ARCHIVED: Statement of FY 1997 Appropriations for the Government Printing Office

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Statement of
Dr. Betty J. Turock
Chair and Director, Library and Information Studies Rutgers University
on behalf of the
American Library Association
American Association of Law Libraries
Association of Research Libraries
Testimony before the
Subcommittee on Legislative
House Committee on Appropriations
on FY 1997 Appropriations for the Government Printing Office
March 6, 1996

I am Betty Turock, President of the American Library Association, and Director and Chair of the Library and Information Studies Program at Rutgers University. Today I am representing ALA, the American Association of Law Libraries, and the Association of Research Libraries to support the Government Printing Office appropriation. ALA is a nonprofit educational organization of 57,000 librarians, library trustees, and friends of libraries dedicated to promoting the public interest in a free and open information society. AALL is a nonprofit educational organization with more than 5000 members dedicated to serving the legal information needs of legislators and other public officials, law professors, and students, attorneys, and members of the general public. ARL is an association of 119 major research libraries in North America; ARL programs and services promote equitable access to and effective use of recorded knowledge in support of teaching, research, scholarship, and community service.

GPO Transition Plan: Review Attached

Expert service in helping your constituents locate and use government information is provided daily in 1400 depository libraries located in your congressional districts. These libraries invest funds for staff, space and equipment to provide the public with ready, efficient and no-fee access to government information. Libraries are equally committed to providing access to the broad and growing array of electronic products and services--which require a further investment in equipment, additional and highly trained technical staff, and greater service requirements to assist library users.

Last year, Congress directed the Public Printer to initiate a study to examine the functions and services of the Depository Library Program to take advantage of the opportunity presented by new technologies; the full report is due in March. GPO included in its FY97 budget request The Electronic Federal Depository Library Program: Transition Plan, FY 1996-FY 1997. Broadly disseminated for public comment, the plan assumes nearly all information provided through the FDLP will be electronic by the end of FY98. We have long supported a more electronic program, but we have serious concerns with certain provisions. Critical is the lack of data to substantiate how such a transition could be achieved within two years. Our detailed response is attached; we ask you to consider carefully the issues we raise.

Among our concerns is that the Transition Plan lacks assurances that Americans in every Congressional district will continue to have access to government information in depository libraries, some of which may be in poor or geographically large areas. The Plan assumes depositories will be able to access, download, and print extensive documents and charge users to recover the cost of printing information accessed electronically. It is one thing for libraries to charge for some copying in a multi-format program, but it is much more serious in an all-electronic program, where long documents may need to be printed to be used effectively. Is the cost of printing to be shifted from the federal government to congressional constituents and libraries? Are already financially strapped libraries to assume the costs of printing millions of pages of government information? Some might call this an "unfunded mandate."

In the resolution regarding a transition to a more electronic federal information system (also attached), ALA urges Congress to hold public hearings by both authorizing and appropriating committees prior to implementing the Transition Plan. We believe the informational needs of the American people will be properly met only if all participating entities are ready for this dramatic change in the way Americans will obtain information by and about their federal government. Without such assurances, our nation will suffer in the long run, economically, politically, and intellectually.

GPO FY97 Budget Request Essential

ALA, AALL and ARL recommend that the Government Printing Office receive the funding it requires to administer the Depository Library Program during this transitional period. GPO is requesting $30,827,000 for the Superintendent of Documents Salaries and Expenses, of which $27,197,000 will maintain the Depository Library Program. We fully support GPO's request for an additional $500,000 to assist the more financially strapped depository libraries so that they may fully participate in the program.

It is imperative that policy makers remain fully committed to the government's obligation to provide no-fee public access to information created at taxpayer expense. This principle is the cornerstone of the Federal Depository Library Program and has served the nation well. Millions of Americans take advantage of the efficient and effective FDLP every year. FDLP funding must be adequate to ensure that the steady flow of federal information will continue to every Congressional district and that valuable government information is not lost. Clearly, under the GPO proposal, significant costs will be shifted to Congressional constituents and to libraries, while others will shift back to the federal government.

The costs of transforming the program may well be greater than Congress believes. We recommend that GPO continue to assure progress toward a more electronic program. However, the necessary analytical studies, once complete, will provide the basis for anticipated technological infrastructure and the assurances that all participating entities are adequately ready, should the provisions of the Transition Plan be undertaken.

Progress in the use of electronic technologies to produce and disseminate government information has been substantial throughout the federal government. Its growing use provides the public with broader access to valuable information in a more timely, efficient and effective manner. A major concern, however, is that the rapid transition to a nearly all electronic FDLP will be viewed by policy makers not in terms of increased public access but as a way to reduce costs to the federal government. There is in fact no cost data to prove this assumption, at least in the short term. We reiterate our belief that federal information policy decisions should not be based on reducing costs to the federal government.

Technological Change - Complex, Additive, Transforming

The library profession has been thinking in new ways about the best possible practices for libraries to assure cost effective, equitable access to the tremendous information resources of the federal government. Librarians understand that the information environment is wonderfully complex. The changes we are experiencing--and that we welcome--are massive. Our challenge is to work with you in the Congress, with GPO and other federal agencies, to shape that change, to think systemically and across traditional institutional and technological lines, to seize this opportunity to design a system of dissemination and access that capitalizes on our most essential national resource--our information. We must reexamine our options in light of the single most important factor-- that information has no value in and of itself. Information is of value only when it is used -- put to work by an individual person in a real-life situation.

