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Information War: Feds Close Science Libraries December 12, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Health and Science Policy, Information policy, Libraries, U.S. Congress.
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The NASA library in Greenbelt, Md., was part of John C. Mather’s daily routine for years leading up to the astrophysicist’s 2006 Nobel Prize for shedding new light on the Big Bang theory of universal origin. He researched existing space hardware and instrumentation there while designing a satellite that collected data for his prize-winning discovery.

So when he learned that federal officials were planning to close the library, Mather was stunned.

Tim Reiterman

Last week, I blogged about the EPA libraries closing, but it turns out the story is more complicated- and more menacing. Tim Reiterman of the L.A. Times calls the recent shuttering of federal research libraries a “quiet war on information.” And the story is changing. The explanation for the EPA libraries last week was that some libraries were being shut down as an attempt to modernize them-specifically, to digitize their holdings in the name of greater access.This week, America is waking up to find that not only were the pesky EPA libraries closed, but that the General Services Administration headquarters library , where investigators explore real estate, communications, and aspects of government finance was closed earlier this year, along with the Department of Energy headquarters(!) library.

The Bush administration has a lukewarm attitude to scientific research of all kinds, apart from weapons research, and most scientists knew that a long time ago. It takes some doing, however, to evoke the ire of the American Library Association. Emily Sheketoff, head of the ALA’s Washington office, claims that “crucial information generated with taxpayer dollars is now not available to the scientists and the public who need it.This is the beginning of the elimination of all these government libraries. I think you have an administration that does not have a commitment to access to information.”

The hardest hit agency, the EPA, has asked the GAO to investigate the reduction of its $7 million library budget by $2.5. The EPA claims that all EPA generated documents would be online by January, and that the other 51,000 reports would be digitized in two years. A copy of each book would be kept for interlibrary loan purposes.

Critics say that research will be slowed and perhaps prevented . Book dispersal problems, lost inventory, the high cost of or impossibility of digitizing some copyrighted items all loom as possible obstacles, just as the nation prepares for what is certain to be the most vigorous debate in several years about climate change and alternative fuels.

Members of Congress have voiced their opposition to the closure of the EPA libraries in the form of a letter to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson signed by ranking members of several legislative committees, including the Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Committee on Science, the Committee on Government Reform, and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

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