ARCHIVED: Presentation for 15th Annual FLICC Forum

  • Bookmark and Share

15th Annual FLICC Forum on Federal Information Policies Case Study in Reinvention--Reforming Government Publishing
"The Library Community Perspective"
Mary Alice Baish, American Association of Law Libraries
March 19, 1998

I am very pleased to be here with you this afternoon to give you some insights into the "Library Community Perspective" on reforming government publishing. I find it somewhat humbling to be addressing you on this topic today because we are colleagues and, as librarians--like it or not--we all are facing the challenges and opportunities brought about by the explosive growth of electronic government information together. Whether from my perspective focusing full-time on federal information policy issues or yours in daily service to your agency as a federal librarian--we are all committed to ensuring the free flow of government information, in all forms and formats, to the American public.

I recently gave a presentation down in Chapel Hill to a wonderful regional group of serials catalogers, whose professional responsibilities few of us would ever envy, entitled: "Electronic Government Information: Nailing Cyber-Jell-O to the Wall." I reminded them that the challenges of electronic government information are hardly unique--this is, after all, the "Information Age." However, we can all probably agree that electronic government information is the most difficult to "nail to the wall" because, with few exceptions, there are no government wide policies or standards.

In addition, we are witnessing troubling and growing trends that result in fugitive information that does not reach the American public through the Federal Depository Library Program, due to:


  • Decentralization, when agencies procure the publication or creation of a paper or tangible electronic product outside of the Government Printing Office;


  • Privatization, when the work of federal agencies and employees is transferred to private sector firms for the production of information products and services;


  • Commercialization, when agencies sell information products and services to recover costs or to generate revenues;


  • Copyright and copyright-like restrictions on government information. When the use and dissemination of government information in any format is restricted by an agency or a private sector firm to which the government information has been given, the ability of the public to use the information fully is impaired. These restrictions occur increasingly with electronic products and services;


  • And, last but not least, back to Cyber-Jell-O, the loss of online electronic information products published solely through an agency Web site that are not captured for preservation and permanent public access. Future researchers and historians may well look back on this decade as a government information black hole.


Many of us in the library community believe very strongly that this status quo is simply not good enough.

The loss of public access to important government information products due to these different scenarios really sums up why then ALA President Mary Somerville established the Inter-Association Working Group on Government Information Policy in February 1997, and why the library community is strongly committed to revising Title 44 to close loopholes in the law and to recognize the new challenges of our electronic environment. I'm going to cover three areas in my presentation this afternoon:


First, some brief background on the Inter-Association Working Group;
Second, an overview of our goals and the legislation we have drafted to revise Chapter 19 of Title 44, the provisions governing the Federal Depository Library Program;
And third, our perspective on the changing roles of the Superintendent of Documents, depository libraries and agencies as more and more government information is created and disseminated electronically.


The Inter-Association Working Group (dubbed "IWAG") is a coalition of seven national library associations whom I have the honor of representing today. For more than a year now, this group of about twenty-five librarians, including Jane Sessa, Library Director at the SEC and FLRT representative, and Pamela Mason, now at the Agricultural Research Service but formerly at NIST and the representative for ALA's Library and Information Technology Association (LITA), has met in Washington on a monthly basis. Many members travel from as far away as Arizona, Montana and California.

Francis Buckley was Chair of the Working Group until late last year, when he got a better offer and was sworn in as Superintendent of Documents at the Government Printing Office. While we miss Fran's leadership on the IAWG, we applauded his appointment as the first professional librarian to serve as Superintendent of Documents. Dan O'Mahony of Brown University, who has been very active in GODORT and is a past Chair of the Depository Library Council, has very capably taken over the leadership reins from Fran.

Eric Peterson, Staff Director of the Joint Committee on Printing, has just described for you his efforts over the past year to draft legislation to reform government printing and dissemination, and to find consensus among the various interested constituencies. We are very grateful for the commitment of Senator John Warner, Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Administration, and Ranking Minority Member Senator Wendell Ford, to enact legislation to revise Title 44 this year.

The IAWG testified before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee last May on the Committee's first draft Title 44 legislation. Since then, we have transmitted to Congress our own draft legislation for Chapter 19, the Federal Information Access Act of 1998. Throughout the past year, we have drafted comprehensive goals to help us develop this legislation; we have revised our draft bill a couple of times; and we continue to meet frequently with key congressional staff, government officials and others to promote the concerns of the library community in any revision of the law.

Now for an overview of our goals and the legislation we have drafted to revise Chapter 19 of Title 44, the provisions governing the Federal Depository Library Program.

GOAL 1: To enhance public access to government information in all formats from all three branches of government. To meet this goal:


  • The IAWG bill renames the Federal Depository Library Program, the "Federal Information Access Program" and participating libraries as "Federal Information Access Libraries" to recognize that program materials include government information in all current and future forms and formats.


