Last fall I posted on the Environmental Protection Agency's plans to shutter its regional libraries. In the intervening months, it appears the EPA has moved forward with its plans, despite growing criticism and the concerns of the incoming Congressional leadership. Among those who have challenged the plans are library associations, EPA professional staff, and environmentalist groups. A group of environmental law professors (including yours truly) also sent a letter to the incoming Congressional leadership (including relevatn committee chairs) encouraging them to challenge the EPA's plans. The letter reads in part:
As you are undoubtedly aware, on September 20th, EPA published a Federal Register notice announcing that, as of October 1st, the main library at the Agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters would be shuttered to EPA’s own staff, as well as to the general public, ostensibly for budgetary reasons. EPA libraries are already closed down in a number of the Agency’s regional offices, as well as in its headquarters, and the hours of a number of its other regional libraries have been significantly curtailed. The vital technical documents that those libraries contained are now being dispersed. In some cases, reportedly, they are actually being destroyed.
When it made these steps public, the Administration stated that EPA’s staff and the public may now access the information they require through EPA websites, rather than in hard copy. That contention is substantially false. Although the federal government has made significant strides in providing internet access to its documents, the vast majority of the documents in the closed EPA libraries are not digitized, and no funds have been allocated for that process to be completed. The likelihood that critical documents will now be damaged or lost is therefore very high. . . .
Ironically, the monetary savings that will result from these library shutdowns seem paltry, if not entirely illusory. . . . As a percentage of EPA’s overall budget, any fiscal savings from the closures will be minuscule.
Moreover, EPA’s libraries were also a valuable repository of environmental information for the general public with respect to such topics as historical trends in the contamination of local areas and techniques for the mitigation and control of pollution. . . .
Over the holidays, Rebecca Bratspies posted an update on Biolaw:
The Bush Administration has apparently began to feel the pressure. On December 11, 2006, EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock spoke for the first time about the library closures and defended the closures as a budgetary matter and again asserted that documents would be available online. However, virtually none of the EPA records that exist prior to 1990 have been digitized and there are no funds allocated for that process in EPA's 2007 budget. Peacock did indicate that EPA had "rescheduled the recycling" (read destruction) of documents in light of the congressional request. Much of the national press picked up the story at this point.
Nonetheless, as of now, E.P.A has closed its libraries in Dallas, Chicago and Kansas City. The Boston, New York, San Francisco and Seattle libraries are operating with reduced hours and public access. The central library in Washington, D.C., while nominally still open to E.P.A staff, has been closed to the public.
Apparently in an attempt to make the changes irreversable, an unknown number of documents have already been destroyed and the collections of the closed libraries dispersed. In one of the more bizarre turns, all the library furniture and fixtures from the Chicago library, said to be worth $80,000 were sold at auction for $350. The unseemly haste with which these critical libraries have been dismantled is startling.
Whatever one's view of current environmental regulations, or the EPA, closing libraries before all relevant materials are available on-line is a bad move. If motivated by budgetary concerns, it is penny-wise, but pound-foolish.