PEER stated, “The dogged insistence by the Bush administration on a $2 million cut in an overall EPA budget of nearly $8 billion is particularly curious. EPA internal studies show that providing full library access saves an estimated 214,000 hours in professional staff time worth some $7.5 million annually, an amount far larger than the total agency library budget of $2.5 million.”
“The Bush administration apparently decided that it was politically easier to close the libraries than to burn the books, although the end result will be the same,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch added, noting that EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson brushed aside an earlier request by the scientist unions to bargain internally about the library shutdowns.
In an article in the Library Journal dated March 1, 2007, on the American Library Association’s (ALA) Midwinter Meetingin Seattle, John Berry, Francine Fialkoff, Rebecca Miller, Norman Oder, & Michael Rogers reported EPA “representatives appeared in force, contrite about communication over library closings” (“EPA Officials Make Nice at ALA”). “EPA officials, mindful of the steady criticism regarding the decision to close five of 26 agency libraries, said they won’t close more libraries without further consultation.”
They quoted Mike Flynn, of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Information, as saying, “We have reengaged.” He argued the EPA, as they put it, “had been ineffective in communicating its plans to rely more on electronic documents.” Flynn said, “As we move forward, EPA is in the process of analyzing and seeking stakeholder input.”
The Library Journal team reported “Flynn met with a welcoming but skeptical response from several librarians, some of whom reported difficulty in getting EPA documents via interlibrary loan or who said that scientists they work with have been frustrated by the closures of physical libraries. Flynn said that unique EPA-created documents from the closed libraries should all have been digitized by the end of January, and while some documents might have been unavailable in the ‘early stages,’ now the agency has a tracking system. He also agreed that representatives from ALA and other library organizations should review the quality of the agency’s digitization.”
On February 6, 2007, the EPA library issue was debated during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing. Stephen L. Johnson, the EPA Administrator during most of Bush the Younger’s second term and the first scientist to have ever led the agency, said that EPA libraries were being closed because they were little-used and their holdings were being digitized.
However, according to the Associated Press account of the hearing, Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat representing California, confronted Johnson with EPA internal documents that indicated staff members at one EPA library were ordered to throw away scientific journals. ALA President Leslie Burger commented, “While having the information digitized is indeed important, it should not be the driving force behind shuttering the libraries and, thus, taking from the public one of the libraries’ most important assets: the librarians.”
Norman Oder reported in the Library Journal on December 21, 2007 that thanks to a last-minute act of Congress, six EPA libraries that had been closed would re-open and other EPA libraries in the process of closing would remain open. In its omnibus appropriations bill sent to President George W. Bush, Congress had earmarked $3,000,000 to restore service at the EPA’s technical and research libraries. He noted this was the reversal of “a policy bitterly opposed by library advocates, many Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees, and the watchdog Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).”
He quoted Lynne Bradley, Director of the Office of Government Relations in the ALA Washington Office, as saying, “This is I think a great victory.” She also pointed out librarians had lobbied Congress and then-ALA President Leslie Burger on Feb. 6, 2007 testified before Congress. She said, “These are marathons, not sprints. The library community kept the issue alive.”
Over the previous eighteen months, the EPA had closed six of twenty-four libraries in its library network. This included four of ten regional libraries and the Office of Pesticides library in Washington, D.C. In addition, the EPA had cut hours and services in three regional libraries.
Older wrote, “Also, according to PEER, nine libraries attached to laboratories are in the process of being closed and/or consolidated. EPA officials had said the process, which began without public debate or consultation with constituents, would both save money and streamline service, eventually resulting in greater access to digitized materials.”
The appropriations bill as amended included $1,000,000 more than the amount proposed by the Senate. This ensured there was sufficient money to restore the EPA’s library network, which was previously funded at $250,000.
Congress directed the EPA to report within ninety days on its plans to “restore publicly available libraries to provide environmental information and data to each EPA region.” PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg said, “While the intervention of Congress is most welcome, it comes after several closures and much disruption, leaving the remaining EPA librarians with the task of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.”