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Archive for Friday, August 18, 2000

Federal library program gains reprieve

August 18, 2000

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The Federal Depository Library Program may not die as quickly as Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives intended, but it's still a target for elimination, librarians say.

For 187 years, federal government documents have been deposited at libraries across the country, including 19 in Kansas. The state's main depository library is at Kansas University.

House Republicans had buried a 61 percent cut in the program's budget for next fiscal year in the appropriations proposal for the legislative branch. Much of that funding has been restored as the proposal, yet to win final approval, has wound its way through the congressional budget process.

But Republicans added a proviso calling for a General Accounting Office study on putting the program under the Library of Congress. If that were to happen, it could be the program's death knell, librarians say.

"There is not an operation in the Library of Congress that can print and distribute documents like the Government Printing Office," said Donna Koepp, government documents and map librarian at KU. "I can't imagine re-creating this thing in the Library of Congress would be less expensive than what it is now."

Koepp is a member of a committee that advises the depository library program.

In the current fiscal year, the federal government is spending $29.9 million to distribute government documents, which are free of charge, to libraries. Almost all public libraries are depository libraries. However, unlike KU, most only receive a portion of the documents the federal government produces in a year. Most often, those documents are used by small-business people to learn about future government contracts or to keep up with regulations, say librarians across the state.

Next year, the current budget proposal would give the program $27.9 million, far better than the $11.6 million proposed at the beginning of the budget process, but $2 million less than the current level.

The drive to eliminate the depository library program is fueled by several goals and assumptions, said Lynne Bradley, government information director for the American Library Assn.'s office in Washington, D.C.

There is a desire to cut the legislative budget somewhere so the Republicans can demand cuts from other agencies. There is the desire to increase government revenues by selling the copyright to government information to private publishers, as is already being done by some agencies. And there is the belief the information can be obtained through the Internet, Koepp said.

But, "all the congressional records are still being printed," Koepp said. Librarians say documents may be lost as software is lost and people should not have to pay for information their tax dollars purchased in the first place.

Congress may vote on the depository library funding after Labor Day.

Proponents of eliminating the program were not available for comment.

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