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Libraries as a Community Resource for Environmental Information



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Discussion Summary: September 18, 2000

This National Dialogue on Libraries as a Community Resource for Environmental Information began today. Our topic for the first day concerns the types of environmental information that the public wants from federal and state agencies. Our Moderator, Steve Curwood, asked us what kind and what amount of information do people want to retrieve over the Internet? He pointed out that both too much data and too little can be a problem. He next asked what is the right quantity and quality to respond to the needs out there.

Responses to the Moderator's Questions:

  • Put all kinds of information on the net. However, the trick is to find better search engines and teaching people how to use them.
  • Users often aren't sure what is available and what is useful.
  • Provide local library Web sites with links to local EPA and state data.

While introducing themselves our participants identified several types of problems:

  • Need for easier and timelier access to "Public Documents" on the EPA site.
  • Concern from academic librarians that the Web will replace Federal Depository Library Program.
  • Need for better navigational tools and Web site designs that better enhance access.
  • Need for free national databases of state air and water quality regulations.
  • Frustration with the Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] process.
  • Need to provide guides that explain the regulatory process and translate information into layperson's terms.
  • Need for storing and providing better access to "grey" literature.

Registrants identified several areas where they want and need more data:

  • Posting issued permits and maps to aid citizens.
  • Providing more information for environmental education and outreach.
  • Posting more data on air quality trends, regional and local asthma trends, on the location and composition of hazardous waste sites and data on local and residual sources of air toxics,
  • More information from the pesticide program on adverse effects, ingredients, and ecological health studies. In discussing this, two participants pointed out the limitations of EPA's paper docket system and FOIA in obtaining data from the pesticide program.

Several additional questions were raised:

  • How can EPA ensure that librarians and their patrons know what data is on the Web and what its value is? How can libraries help their local communities?
  • How can the EPA Web site aid regional planning agencies and local municipal officials in learning what other communities across the nation are doing to handle similar problems ranging from pollution to sprawl?
  • How do you disseminate information in Navajo and Hopi or globally to populations with limited access to technology?
  • Should environmental education be a school priority rather than a library one?
  • How does EPA plan to store and archive Environmental Impact Statements?

Summary prepared by Barbara Brandon, bhb@info-ren.org

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