ARCHIVED: FY 1997 Appropriations for the Superintendent of Documents

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Statement of
American Library Association
American Association of Law Libraries
and the Association of Research Libraries

for the Hearing Record on

FY 1997 Appropriations for the Superintendent of Documents
Subcommittee on Legislative Branch
United States Senate

July 10, 1996

The American Library Association, the American Association of Law Libraries and the Association of Research Libraries recommend that the Government Printing Office receive the funding it requires to administer the Depository Library Program during the transitional period to a more electronic Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). 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.

An ALA resolution urging Congress to fully fund this appropriation is attached. ALA is a nonprofit educational organization of 58,000 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.

We support GPO's request for $500,000 to assist the more financially strapped depository libraries so that they may fully participate in the program. The technology grants are intended to ensure reasonable public access and proximity to at least one electronically-capable depository in every Congressional district. A better approach might be to ask each state to come up with a plan that would enable all depositories to be connected to the Internet so that in larger states comprising one district, the technology grants could be used to ensure that there are no geographic barriers for those who live long distances from that depository.

We urge Congress to approve the expenditure of funds for a joint project GPO has proposed with the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science for an Assessment of Standards for Creation and Dissemination of Electronic Government Information Products. GPO and the depository library community must have additional information about future agency publishing plans, as well as an expert evaluation of the cost-effectiveness and usefulness of various electronic formats and standards that may be used for depository library dissemination and access.

Thanks for Senate Leadership

We appreciate the commitment of the Senate, particularly of this Subcommitee, to providing timely and equitable public access to government information through the FDLP. Last year when the House of Representatives moved precipitously to halve the appropriations for the FDLP, the Senate convinced the House to continue funding for the program and to initiate a study by the Government Printing Office that would assist Congress in redefining a new and strengthened information dissemination policy and program. In June, GPO--after an open and collaborative process--sent Congress the report, Study to Identify Measures Necessary for a Successful Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library Program. We were pleased that our associations were included in an advisory capacity during the lengthy study process.

Attached to this statement is an April 26, 1996 letter to Public Printer Michael DiMario from four major library associations, telling him that we appreciate that many of the comments and concerns about GPO's December 1995 transition plan were incorporated into the March draft study. We were particularly pleased that the March draft and the June final report offer a more realistic and technologically feasible five to seven year time frame for the transition. We urge the Appropriations Committee to support this more realistic time frame so that no barriers develop during the transitional years that would reduce the public's access to government information. Congress should assure adequate funding to implement the Strategic Plan included in the study in order to fulfill the Senate's goal of using new technologies to enhance public access and to strengthen the FDLP.

GPO Study: Comments Attached

Additionally, the attached letter stresses many areas of continued serious concern and importance to the members of four library associations regarding the GPO study. Critical is the lack of data to substantiate many of the study's recommendations. We remain very concerned that although some useful information was gathered during the study process, neither the report, the models developed as part of the task force reports, nor the Strategic Plan are based on substantive data regarding costs to and capabilities of the government, libraries or the public to produce, access and use predominately electronic information.

The issues of long term permanent access and preservation are central to the transition to a more electronic program. We suggest that a comprehensive study be undertaken among all partners (GPO, agencies, the National Archives and Records Administration and participating libraries) to collect data, determine costs, and develop specific plans to assure permanent long term access and preservation. In shifting long-term access from depository libraries to the government as the Strategic Plan is implemented, we must be assured that funding will remain adequate so that the government can refresh and migrate information. Otherwise, our national historical records will disappear into a black hole and the advantages of electronic information will be nullified.

Expert service to your constituents is provided daily in the almost 1,400 depository libraries located in nearly every Congressional district. 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--all of which require a further investment in equipment, additional and highly trained technical staff, and greater service requirements to assist library users.

The study assumes that depositories will be able to access, download, and print documents for users who need them. Thus there will be, as a practical matter, large printing costs required to make much government information accessible to the public. Today those costs are borne up-front by GPO-- through appropriated funds--before the information is distributed. Already financially strapped libraries cannot necessarily assume the costs of printing millions of pages of government information. For a Congress whose first major enactment was the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, this new approach to distributing government information will not pass the test of avoiding the imposition of financial burdens on local and state units of government to implement federal programs.

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 Congress, with GPO and other federal agencies, to shape that change, to think systemically and across traditionally 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.

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 telecommunication 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..

Thus, it is essential that GPO receive the funding it has requested to administer the Federal Depository Library Program.


1) ALA Resolution on GPO Appropriations for FY 1997
2) Joint library association letter to Public Printer Michael DiMario, April 26, 1996