Working on the front lines, librarians know and appreciate that special moment when the rubber hits the information highway. When the individual seeks, finds and puts to use the information essential to solving a problem, averting a mistake, creating a new product, understanding a market or turning a profit. Because we see the information process from this end user perspective, librarians rejoice at the expanded options and efficient access that characterize today's federal information strategies.

At the same time, we have up close understanding of the complexities and of the multiple uses to which federal information resources are put. We know that intelligent navigating happens at its own pace. We know that the "teachable moment" is a spontaneous happening. We know that progress is accompanied by road blocks, bulldozers, and the noise and inconvenience of heavy construction.

Information Quest of a Typical User

Let me illustrate by describing a typical library scene. Enter the harried entrepreneur-- the single most essential hope for our economic future. He or she is dependent on high quality information from the federal government--whether he knows it or not! Finding a few minutes over lunch hour, he hits the business reference desk--just in time for the mid-day crunch. Today's challenge is yet another computer work station sporting the very latest Government Information Locator. This state-of-the-art electronic wonder stands at the ready midst a growing battle line of information options. The traveler begins to wonder just where his vague query puts him on the information traffic circle. While he has within his grasp the power to search a universe of information minutia, what's in his head is a shapeless question. And then this traveler on the information by-way reflects on his industrial age coping skills.

Whether it's a CD-ROM, a Web page or a locator system, each tool requires learning a new skill--taking time and effort. Though admitting ignorance is not a natural act, the bold individualist requests help. To build an information seeking map, the librarian and business hopeful go first to the stacks, use print reference resources, browse the general area, identify some useful terms, plan their information journey. The game plan: navigate to the final destination with purpose and sense. Getting there is not half the fun!

The librarian, though experienced and skilled at shaping information quests, is himself pedaling against a head wind. They learn together how to harness the power of yet another computer program--and the key strokes that unlock the intricacies of one more helpful data base of federal information. No amount of training or experience can equip the searcher for every hazard on the information journey.

The search begins--six false starts, then some hits. First is a citation to a 1981 Commerce Department report. The citation leads to a search of the online catalog, which leads in turn to a merged catalog of area libraries. The report exists, in another depository library, in paper format available for interlibrary loan. A second hit leads the user, now encouraged, to international trade data. The data is on a CD-ROM, searchable and printable on a different machine. A third hit points to a digital fragment available on the Net. A fourth hit requires tracking data collected (through 1980) by the U.S. Census. The technology works smoothly but the information gap is stark. The foray proves again that the world of government bureaucracies and their information output is as complex as it is wondrous. Still, the investment of time rewards the entrepreneur with the information advantage he needs to build a better mousetrap, patent it, market it and invest the profits.

Library Investments on the Information Superhighway

Like the interstate highway system, the I-way will require continuous construction and maintenance. We have begun our global construction with vigor, purpose and hope. A project so grand depends on a mighty vision, and on the skills of every construction worker. Librarians are essential partners in the process of designing systems that attend with care to the needs of millions of independent learners--learners who must one day understand, drive, and support integrated, efficient, useful and sustainable information and communication systems. Librarians must be ahead of the information curve to anticipate users' needs, help shape information tools and search strategies, and communicate the information-gathering habits of users so that Americans can compete in the global marketplace.

Librarians need the fiscal support to buy the hardware and the connections for two-way transport on the telecommunications highways, the information country lanes, and urban side streets. We need time and resources to equip our staffs with skills and tools appropriate to the information-age work they are doing. We need resources to purchase the costly but essential reference tools and software systems, often produced by the private sector, that render federal information accessible and useful. We must have the time to plan and implement a comprehensive system with multiple formats, creative linkages, feedback, user guides, resilience, and sustainability. We need service hours that fit today's time-stressed learners.

Librarians must be at the table so that we can represent the interests of users--entrepreneurs, students, researchers, elected officials, health care providers, parents and families, information brokers and information businesses. These users know that the nation's public, school, corporate, museum, health science, legal, college and university, research, government and other special libraries and librarians are powerful human and institutional starting points, interchanges, and destinations on a fast-moving thoroughfare. Library users know that this information highway cannot bypass them but must link all neighborhoods with the information arteries that enable residents to stay and prosper in their communities.

There is a powerful force at the core of all the work librarians do--as selectors, organizers, archivists, teachers and marketers of ideas and information. It is the unshakable conviction that our users are smart, that their information needs are real and diverse, and that the wisest investment our nation can make is to construct and maintain information access ramps into and out of our federal government.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. We believe that any and all changes to the Federal Depository Library Program must maximize the efficiencies of an electronic program with the guarantees of broader, more equitable, and long-term public access to federal information.


1) Joint library association comments to GPO on Transition Plan
2) ALA Resolution on GPO Appropriations for FY 1997
3) ALA Resolution Regarding a Transition to a More
Electronic Federal Information System