Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What's happening at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) libraries

Mike Flynn, Deputy Director of the Office of Information Analysis & Access for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spoke to a group of more than 50 people at the Special Libraries Association Annual Conference during a policy update. In the audience was the new national program manager for the national EPA library system (Deborah Balsamo). There were also several EPA librarians and those who work in EPA libraries on a contract basis. I also had the privilege to have lunch with Mike, Deborah and a few others.

So what did I hear?
  • The EPA libraries are alive and well, and it is intended that they remain so.
  • The goal is to improve the library network and make the access and retrieval of important information faster and more flexible.
  • The EPA libraries need to do more with less (like many other libraries) and take advantage of new technologies.
  • That long-term (thinking perhaps 10 years into the future) that there will be a national unified data system that will provide access to all types of information for EPA staff, scientists and the community at large. To me, this was very important to hear. What the EPA is trying to do is to modernize its library network. The changes they have in mind will take time to implement and may be painful. To their credit, the EPA is stepping back and reassessing its efforts in order to ensure that its efforts are in-line with its communities' needs AND are understood by the communities its serves.
  • In the past year, the EPA has:
    • Placed more focus on electronic delivery of information
    • Digitized more documents with now more than 26,000 documents available in digital form
    • Closed three libraries to walk-in traffic (but this does not mean that staff at those sites do not have access to information...they do through systems the EPA has put into place)
    • Made it clear that they do not intend to close all of the libraries
    • Still maintained a full suite of library services
  • The EPA recognizes that it will continue to need a core of librarians to help people with their information requests. Many people can satisfy easy requests themselves, so the librarians are needed to help with the more difficult requests.
  • They are making no more changes while they finish making their plans to move forward.
  • They recognize that they must work hard on the people side of their organization (and they know that will not be easy).
  • They are doing a third party review of their digitization plans and will revise the plans as necessary.
  • The EPA continues to seek feedback and input from its librarians, the federal government, scientists, academics, etc.
  • From the libraries that have closed, all unique EPA documents have been digitized and the hardcopies have been retained. Those materials that are not unique will need to be gone through and decisions made about them.

Mike Flynn understands that a lot of mis-information has circulated about the EPA efforts to re-create its library network so that it can provide information more efficiently and effectively now and in the future (especially for those future employees who will want information in electronic form). He is willing to work hard to correct misperceptions. He is also willing to alter their path, if necessary, to ensure that what they will do will indeed meet all of their future needs.

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