AALL past president Sarah (Sally) G. Holterhoff is the Associate Professor of Law Librarianship and Government Information/Reference Librarian at Valparaiso University Law School Library. Sally has chaired AALL’s Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) Task Force since its creation in 2012. The Government Relations Office recently sent Sally a number of questions about the mission of the task force, its past and present work, and the role of law librarians in the FDLP. Below are her responses.
What is the history and purpose of AALL’s FDLP Task Force? How did it come about?
Our task force was created in the Spring of 2012 by then-president Darcy Kirk, in response to shifting circumstances in the depository library community. At that time, concerns had been raised about the future direction of the FDLP. Also, the Government Printing Office had announced plans to begin a new process of gathering information about the changing needs of depository libraries. AALL clearly had a stake in these matters and in making sure that law librarians would be represented in the discussion and the outcomes. Forming a task force was also an indication of the Association’s long-standing and still-strong commitment to the FDLP.
At the Fall 2011 Federal Depository Library Conference, Superintendent of Documents Mary Alice Baish announced that GPO would be asking each state to respond to a forecast questionnaire that would solicit information about the depository library community in the state and what needed to be changed for the future. States would use the survey results to create state-focused action plans, which would all be brought together to form a national plan. As it happened, many of the librarians attending the conference commented that they would like to complete surveys for their own libraries. In response, GPO expanded the original proposal to include individual library forecast questionnaires. So, in early 2012, the depository coordinator of each FDLP library was asked to complete a detailed survey, with a June 30 deadline.
With a national conversation on the FDLP’s future underway, it was clearly important to ensure that the issues and perspectives of law librarians would be represented in the process. Two hundred law libraries participate in the FDLP and many others rely on them for government information resources and expertise. It also seemed like a good time to reexamine and reemphasize the valuable participation of law libraries in the program now and through the years. The Task Force was given a charge directing us to highlight the benefits of the program, to identify changes that would encourage continued participation by law libraries, and to facilitate a broader role for law librarians in discussions on the future of the FDLP.
How have law librarians been involved in the FDLP Forecast Study?
Our new Task Force received some visibility right away when I was asked to give the introduction for a webinar that AALL and GPO were sponsoring jointly: Law Librarians and the Federal Depository Library Program: Working Together for a Successful Future. The webinar included an in-depth look at GPO’s FDLP Forecast Study, presented by two GPO staff members, explaining its purpose, goals, and how law librarians could get involved. In my remarks, I emphasized the long history that law libraries and the FDLP have shared for over 100 years, including the 1972 law that added the highest appellate courts of the states to the program and the 1978 law that made academic law libraries eligible for depository status. In making these additions to the program, Congress acknowledged the natural fit between the service and research mission of law libraries and the goals of the depository program. Approximately 150 law school libraries and 50 state, court, county, and government law libraries are currently part of the FDLP. As we know, the influence of the depository program extends far beyond those 200 libraries. The legal profession depends on the federal government to provide official, authentic versions of the primary sources of law. The working partnership between law libraries and the FDLP serves the public by providing access to justice.
To encourage law librarians to respond to the Forecast questionnaire, I posted several messages on the e-group list of the Government Documents SIS and in June I wrote a guest post for the Washington Blawg. Because the questionnaire included a number of open-ended questions, it offered an opportunity for law librarians to mention such high priority concerns as digital authentication, online court opinions, permanent public access, and primary legal sources in print. As it turned out, the rate of responses by law librarians to the survey was quite good overall. In the academic law library category, 71 percent submitted a completed questionnaire. For the highest state court library category, the response rate was 70 percent. The lowest response percent was from the federal court library category, at 46 percent. Law librarians also worked together very effectively with colleagues in public, government and other academic libraries to create state action plans in a number of states. Just last month (May 2013) GPO began releasing data reports on the answers to some of the Forecast questions. The Task Force has started to analyze the responses from law librarians in the categories of academic, highest state court, & federal court, and to come to some logical conclusions based on the results. Since future releases are scheduled after our Task Force term is over, the analysis of the data will have to be continued by the GRO or some other AALL group.
What are some of the highlights of the last year and a half?
