ARCHIVED: Stop GPO's Abrupt Plan to Eliminate Print Distribution of Important Government Information to Our Nation's Federal Depository Libraries

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Although the Government Printing Office's appropriations bill for FY 2006 has not yet been introduced in Congress, Superintendent of Documents Judith C. Russell announced during the recent ALA Midwinter Conference in Boston that GPO has requested level funding in their FY 2006 appropriations for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), plus cost of living increases. As a result of this action, Ms. Russell also announced that the following changes in the distribution of print materials to our Nation's federal depository libraries will take effect October 1, 2005.

First, GPO will produce and distribute only the 50 titles listed on the "Essential Titles for Public Use in Paper Format." This will have a profound negative impact on access to authentic government information in formats most usable to the American public. The Essential Titles List, last revised in 2000, does not include important materials including maps, geological information, administrative decisions and other legal materials, as well as Senate and House reports, documents, and hearings that inform the citizenry of the workings of Congress.

Second, GPO will initiate a Print on Demand (POD) Allowance Program of $500 for selective depository libraries and $1500 for the 53 regional depository libraries to purchase titles that are not on the Essential Titles List. Since depository libraries will only receive the few "Essential Titles" distributed in print, GPO is in effect asking Congress to support a new fee-based Print on Demand Program that has not yet been established or tested. Further, depository libraries will have to expend significant funds from their own budget to cover administrative costs associated with this new program and purchase print titles, formerly distributed through the FDLP at no cost, when print is the appropriate and needed format for their user communities. GPO admits that POD technology is not archival and that the materials depository libraries purchase through this new service will have a shelf life of only 20 to 30 years.

Third, there will be a small amount of money to distribute a handful of important titles that occur unexpectedly in any given year, such as the 2004 9-11 Commission Report.

As FDLP partners, the depository library community has historically provided GPO with feedback on how to successfully manage the FDLP to meet the needs of all user groups. Unfortunately, the library community was not consulted about this latest move. GPO has alluded to other possible options but only announced this one. And although Superintendent of Documents Judith Russell informed us in Boston that alternative options could be discussed at the Spring Depository Library Council meeting in Albuquerque this April, we believe that will be too late to affect the FY 2006 appropriations process that Congress is beginning to undertake right now.

GPO's plan, which has not been approved by Congress, represents a major disruption to the FDLP's role of ensuring no-fee, permanent access to government information for the American public. GPO has not yet established a reliable system ensuring delivery, version control, authenticity, permanent public access and preservation of government information products they disseminate and make available online. Until such a system is fully functional and GPO can ensure permanent, no-fee and ready public access to electronic government information, GPO should not gut its print distribution program.

These changes will deprive citizens of their ability to access important authentic government information in the most usable format that will best meet their information needs. Further, many citizens are economically or technologically disadvantaged and cannot make use of necessary technological infrastructure to access electronic government information. It is important to remember that the goal of the FDLP is to provide government information to the American people in a convenient and useable format�not to make it convenient for the administrative agency responsible for that dissemination.

Public Printer Bruce James notes in his recently released strategic plan that GPO must change with the times and that the GPO of the 21st Century must use "the technologies of today and tomorrow�not yesterday�to keep this vision alive." The library community has long embraced the move to digital technologies and libraries are on the front lines of developing systems that provide the public with easy, reliable and permanent access to authentic government information. During the past decade, the library community has consistently applauded GPO's move toward a more electronic FDLP. A number of libraries have established formal partnerships to assist GPO when their technological infrastructure proved unable to provide sufficient access to certain types of electronic government information. Librarians embrace technologies that enhance the ability of Americans to access government information more easily from their library, their home or their business.

But we have also cautioned Congress, most recently in the joint testimony on behalf of five national library associations for the April 28, 2004 hearing on GPO oversight before the House Committee on Administration, that "we should not eliminate completely print distribution because at this time the difficult challenges of the digital life cycle remain unresolved: the authentication, permanent public access to and preservation of electronic government information. It is important that the government recognize the need to validate the authenticity and integrity of an electronic document, whether it is available through GPO Access or located on agency, congressional or court web sites. It is not enough to disseminate and preserve digital documents; users must be assured that the electronic government information that they locate and use is authentic."

Superintendent of Documents Judy Russell has announced a plan that effective October 1, 2005 all government documents with the exception of the Essential Titles List will be disseminated in digital format only. While the library community has been very supportive of the GPO move to digital formats, the issues of version control, authenticity and permanent public access to digital government information have not been addressed. Your help is needed to ensure that libraries and the American public continue to have access to authenticated government information.

Please contact your congressional delegation immediately, by email or fax, to tell your representatives about GPO's plan to eliminate almost all print distribution to depository libraries and its impact on access to authenticated legal and government information.

If you work in a law depository library, please alert your director to this abrupt and significant change in the FDLP distribution program because it is essential that everyone in your institution understand the serious long-term implications of this action on your users and contact their representatives.

If you are a law library user, your help is especially needed in contacting Congress because the purpose of the depository library system is to provide you with ready, local, no-fee permanent access to authenticated legal information.

Whether you're a law librarian, law library director, law professor or student, or a concerned citizen, please contact your representatives and make sure they understand the unique value of a depository library and its collections. Tell them how these changes will impact your ability to access government information and be sure to include examples of publications that you need in print for legal research.

Since this latest threat to the depository library program comes from GPO officials, it's also very important that they hear your concerns firsthand. Please send a copy of your letters to Public Printer Bruce James ( / FAX: 202-512-1347) and Superintendent of Documents Judith C. Russell ( / FAX: 202-512-1434).


  • GPO's plan to limit print distribution to federal depository libraries to only the 50 titles on the Essential Titles List; effectively impairs public access to key authenticated government titles, including Senate and House reports, documents and congressional hearings needed by the legal community and the public.

  • GPO is taking this abrupt action before it has established a reliable system ensuring delivery, version control, authenticity, permanent public access and preservation of electronic information products they disseminate and make available online. In fact, research and information technology standards and best practices have not yet been developed to the point of ensuring authenticity and preservation of electronic information products.

  • GPO is initiating a fee-based Print on Demand (POD) Program that has not yet been established and is asking Congress to fund it through a minimal allocation for each depository library. Libraries will have to expend significant funds to purchase print titles formerly distributed through the FDLP at no cost. Worse yet, GPO admits that POD technology is not archival and that the materials depository libraries purchase through this new service will have a shelf life of only 20 to 30 years.


  1. Urge GPO to allocate its FY 2006 appropriations to provide government information in appropriate formats, including print titles as identified by the depository library community that meet the needs of the American public.

  2. Urge members of the House and Senate appropriations committees to increase GPO's FY 2006 budget request to maintain the current production and distribution levels of print materials to depository libraries.

  3. Urge members of the Joint Committee on Printing, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and the Committee on House Administration to hold oversight hearings on GPO's new initiatives and changes to the Federal Depository Library Program.

  4. Remind your representatives that the FDLP is their program and that it has proven to be a very successful partnership among Congress, federal agencies, the courts, the Government Printing Office (GPO), depository libraries, and the American public in ensuring the public's right to know.

If your representatives are on any of these important committees, please urge them to take a leadership role in supporting their local depository library because these changes will deprive their constituents of their ability to access important authenticated government information.

Thank you!

Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries