ARCHIVED: Support for the Full FY 2001 Funding Request for the Federal Depository Libray Program

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May 31, 2000

Dear Member of the House of Representatives:

I write to you today on behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), to urge your support for the Government Printing Office's FY 2001 funding requests of $80.8 million for Congressional Printing and Binding (CP&B), and $34.4 million for the Office of Superintendent of Documents Salaries & Expenses (S&E) that provides the necessary funding to maintain the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). When the House Appropriations Committee marked up H.R. 4516 on May 9th and agreed to the severe 62% cut to funding for the FDLP proposed by the Subcommittee on Legislative, AALL members were alarmed and deeply troubled. We believe that this cut poses a very serious threat to the FDLP, a program that has operated for almost two hundred years as the most effective and efficient means of providing government information to our nation's citizenry.

The FDLP is a partnership program between Congress, government agencies and libraries based on the fundamental principle that in a democratic society, the public should have no-fee equal access to information by and about their government. This principle has been the hallmark of our nation's history and one which serves as a model for developing democracies. The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is a nonprofit educational organization with nearly 4,800 members nationwide. Recognizing that the availability of legal and government information to all people is a necessary requirement for a just and democratic society, AALL's mission is to promote and enhance the value of law libraries to the public, the legal community, and the world; to foster the profession of law librarianship; and to provide leadership in the field of legal information and information policy.

Equal access to government information by the public is one of our key policy goals. AALL was pleased to participate in the congressionally mandated Study to Identify Measures Necessary for a Successful Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library Program (June 1996). That important study developed a framework and a time frame for the Government Printing Office to make more government information available through the Internet. Each month the award-winning GPO Access averages over 21 million documents retrieved by users. In FY 1999, the Superintendent of Documents disseminated 46% of new titles electronically and thus far in FY 2000, some 50% of new titles available to the public through depository libraries have been online. While we applaud increased access to electronic government information, there is still a large public need for a number of core titles to be available in print. In FY 1999, the FDLP disseminated 16.1 million copies of more than 40,000 titles in paper and microfiche to depository libraries; 15,000 were in electronic and print formats; and 25,000 were available only in tangible formats.

The 1996 GPO Study concluded that several important policy issues must be addressed before we can rely on a fully electronic FDLP, including the permanent public access and authenticity of electronic publications. Permanent public access is needed to ensure that government information available only through the Internet will be continually and historically available to the public, and authenticity is necessary to ensure that the electronic version of government publications, especially core legal titles, are certified as authentic. These important challenges of the digital environment remain unresolved today and AALL is committed to working with Congress to help develop government wide policies to resolve them.

We believe that the decision by the House Appropriations Committee to cut the CP&B appropriations by 11% and the S&E by 62%, in effect ending all distribution of print publications to depository libraries, is short-sighted and unwise. It threatens the ability of the American public who, as citizens and taxpayers, have a right to be able to locate easily and use official government information produced today in twenty, fifty and even a hundred years from now. According to House Report 106-635, among the print titles covered under the CP&B that will no longer be produced (and therefore will no longer be distributed to depository libraries) are:

the Congressional Directory, engineering and agricultural reports, memorial addresses, nominations, serial sets, blank paper for Congressional use, constituent copies of the Congressional Record, the 2000 version of the United States Code, and other publications not absolutely essential to the day-to-day operations and legislative activities of House and Senate.

The report further states that the reduction from $29.9 million in S&E for FY 2000 to a mere $11.6 million for FY 2001--an $18.3 million decrease--removes funding for the distribution of paper and other tangible copies of government publications to depository libraries. Together these reductions effectively end the production and distribution of core depository titles such as the daily Congressional Record, the Federal Register, the Code of Federal Regulations, congressional documents, reports and hearings, and the official version of the 2000 U.S. Code. We believe that these titles are core official documents of democracy and that they must continue to be made available to the public in print though the depository library program so that they will be available for future generations.

Among the 1,337 depository libraries throughout the nation, 207 are located in courts, law schools and county law libraries. Statistics derived from the most recent Biennial Survey show that law libraries that participate in the depository library program respond to 17,519 requests for government information per week. We are very proud of the public good services these law libraries provide in putting law-related government information into the hands of your constituents. It represents our commitment to the needs of the American public for authoritative legal information produced by the federal government.

I urge you to oppose H.R. 4516 and to restore full funding to the Government Printing Office's CP&B and S&E to continue the distribution of these documents of democracy so that the American public--your constituents-- will be ensured permanent access to the official versions of government publications through their local depository library. It is vital that the American public be able to locate and use the government information they need in all formats. For important law-related titles, depository libraries must be able to provide the official print authoritative version. In this year of unprecedented national surpluses, we look to Congress to invest in the legal and government information needs of your constituents and our nation's citizenry. Thank you very much for your immediate attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Margaret Maes Axtmann
President
American Association of Law Libraries