The FDLP's roots date to 1813, when Congress first began regular distribution of Government documents to libraries. It has been called "America's first freedom of information" program. It is based on the principle that citizens should have unimpeded access to information by and about their government.
There are 1,337 depository libraries throughout the Nation. That is an average of 3 depository libraries per congressional district. The FDLP serves an estimated 9.5 million people in the aggregate each year (not including those using GPO Access outside libraries), based on walk-ins, phone contacts, and electronic contacts. That's an average of 7,100 per year per library.
Most depository libraries have been designated as Federal depositories by Members of Congress.
Over 50% of the depositories are in colleges and universities, making the depository program a key component of the national education system. 20% are in public libraries. Over 150 law school libraries are depositories, as are other key sector libraries, such as the National Library of Medicine and the National Agricultural Library.
The FDLP is already heavily electronic. In FY 1999, 46 percent of the new titles made available were disseminated electronically. So far in FY 2000, some 50% of the new titles available to the public through the FDLP have been online. Because of electronic information dissemination, the FDLP now delivers more products than ever before. In FY 1999, 70,340 new titles were disseminated through the FDLP, the second highest amount ever. GPO Access makes more that 170,000 Federal titles available to FDLP users as well as the public, and more than 21 million documents are downloaded each month.
Increased public use of electronic Government information requires more support for libraries, not less. As electronic information resources grow, there is increased need for assistance provided by librarians in finding information. Electronic information also disappears quickly, so there is an increased need for libraries to provide partnership services to ensure permanent public access to online information.
There is still a significant demand for a large number of Federal titles in print. The demand is based on what FDLP librarians and users want and need. Print ensures authenticity, permanence, portability, and a variety of other purposes that have yet to be provided as easily by electronics. In FY 1999, the FDLP disseminated 16.1 million copies of more than 40,000 titles in paper and microfiche to libraries. Approximately 15,000 titles were in both electronic and print formats (i.e., Congressional Record, Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations). These are services demanded by the libraries and the publics they serve.
About 25,000 titles are available to the FDLP today only in tangible format (print, microfiche, CD-ROM). They include many important documents, such as congressional hearings. Much of the new data from the current census effort will be issued in 2001 in CD-ROM format.
The FDLP disseminates tangible copies efficiently. In FY 1999, the average cost to print, catalog, ship, and provide support services for each tangible copy distributed to the libraries was less than $1.57.
In addition to distributing documents, the FDLP provides a wide variety of support services to libraries and their patrons. The program:
- acquires publications in all formats, including electronic, which involves evaluating whether a given product belongs in the program, and tracks down fugitive documents of all types;
- classifies the products, which allows libraries to tailor their collections to the needs of their constituents;
- performs format conversions, typically print to microfiche, which saves money and is the single best solution to date to the fugitive documents issue;
- inspects depository libraries to ensure that they are meeting their public access (and other requirements) under Title 44;
- conducts continuing education events and training initiatives which strengthen the ability of depository library personnel to serve the public, including the annual Federal Depository Conference, the annual Interagency Depository Seminar, the semiannual Depository Library Council meetings, and GPO Access training;
- provides a channel for users to direct their comments about information products and services to the publishing agencies;
- consults with and advises agencies on product design issues that may effect the public's ability to use the agency information products;
- ensures that electronic Government information products disseminated through the FDLP, or incorporated in the FDLP Electronic Collection, remain permanently accessible to the public, either through partnerships or by archiving digital copies at GPO;
- answers thousands of inquiries per year from librarians and the public about what's available from the Government and how to best use GPO Access and other electronic resources;
- provides cataloging and locator services to identify, describe, locate, and provide access to Government publications in all formats;
- leads the Permanent Public Access Working Group, which brings together publishing agencies, Congressional staff, and public interest groups, to develop best practices for keeping electronic Government information available to the public;
- develops a range of services, many of them online, to assist libraries in managing their depository collections.