November 29, 2006

EPA Library Closures And Pushback

Back in February, I wrote about planned closures in the EPA library system, which were facing a brisk budget cut and the possible loss of numerous, irreplaceable documents. How's that coming? Well, not so great.

From a November 3rd, 2006 letter signed by Sen. Boxer and 17 Senate colleagues:

... EPA has already eliminated or reduced library service to the public in seven EPA regions covering 31 states and is planning to close its Headquarters' library and maintain it only as a repository. (Attachment) EPA has also closed its pesticide and toxics program library, reducing access to unique materials needed to assess pesticides and other chemicals' potential health effects on children. EPA is implementing these devastating closures on the grounds that they expect to save $2 million.

EPA's libraries provide far more benefits than the minor cost reductions resulting from their closure. A 2004 EPA report found that "[c]alculated conservatively, the benefit-to-cost ratio for EPA library services ranges between 2:1 and 5.7:1." The report noted that libraries saved EPA professional staff $7.5 million and non-EPA personnel $2.8 million, in 2003; and that one-third of the libraries' work gave EPA $22 million in benefits.

The American Library Association, American Association of Law Libraries, and Special Library Association strongly oppose the cuts, pointing out that EPA has "unique collections, including an estimated 50,000 one-of-a-kind primary source documents that are available nowhere else." ...

This Boston Globe editorial looks at the cuts to date:

... The largest source of environmental information in the world, the EPA libraries house more than 500,000 books and reports and 25,000 maps.

Some of the most important users of the libraries are EPA employees themselves, as they prepare to prosecute cases against environmental scofflaws. The shutdown of the agency's main library in Washington [DC], regional libraries in Chicago, Kansas City, and Dallas, and a library for evaluating new chemicals, is an act of unilateral disarmament in the lopsided contest between polluters and government regulators who lack the support of the White House. ... A memo this August from the EPA's own Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance expressed concern that the loss of librarians' institutional memory and expertise would hamper its work.

... A June 8 memo from the agency's chief financial officer warns that next year's reductions could even curtail EPA laboratory operations. ...

Alternet critiques the Bush EPA's excuse for having already closed those locations:

... The EPA's precipitous move to close the libraries was based on a $2 million cut in Bush's proposed $8 billion EPA budget for 2007. EPA bureaucrats did not wait to see if Congress might restore the funds or shift budget priorities in order to save the libraries; it acted immediately to box up documents for deep storage, and shut the doors.

While the official EPA line is that all of the documents will be eventually be digitized and made available online, this will cost money that the agency does not have, so for practical purposes, all of the thousands of reports and maps that now exist only on paper or microfiche will be lost to the public and to agency scientists. They might as well just burn them. ...

A Government Executive article from Nov. 6th describes in more detail how the cuts will affect EPA employees, the change in the quality of service due to the loss of trained reference librarians and quotes an anonymous EPA source stating that cuts should be expected again in the following budget.

Is it any wonder that, following the election, the executive director of the American Library Association, Emily Sheketoff, was openly looking forward to a Democratic led Congress? Consider writing a letter to your representatives urging them to take immediate action to restore the EPA library system to the level of service it offered at the beginning of 2006.

Posted by natasha at November 29, 2006 09:40 AM | Environment | Technorati links |