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Washington, DC — Law school professors from across the country are lambasting the plan presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for re-opening its closed libraries, according to a joint letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The law professors fault EPA for failing to fully restore services, guarantee full public access or ensure professional librarian control over valuable collections.

The April 26, 2008 letter, signed by 94 law professors from schools stretching from the Carolinas to California, is addressed to key congressional leaders and conveys the authors’ “profound disappointment” in the six-page EPA report on library restoration submitted to Congress on March 26, 2008, including –

  • Political Control. “We view with alarm the absence of any EPA commitment to have all aspects of its library plans subject to review by qualified, non-governmental library professionals”;
  • Only Partial Restoration. “We are troubled by the Report’s…failure to explain why and how EPA’s libraries will vary in size, target audience, subject focus and depth of collection….We also decry the Agency’s failure to explain its plan to allow some EPA libraries to be open to the public on an ‘appointment only’ basis.”; and
  • Vague Commitments. “EPA’s Report is woefully lacking in detail, unresponsive to many of the criticisms that were appropriately included in GAO’s February, 2008 reports on the Agency’s library mismanagement, and entirely devoid of a needed commitment to restore EPA’s shuttered libraries to the levels of service provided to the public and EPA’s staff prior to their closure.

The law professors’ concerns echo those raised by PEER, the agency’s librarians, employee unions (which are pursuing unfair labor practice charges), and agency specialists, including its enforcement attorneys.

“EPA simply needs to put back everything they dismantled; why is that so hard?” asked PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg. “The political appointees at EPA should not be deciding, as they are now, who gets access to what material.”

EPA had eliminated access to agency libraries in 23 states, shut technical collections and reduced hours and access in other libraries. This December, Congress ordered EPA to re-open closed libraries. In its March report, the agency indicated that it would complete a partial restoration by this October.

Meanwhile, EPA has launched a series of meetings with media, industry, environmental organizations and “other stakeholder groups” as part of “a National Dialogue…to help EPA document the information needs of various sectors …under the leadership of the Chief Information Officer Molly O’Neill”, in the words of an invitation sent to PEER. This National Dialogue will continue until the end of June.

“The time for a dialogue was before they shut the libraries, not after,” added Goldberg, whose organization calls for convening an independent council of librarians, employees and other library users to provide guidance on the future of the EPA library network. “At this late date, an attempt at a ‘national dialogue’ with the Bush administration on ‘the environmental information needs of the nation’ is a little hard to take seriously.”


Read the law professors’ letter

Revisit EPA’s six-page plan for restoring library service

See the problems that library closures have created for EPA enforcement lawyers

Look at EPA’s invitation to environmental groups to dialogue on environmental information

View the EPA web page for displaying the results of its “National Dialogue”

Trace the history of the EPA library closures

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