GAO Report Finds EPA Lacks Strategic Plan for its Library Network

AALL strongly opposed the closure of five of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) libraries as soon as we learned of the agency’s troubling plans to reorganize its library network in spring 2006. We immediately met with EPA’s Chief Information Officer and other agency staff to  get more information on why this short-sighted decision was made. We also expressed our concerns about the loss of public access to EPA resources to members of Congress.

In February 2007, American Library Association (ALA) President Leslie Burger testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on behalf of ALA, AALL and the Association of Research Libraries to emphasize the importance of EPA’s libraries to our members and the public. In March 2008, ALA President Jim Rettig testified before the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight on behalf of ALA and AALL to express concerns about EPA’s digitization plans and ask that Congress urge EPA to base its actions on user needs.

After many calls and letters to Capitol Hill from AALL members, our chapters, and others concerned about the closures, we were very pleased when Congress provided EPA with a $1 million order, included in the FY 2008 appropriations omnibus bill (P.L.110-161), to reopen the libraries. Three regional libraries in Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City and a combined EPA Headquarters and Chemical Libraries reopened their doors to the public in September 2008.

Members of Congress asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a series of reports to monitor  the status of EPA’s library reorganization plans. The latest recently released report identifies three major failings and offers a number of important recommendations.

GAO found that EPA:

  • Has not yet completed the strategic plan for its library network, despite having consulted with AALL and other library organizations more than two years ago to get our feedback on a draft outline of the plan.
  • Has not taken a complete inventory of its library holdings and thus has been unable to determine which documents need to be digitized, and the costs and time involved.
  • Has used a flawed survey design to assess the information needs of its staff, producing unreliable results.

As a result of these shortcomings, GAO recommends that EPA:

  • Complete its strategic plan, including implementation goals and a timeline.
  • Conduct an inventory of the library network’s holdings to identify what items need to be digitized.
  • Ensure that future surveys of library staff and user needs are methodologically sound.

We are disappointed that EPA has not taken proper steps during the last two years to complete an overall strategy for its library network, or to develop a blueprint for digitizing its collections. We are also troubled that EPA has failed to continue a dialog with the library community since we were engaged in those first discussions with agency officials.

In response to the report, EPA has agreed to finish its strategic plan and complete cataloging its library holdings by the end of this fiscal year, September 30, 2011. AALL will continue to closely monitor EPA’s progress in responding to GAO’s important recommendations.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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