  • It proposes new definitions of "Government information" that explicitly include electronic information conveyed either in a tangible physical format or through a telecommunications network or any successor technology.


  • It affirms the responsibility of every entity in the Federal government in all three branches-- Executive, Legislative and Judicial--to disseminate and provide access to its information.


  • It affirms the long-standing policy of no-fee public access through participating libraries.


  • And it retains for the Superintendent of Documents an annual appropriations for depository library dissemination and access, including funds to requisition fee-based products or services for which an agency is required by statute to recover its costs.


GOAL 2: The law must strengthen the role of the Federal Depository Library Program to improve public access to government information. To meet this goal:


  • The IAWG bill strengthens the Office of the Superintendent of Documents and increases the visibility of the disseminating functions of GPO by making this individual a Presidential appointee, under the direction of the Public Printer. It gives the Superintendent the authority to promulgate regulations and guidelines to facilitate public access, and to coordinate the development of standards for government agencies with the Office of Management and Budget, the Joint Committee on Printing and the Administrative Office of the Courts.


  • It requires agencies to either furnish copies of tangible products to the Superintendent or to notify the Superintendent prior to procurement so that copies can be obtained for libraries on an incremental cost basis. Agencies must use GPO as their printing or procurement agent, or enter into an agreement so that if proper notification does not occur, the Superintendent can draw directly from an agency's designated budget authority to cover the costs of production for depository library copies. The bill offers agencies cost incentives to comply with Chapter 19 but this last provision, we believe, provides necessary "teeth" to ensure compliance that current Chapter 19 provisions lack.


  • Even in a distributed networked environment, agencies in all branches are responsible for notifying the Superintendent of the creation and dissemination of online electronic information, so that government information, including titles available only through an agency Web site, can be cataloged and linked to directly through GPO Access services.


  • We believe that Congress must continue to provide strong congressional oversight over the program, a role that Kennie Gill, Minority Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, will describe to you later this afternoon. Our proposal also gives the Office of Management and Budget, the Joint Committee on Printing, and the Administrative Office of the Courts, responsibility to provide oversight over each branch of government.


And GOAL 3: The law must ensure that the public has continuous and permanent access to electronic government information. To meet this goal:


  • The IAWG bill establishes the affirmative responsibility of the Federal government to capture, preserve and provide permanent public access to its information.


  • It gives the Superintendent of Documents the official responsibility for coordinating a system of continuous and permanent public access to electronic government information within the scope of the program, and to develop regulations and guidelines, with the participation of the library community, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration and other constituencies.


  • Until a coordinated system of permanent public access is established, in order to stem the daily loss of information from agency Web sites, the IAWG bill imposes immediate responsibility within all three branches to retain and protect electronic files that are under the scope of the program, and to ensure their authenticity. This interim step is important because we realize that it is going to take time to examine all the issues of permanent public access and to reach consensus on government-wide solutions. For this reason, our bill also includes a provision that, upon request of the Superintendent of Documents, an agency will provide copies or access to electronic data files of products that fall under the scope of the program.


  • Lastly, the system of permanent public access proposed by our legislation will include a distributed system to provide for adequate redundancy and will be based on contractual agreements among participating entities.


Part III: That final point about the need for adequate redundancy segues well into the third part of my presentation, the IAWG perspective on the changing roles of the Superintendent of Documents, depository libraries and agencies as more and more government information is created and disseminated electronically.

I won't dwell too long on the changing role of GPO since Superintendent of Documents Fran Buckley will be speaking about that later this afternoon. However, from the library community perspective, GPO plays a critical role as a centralized printing and procurement service that we believe to be efficient, cost-effective, and the best means of ensuring that government information gets to the American public through the library partnership program. We commend GPO for its continued commitment to develop and upgrade the GPO Access system. Use statistics for GPO Access are impressive: in October 1995, 837,494 documents were downloaded from GPO Access ; in October 1996, 2,880,998 documents were downloaded; in October 1997, 8,195,747 documents were downloaded; and in January 1998, 10.5 million documents were downloaded from the system.

Another significant example of GPO's efforts to modernize its role to the changing electronic environment is the substantial progress made in improving intellectual or bibliographic access to government information through its cataloging and locator services. These include:


  • daily updates to the Web-based Catalog of United States Government Publications that contains more than 94,000 records produced from 1994 on, including 2,300 with URL data. The Cataloging Branch also has been testing OCLS's PURLs software for implementation this year;


  • the substantial growth of the Pathway Indexer that now links users to more than 1,300 agency Web sites and over 150,000 Web pages;


  • and the centralized, user-friendly Government Information Locator Service (GILS) database that allows users either to browse GILS records by agency or to search all agency GILS records at one time and to link to the information they need.


