EPA Takes the Padlocks Off Its Scientific Libraries

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In a move seen by many Environmental Protection Agency staffers as an effort to “suppress information on environmental and public health-related topics,” the Bush administration took a wrecking ball to the EPA’s network of technical libraries in 2006, locking the doors of some libraries and removing scads of materials from collections. Now the outrage expressed by scientists and librarians seems to have had an effect. High Country News reports that at least four of the closed libraries have been reopened and access to some library holdings restored.

But how much damage was done in the interim? According to HCN, the public, agency staffers, and outside researchers lost access to thousands of documents that were moved into repositories where they would supposedly be digitized. But those repositories “have grown into giant information dumps whose contents will remain un-cataloged for years to come.”

A press release by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) quotes its associate director, Carol Goldberg, saying that even with the reopenings, “EPA will still accord its own scientists and the public less access to information than it did back in 2005,” and the closures leave in their “wake scattered and incomplete collections.” Among the libraries the administration locked up was a specialized chemical library, which was closed “with no notice to the scientists who rely on those holdings to analyze new pesticides and toxic chemicals,” according to HCN. PEER says a “small portion of holdings” from that library will now be available at an EPA headquarters library as a “special Chemical Collection.”

Much remains unknown about the fallout from the closures, according to president of the American Library Association, Jim Retting, whose congressional testimony on the matter is quoted by HCN. Retting told Congress:

Unfortunately, there continues to be a lot that we don’t know: exactly what materials have been being shipped around the country, whether there are duplicate materials in other EPA libraries, whether these items have been or will be digitized, and whether a record is being kept of what is being dispersed and what is being discarded. We remain concerned that years of research and studies about the environment may be lost forever.

Image by Joe Crawford, licensed under Creative Commons.

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