Federal depository librarians remain frustrated by the Government Printing Office’s shift to electronic formats because it is a move that partly ignores their current roles, some experts and librarians say.
GPO’s move to significantly cut the distribution of printed government documents will redefine the librarians’ functions as government information gatekeepers. Plans for the GPO’s future digital system were an issue at last week’s Depository Library Council meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Federal Depository Library Program’s 1,300 depository libraries are responsible for providing permanent public access to the government’s nearly 2.2 million documents, including reference maps, the United States Code, the Code of Federal Regulations, the Congressional Record and the National Trade Data Bank.
Some experts say librarians feel several forces have jeopardized their territory. Uncooperative agencies, a cash-strapped GPO and fund-starved state and university libraries are tripping up modernization, librarians say.
Some agencies distribute their documents on the Web themselves, instead of handing them to the GPO, to avoid printing costs. GPO, feeling pressure to cut costs and move to an electronic environment, wants to disseminate everything digitally, except for an “essential titles” list of as few as 50 tangible documents. And libraries do not know if they can afford a department solely devoted to government documents.
Charles McClure, a former depository librarian, now an editor at Government Information Quarterly and an information studies professor at Florida State University, said this turbulence will continue for the next couple of years.
“Librarians have a good reason to feel threatened about their careers, about their future,” he said.
McClure added that GPO should conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the depository library program to make better decisions. No comprehensive evaluation of the program has been completed since one of his studies in the mid-1980s, he said.
“How many users are there of the depository library program, right now? How do they assess the quality of the program? How well is the depository library program accomplishing its mandated purpose and objectives?” McClure said. “Nobody knows.…We don’t know what’s working and what to change.”
Federal depository librarians, who attended the meeting in Albuquerque, came away saying much has to be done before the FDLP can truly provide permanent public access in the digital age.