EPA Library Closure Policy on Hold

On October 1 of last year, the EPA closed the libaries in its headquarters and several regional braches (Federal Record notice). The penny-pinching Bush Administration policy is now on hold, pending congressional review. According to Greenwire (subscription required):

Responding to a request from Democratic lawmakers, EPA will put on hold its plan to shutter facilities and destroy materials it deems to be duplicates or obsolete. EPA deputy press secretary Jessica Emond said the agency is waiting word from Congress on how to proceed.

The White House is seeking to cut $2 million from EPA's Library Network in order to trim the overall national budget. Thus far, EPA has shut down five regional libraries and limited access in four others.

Supporters of the plan have said patrons have been increasingly requesting library materials electronically in recent years, making the physical collections less necessary. However, library advocates have warned that the cutbacks will cripple the research system.

Could the administration's effort to further divide scientific knowledge and the public be more plain, particularly given that it was closing library doors before plans for digitizing material were even solidified? Congress hadn't even provided the EPA funds with which to digitize those materials.

The Bangor Daily News recently made several arguments which suggest this policy was politically -- not fiscally -- motivated.

The agency has already closed the library at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and the contents of a specialized library on the health effects of pesticides and toxic chemicals were boxed up and sent away for storage. Three regional libraries, serving 15 states, were closed, and the hours at four others were cut back.

The libraries were used by EPA staffers for work as simple as locating chemical facilities to complex research on the health effects of pesticides to write federal standards for their use. A 2004 study by the agency found that EPA librarians saved (approximately $7 million, ed.) dollars per year because they were better able to research and locate information than the rest of the agency's staff. The libraries were also used by the state, local and tribal agencies, private companies.

Thanks to widespread outcry, including that of more than 10,000 EPA employees, the new Congress has stepped in and prevented further closures, although it is not clear whether closed libraries will be opened, if curtailed public hours will be reinstated, or if archived material will return to the libraries. It should do all these things in the interest of science, the public trust, and fiscal responsibility.

If our old high school librarian, Mrs. Dunn, is out there, we'd love to have her drive down to D.C. to read her well-crafted riot act to some high-ups at the White House.


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