Banned books and other forms of censorship

On the banning of books, censorship and other freedom of access issues

Friday, November 03, 2006

Protest against EPA library closures

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is circulating a letter among her colleagues protesting the decision of the Environmental Protection Agency to close many of its libraries. The EPA has already closed several libraries without waiting for congressional approval of its proposed budget cuts. The agency, part of the executive branch of the U.S. government, defends the action by claiming it is a cost-cutting measure and that it plans to digitalize the materials. It claims the closures will save the EPA $2 million. However, Boxer's letter noted:

"A 2004 EPA report found that '[c]alculated conservatively, the benefit-to-cost ratio for EPA library services ranges between 2:1 and 5.7:1.' The report noted that libraries saved EPA professional staff $7.5 million and non-EPA personnel $2.8 million, in 2003; and that one-third of the libraries' work gave EPA $22 million in benefits."

The letter also noted opposition to the closures from the American Library Association, the American Association of Law Libraries, and Special Library Association, who describe the library holdings as "unique collections, including an estimated 50,000 one-of-a-kind primary source documents that are available nowhere else."

Even the EPA's own Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) appears to have serious misgivings about the decision, according to Boxer's letter: "OECA notes that the libraries have information important to specific regions, states and locales, and unique data on industrial processes and analytical methods. OECA has indicated that it fears that dispersal of this material without proper tracking and access could undercut rulemakings and the ability to 'substantiate and support findings, determinations, and guidance.'"

So far, the EPA has "eliminated or reduced library service to the public in seven EPA regions covering 31 states and is planning to close its Headquarters' library and maintain it only as a repository;' and "has also closed its pesticide and toxics program library."

Co-signers of the letter include Senators Frank Lautenberg, Tom Harkin, Richard Durbin, Maria Cantwell, Jack Reed, James Jeffords, Barack Obama, Ken Salazar, Max Baucus, Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, Jeff Bingaman, Edward Kennedy, Russ Feingold, Paul Sarbanes, Mark Dayton, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Missoulian comments further:

"Already going or gone are big regional libraries in Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City, the EPA's headquarters library in Washington, D.C., and the agency's principal chemical library.

"These are huge collections: The headquarters library alone has 380,000 documents on microfiche, 5,500 hard copies of EPA documents, and more than 16,000 books and technical reports produced by other government agencies.

"The most recent closure, the Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances Library in Washington, sent an irreplaceable paper-only collection of research reports to a basement cafeteria, stuffed and sealed in boxes.

"Among the chemical library's holdings were extensive collections of literature on emergency planning, chemical risk assessments, the latest research on genetically engineered chemicals and biotech products, and toxicological studies on the potential effects of a whole host of chemicals on children. And those are just two of the libraries - which could eventually number 27 - where access is quickly, and quietly, being lost.

"In each case, agency officials have cited budget cuts, or threatened budget cuts. Each time, too, they've promised to digitize the collection - a page-by-page process - and eventually make the information available again. But when? And where? The EPA isn't saying, most likely because no one knows..."

".. Admittedly, the agency says it is simply responding to $300 million in budget cuts proposed by the Bush administration, including a 90 percent loss of funding for many of the targeted libraries.

"But none of this makes any sense. The EPA spends more than $500 million a year on research, but just $2.5 million on its entire network of libraries. How, though, can agency scientists build on our nation's knowledge base when their access to existing research is either eliminated or significantly curtailed?"

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