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As EPA libraries go digital, public access suffers

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  • binstock@peakpeak.com
    As EPA libraries go digital, public access suffers By Mark Clayton | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2006
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      As EPA libraries go digital, public access suffers

      By Mark Clayton | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
      http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/1201/p02s02-uspo.html


      For a new Democratic Congress facing big environmental issues from global
      warming to dwindling fisheries, the first step may be keeping the nation's
      top environmental libraries from closing - and saving their myriad tomes
      from ending up as recycled cardboard.

      To meet a proposed 2007 budget cut, the Environmental Protection Agency
      has in recent months shuttered regional branches in Chicago, Dallas, and
      Kansas City, Mo., serving 15 states, and has cut hours and restricted
      access to four other regional libraries, affecting 16 states. Two
      additional libraries in the EPA's Washington headquarters closed in October.

      Until these closures, the EPA had 26 libraries, brimming with a trove of
      environmental science in 500,000 books, 25,000 maps, thousands of studies
      and decades of research - much of it irreplaceable, experts say.

      EPA officials say the closures are part of a plan "to modernize and
      improve" services while trimming $2 million from its budget. Under the
      plan, "unique" library documents would be "digitized" as part of a shift
      to online retrieval.

      But while electronic databases are easy to access, they could end up being
      more costly to use - and thousands of those "unique" paper documents may
      now sit for years in repositories waiting for the funding needed to
      "digitize" them, critics say. Meanwhile, the closings are proceeding so
      quickly that key materials are likely to be lost or inaccessible for a
      long time, EPA librarians say.

      Current and former librarians recoiled over reports that scientific
      journals worth hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars were thrown in
      dumpsters in October.

      "I was appalled when I heard about what was happening and I'm still upset
      about it," says Dorothy Biggs, a 10-year veteran librarian with the EPA's
      National Enforcement Investigations Center Library in Denver who retired
      in June.

      Some observers say the library closures are part of a recent pattern at
      the EPA.

      "We think this is one of several actions the Bush administration is taking
      to lobotomize the EPA, to reduce its capability, so it's much less able to
      independently review industry submissions," says Jeff Ruch, executive
      director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a
      Washington-based nonprofit group that advocates for federal environment
      employees.

      EPA officials dispute many of the librarians' concerns. The office "is not
      recycling or disposing of any unique agency documents or externally
      developed materials, e.g., journals, scientific publications, etc., that
      cannot be accessed elsewhere," wrote EPA spokesman Suzanne Ackerman in a
      statement. "We are recycling non-unique documents that can be easily
      obtained elsewhere. Scientists will continue to have access to these
      non-EPA journals and publications."

      Congressional Democrats, who will hold the majority next year and
      therefore will have greater control over the EPA's budget, are already
      seeking to investigate the matter.

      In an Oct. 26 letter, Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Frank Lautenberg
      pleaded for Congress to reexamine the cuts.

      The letter asked top Republicans to "solicit and consider public and
      Congressional input, in an open process, prior to making any decision to
      close a library, cut services, or dramatically restructure the Agency's
      library system."

      *

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