The Task Force decided it was important to “take the pulse” of law libraries involved in the FDLP. Doing phone interviews with AALL members was the method we chose to do that. In June 2012 the other Task Force members and I together spoke with about 40 AALL members who have a connection with or interest in the depository program. From these conversations we identified some common concerns of law librarians and came up with some specific suggestions for what law libraries need to stay in the program. Following our charge to provide feedback to GPO, we arranged to meet with Mary Alice Baish, Superintendent of Documents, during the 2012 AALL Annual Meeting in Boston, so we could discuss our findings with her. Common concerns included preservation of government information in all formats and the digitization of legacy print collections. AALL members would like FDsys to have a more user-friendly interface and to include more federal court opinions. There is still strong support for the FDLP from law libraries of all types. The individuals we contacted say their libraries intend to stay in the program. Here are some representative quotes that sum up a general attitude of support:
- “The FDLP is the public face of the U.S. government for the public.”
- “GPO is the central agency for organizing government information and adding value to it by making it accessible.”
- “A real strength of the FDLP for law librarians is authentication of legal resources, so that they can be taken to court or used in a contract.”
- “Thanks to GPO, the U.S. is a model of digital authentication for the 50 states and for countries around the world.”
Making law library depositories more visible was another goal for us. Thanks to outreach to the AALL Public Relations Committee by Task Force member Camilla Tubbs, a new category of “Government Information Librarians or Libraries” was added this year to the AALL Day in the Life photo contest. There were a number of entries in that category and three winners were selected. We plan to use some of the photos for displays at the 2013 AALL Annual Meeting in Seattle.
Communication with the Government Printing Office was part of our charge. We decided that one important contact would be with the Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks. We worked with the AALL GRO to draft a letter which was signed jointly by AALL President Jean Wenger and by me (on behalf of the Task Force). In the letter, which was sent in early February, we offered GPO the praise and support of AALL, as well as encouragement to do more of certain activities. We also suggested a possible in-person meeting between the Acting Public Printer and Jean (who was coming to D.C. in April for other reasons). We were pleased that the meeting did take place and that it resulted in an excellent discussion. We are hopeful that this is the first of more meetings of this sort in future years.
What does the Task Force have planned for this year’s Annual Meeting in Seattle?
=We want to focus the attention of Annual Meeting attendees on the important role of law libraries in the depository program. Thanks to Task Force member Kate Irwin-Smiler, we will be presenting a Poster Session, “Law Libraries and the FDLP: Still a Winning Partnership”. We will be spotlighting both policy and practice in the modern-day law library depository. We investigated law library collection development policies and found some good examples of language mentioning federal depository status and resources. These could serve as good models for others to use and our poster will feature them. We will also be proudly displaying some of the “Day in the Life” photos from the “Government Information” category, which show law librarians at work providing access to government information resources in a depository setting.
With only four members of the Task Force (and one of us not able to be in Seattle), we all should be very busy taking part in various other activities in addition to the Poster Session. We plan to be represented at the CONELL Marketplace, at the Legislative Advocacy workshop, in the Activities Area of the Exhibit Hall (sharing table with GD-SIS), at the Coffeehouse Chat with the Superintendent of Documents, and at the GD-SIS business meeting and breakfast. We hope to spread the word on what we have learned and accomplished as a Task Force and to recruit others to carry on some of our ongoing projects.
The Task Force will soon be wrapping up its work. Will you have recommendations for the future?
We are working on a final report from our Task Force to the AALL Executive Board for its July meeting. In our recommendations we are trying to make sure that FDLP issues will continue to be addressed by other appropriate entities within AALL. We are recommending that the work of the Task Force be continued in some form by a new committee or working group of the AALL Government Documents Special Interest Section. There is still plenty to do and lots of chances for others to become involved!
We are completing work on some new resources that will be linked to from the FDLP page in the Advocacy section of AALLNET. One is a listing of all law library depositories, with name and contact information for the depository coordinator in the library. Another is a list we’ve compiled of Selected Resources Concerning Law Libraries and Librarians as Participants in the Federal Depository Library Program, including articles, webinars, Annual Meeting programs, presentations at Depository Library Council Meetings & Federal Depository Library Conferences, and AALL Testimony on the FDLP (starting with the 104th Congress, 1995-96). Another is A Brief History of the Relationship of Law Libraries and the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) with the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). Finally, we have created a list of all the law librarians who have served on the Federal Depository Library Council to the Public Printer through the years, since its beginning in 1972. All these resources seem to us to reinforce the strong ties that law libraries have had with the FDLP through the years and to emphasize the need to work together to develop a program that works well for the 21th Century. Watch for these resources to be posted soon!