Federal Depository Library Program still matters, still needs voices of libraries

For more than a century, libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) have been critical sources of public access to federal government information. But as this blog noted last summer, some selective libraries in the FDLP have expressed some reluctance to stay in the program.

fdlp logoIt always drives me a little crazy when I hear that a director of an FDLP selective library wants to drop out of the program because the library needs the space for something else. There are good reasons FDLP selectives should be cautious about what they discard, but go ahead if you must, weed your documents collection and make space, and dial your tangible products selection rate down to zero  – that doesn’t mean you have to leave the program. It’s true that there are rules that govern what can be weeded and when, but the rules are permissive enough that selectives can, and do, weed a lot. It’s also true that weeding and offering documents to other FDLP libraries before disposal is a time-consuming process, but it’s far less time-consuming than the procedures for withdrawing all your documents and exiting the program.

Directors need to keep in mind that FDLP libraries also play an important role that extends far beyond local collection development. The Government Printing Office (GPO) has been out in front of most of the rest of the federal government in thinking about not just how government information is published, but how it is used. They understand the issues important to users and librarians, like preservation, discoverability, authenticity, and version control, in ways that publishing agencies just don’t. They understand these things so well, in part because librarians have had a seat at the table in GPO’s planning and operations, thanks to our partnership in the FDLP.

The postponement of the Fall 2013 Depository Library Council Meeting, caused by the October government shutdown, gives FDLP libraries an occasion to reflect on the value of the opportunities these meetings afford us. Once a year, librarians and GPO staff get together to talk about the direction of the program. For three or four days, we sit down together and tell government officials what we think libraries and the public need from the program. We don’t always get what we think we need (we don’t always even agree on what we think we need), but the history of the relationship shows that GPO is interested in and responsive to our concerns. And GPO pays for the meeting rooms and doesn’t charge a conference registration fee. That’s the kind of access that other industries have to hire high-priced lobbyists to get.

And some directors want to drop out of the program? I can’t imagine why you would walk away from a sweet deal like that unless you really don’t think your library is important to the public’s access to government information.

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