Program libraries also are adapting to the vast array of electronic products, both tangible and online, and we believe that their role is more important than ever before in assisting the public to find and be able to use the government information they need. In the electronic environment, program libraries have substantial new costs to provide highly trained staff, adequate space, necessary additional materials, costly equipment, and Internet connections. There is more resource sharing in the electronic arena and depository libraries are entering into new and exciting networking consortial arrangements to improve public access for their communities of users.

Depository librarians are also leaders in developing innovative electronic services to enhance public access. The Regional Depository Library at the University of Memphis created the "Uncle Sam Migrating Government Publications" Web site that tracks titles that no longer exist in print but are available only through the Internet (; the University of California Riverside Library created the "Infomine Project--Government Information" that catalogs universal resource locators (URLs) of agency Web sites and document titles (; and the Regional Depository Library at Louisiana State University created the "U.S. Federal Government Agencies Page" that links to agency Web sites based on the U.S. Government Manual (

The depository program is a true partnership program in which, as users increasingly must rely on electronic information to meet their government information needs, participating libraries are investing substantially beyond hardware, software, and Internet connections to create innovative new services to successfully meet this challenge.

The library community views very favorably the development of new three-way partnerships among GPO, an agency, and a library or other institution to ensure continuous, permanent public access to electronic products. We see these content partnerships as an extension of the role that regional and other depository libraries have played in ensuring on-going access to collections of government information. Two quick examples: GPO, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the U.S. Department of State (DOS) have entered into an agreement whereby the University provides permanent access to the Department of State's electronic Foreign Affairs Network. And the FDLP/ERIC Digital Library Pilot Project, a cooperative project among GPO, the National Library of Education and OCLC to make an enormous collection of public domain reports of the Education Resource Information Clearinghouse permanently available to the public.

Some might question the need for depository libraries in the future, but the truth is, agencies continue to publish paper and other tangible products and these will continue to be distributed to participating libraries. The tangible depository collection--print, microfiche, CD-ROM and other formats--will continue to grow and there will always be a need for the historical collections of print materials for research and other educational purposes. And though more and more Americans now have Internet access from home, users will continue to rely on the services that depository librarians provide-- sometimes remotely or from behind the scenes. One of the benefits of the depository program has been its geographic distribution of libraries in all sizes and shapes, and with different collection strengths. The IAWG bill retains congressional and other designations to ensure a system of geographically dispersed and convenient locations that provides equitable access to all citizens.

Turning now to the changing role of Federal agencies, the phenomenal proliferation of agency Web sites is a win-win situation both for agencies and the public. In taking on the role of electronic publishers, agencies can not only better fulfill their mission and increase their visibility, but also gain an appreciation of the value of their information to the public. We believe that most agencies take their dissemination responsibilities very seriously and we applaud agencies who have migrated important databases to the Internet, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission's EDGAR database and the National Library of Medicine's MEDLINE. On accepting one of the 1998 James Madison Awards on behalf of the National Library of Medicine earlier this week (Monday, March 16, 1998), NLM Director Donald Lindberg, M.D., noted that the number of searches had increased from 7 million to 70 million, with about one third of these coming from the general public.

This new direct communication link with the public often results in increased service responsibilities for agencies since in the print world, the depository library was the "hit on the homepage." With the exponential growth and use of the Web, agency staff--including librarians--are being pulled increasingly into direct interaction with the public. This might be a good opportunity to educate users by referring them to their local depository library and at the same time, relieve the agency from these new service responsibilities which they may or may not be equipped to provide. Your role as a federal librarian, the primary information professional in your agency, is a unique and valuable one because your expertise and your insights from the user perspective can improve the way your agency produces and disseminates electronic information.

In conclusion, you'll find an IAWG handout in your program packet. It includes our newest issue briefs that define our three goals and how our legislation to revise Chapter 19 meets them. It also gives you the URL for the IAWG Web site at Berkeley where you can locate our other documents, including the legislation I have described this afternoon. Please also be sure to pick up one of our colorful bookmarks on the back table.

I invite all of you to take a close look at our proposal and to contact either Dan O'Mahony, myself, or any member of the IAWG if you have any comments or questions, or would like more information about our activities.

The IAWG goals and legislation reflect our belief that the law must broaden, strengthen, and enhance public access to all current and future forms of government information and that information must be disseminated in usable formats to the public. Current loopholes in the law that permit so much government information to remain "fugitive" must be fixed. And the dissemination of and access to government information must be recognized as an affirmative responsibility of every entity of the Federal government in all three branches.

Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure to share the library community perspective with you this afternoon.