Since the 109th Congress, House Democratic leaders have expressed fears that library documents will become inaccessible as the agency shutters many physical facilities and shifts to a primarily digital library set-up. After the president's fiscal 2007 budget recommended major cuts in library funding, EPA closed three regional libraries and its headquarters library.
In response to confusion about the EPA's plans, the American Library Association recently created a Web site that uses wiki software so anyone with an Internet browser can add to or modify information about threatened federal libraries.
"You'd hear things like they were closing all the libraries and that wasn't really true," said Lynne Bradley, director of the association's government relations office. She said EPA was not clear about which libraries were closing, what the agency meant by a "digital library," and what level of service would be provided to researchers.
The association has tasked a volunteer with posting content to the wiki on behalf of people who are concerned about being identified via their e-mail or Internet protocol addresses. "For especially federal librarians who might be at risk and are likely to hear these rumors, they can still post -- or ask questions -- but not be threatened," Bradley said.
She said she hopes that word of the wiki's launch a couple weeks ago is getting to users of all federal libraries, agency managers and lawmakers.
On Tuesday, EPA officials said they are committed to increasing access to environmental information through a combination of online and traditional library services.
"EPA is engaged in a planning process for the future of the library network and is soliciting, receiving, and responding to input from key internal and external stakeholders," said Molly O'Neill, assistant administrator for EPA's environmental information office. No further changes are being made until EPA has reviewed its methods for delivering library services.
In late April, the chairmen of the House Science and Technology, Energy and Commerce, Oversight and Government, and Transportation and Infrastructure committees wrote a letter to agency Administrator Stephen Johnson, asking for an update by May 4 on the status of the digitization project. The letter provided a list of specific information requests, including details on issues related to continued public access, digitization, reference support and any user fees that may be levied on non-EPA libraries or the public.
On May 3, O'Neill and another EPA director from the environmental information office met with committee representatives. Science and Technology spokeswoman Alisha Prather said committee staff received some of the requested materials.
"We are in the process of setting up an ongoing dialogue with EPA to follow this issue ... to continue to make sure that all the questions in our letter -- and others -- are answered," she said.