November 17, 2017

Shuttered EPA Libraries Reopen After Two-Year Battle, but Concerns Remain

By Andrew Albanese

  • Five regional libraries reopen today
  • Libraries will be staffed by professional librarian
  • PEER says damage from closures has been done 
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Five regional Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) libraries reopen today, two years after EPA officials began prematurely closing agency libraries in response to a proposed 80 percent funding cut by the Bush administration. Under orders from Congress, which blocked the administration’s controversial plan in 2007 and ordered services restored, EPA will reopen regional libraries in Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City and also reopen a chemical library and its own headquarters library in Washington, DC. 

In its September 24 Federal Register notice, EPA officials announced that the agency will begin “enhancing” library services on September 30, the last day of the 2008 federal fiscal year, promising that reopened regional libraries will be “staffed by a professional librarian to provide service to the public and EPA staff via phone, e-mail, or in person… for a minimum of 24 hours over four days per week on a walk-in basis or by appointment.”

While grateful that Congress intervened to reverse to restore service, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) associate director Carol Goldberg said in a statement that the battle over EPA libraries has left in its wake scattered and incomplete collections that may never be reassembled, and less robust services than before. “Tomorrow, EPA will still accord its own scientists and the public less access to information than it did back in 2005,” said Goldberg, a frequent critic of the EPA.

She added that most of the re-opened new libraries will be housed in less space than previously afforded them, and that the library in Chicago, formerly the largest regional library, will re-open without “permanent furniture and shelving.” (The EPA notice states, “It is anticipated that additional Great Lakes literature, permanent furniture and shelving  will arrive in the next several weeks.”)

At a Congressional hearing in March 2008, then ALA president-elect James Rettig, echoed PEER’s concerns about the damage done to EPA libraries over the past two years. “Unfortunately, there continues to be a lot that we don’t know,” he told lawmakers. “We remain concerned that years of research and studies about the environment may be lost forever,” he said.

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