resources are becoming scarce. While the GPO report provides the framework for moving forward, many issues remain to be resolved. We are especially appreciative that your committee's recent hearings focused on some of these important issues. These include shifting costs and responsibilities, both within the government and the depository library community; the critical need for bibliographic and permanent access to electronic information, and for its preservation; the need for standards to assure the usability of information; and the need for assurances that information is both authentic and reliable, an issue of particular importance to the legal and research communities.

On a matter related to the transition from a print-based to a more electronic FDLP, we would like to bring to your attention the fact that H.R. 3754, the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act of 1997, has cut funding for the print production of two titles that are critical to the legal community, the U.S. Congressional Serial Set and the bound Congressional Record. As of January 1997, these titles will be distributed to depository libraries on CD-ROM with the sole exception of the fifty-three regional depository libraries that will continue to receive the bound volumes. Law librarians use these materials extensively and need access to the print editions in addition to any electronic versions. The U.S. Congressional Serial Set and the bound Congressional Record are the official and authoritative historical record of the deliberations of Congress. Both titles are vital to the compilation of legislative histories and should be preserved in their bound, numbered editions.

At AALL's recent Annual Meeting, our Executive Board passed the attached resolution urging members of Congress to fund the bound numbered editions of both these titles. We believe that there are cost-cutting measures available and that depository libraries should have the option of selecting either the print or the electronic version of these important titles. In the coming weeks we hope to explore with GPO some possible alternatives to this drastic measure that eliminates, particularly in the case of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, a veritable national treasure. We hope that we can count on your support and that of your colleagues in preserving access to these important documents in a print format.

Thank you again, Senator Warner, for your strong commitment to the Federal Depository Library Program and for holding the important hearings on "Public Access to Government Information in the 21st Century." The record of these hearings supplement the GPO Final Report and together they provide a balanced and comprehensive framework as Congress continues to explore ways to improve public access to government information. Success in such an ambitious endeavor can only be achieved through good planning and a spirit of cooperation among all partners. AALL hopes to continue to be an active participant as the policy debate regarding federal government information progresses.

Sincerely,

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

cc:
The Honorable Wendell H. Ford, Ranking Member, Senate
Committee on Rules and Administration
Rep. Bill Thomas, Chair, Joint Committee on Printing
Michael F. DiMario, Public Printer, Government Printing Office