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September 19, 2000
Today Steve Curwood asked us to assess the information
available on EPA's Web site in terms of quality, quantity, focus
attitude of presentation, ease of use, accuracy, credibility and
timeliness. We have added a section, "EPA Responses" that summarizes
some of the agency's posts. We hope you will take the time tomorrow
to respond to the issues that the Agency raises so that EPA can
learn your views on these matters. We are also pleased that many
of you are answering each other's requests for information.
What information do people need, and how well
does the EPA supply it?
- The public wants information on topics
ranging from how to make sound environmental decisions in
their personal lives to understanding issues as vast and as
complicated as global warming.
- People are interested in the compliance
status of local companies.
- Citizens need guides to help them navigate
the EPA Web site.
- The EPA Web site should have a searchable
Health Effects section.
- Unsophisticated users need search engines
that can respond to "street" vocabulary.
- The individual EPA office sites provide
good introductions, but there could be more on EPA's organizational
structure. (Who does what and who reports to whom?)
- Timeliness is a problem. EPA gives the
public only 30 days to comment on air permits that may have
in its files for years.
- Databases should be up-to-date, and Web
site links should all be functional.
- An indexed on-line catalog of federal
regulations would be helpful.
- The EPA's Online Library System, where
all EPA libraries can be searched at once through http://www.epa.gov/natlibra/aboutols.htm
- Text documents should be searchable,
which is not possible with many Adobe Acrobat items on the
EPA Web site.
- The quality of EPA databases is uneven,
but the problems of data collection may be more of a political
nature than a library issue.
- People like the newly redesigned topics
page although it could perhaps use better navigational tools.
- Participants praised EPA's materials
on specific organophosphate pesticides under review but complained
that there is no master list of registered pesticides and
- Tools are needed to interpret water quality
data and put local issues into perspective.
- FOIA materials and major documents such
as environmental impact statements should be placed online
or cheaply sold on a CD.
- Libraries could play a key role in providing
Information to people on fire-adapted ecosystems and forest
- EPA needs to establish more formal relationships
with state libraries.
- EPA should provide case studies on how
effective citizens groups make a difference and what to do
if the Agency's response is unsatisfactory.
Questions raised by our participants:
- How do we assess the quality of information
- How do we provide information to populations
that are not technically proficient and do not want to be
tutored in technology?
- How should EPA overcome its program specifics
in providing information?
- How do we provide transportation planning
information that is complete, understandable and visual?
- What responsibility does a state or federal
agency have in not only building databases but also in educating
and training the public to access them?
- How do we find more current data on the
site when materials are often 2 years old?
- What do we do when materials can no longer
- Do numerical databases always help describe
environmental problems? Ecological problems are generally
poorly described by EPA's data, although the Surf Your Watershed
tool off the main EPA site makes a good attempt at water quality
issues. EPA's many mapping projects are useful for showing
toxic release sources as dots on a map, but do they work for
well for ecological problems such as critical habitat?
- Velma Smith, one of our panelists, asks
how local environmental groups can reach out to libraries
and if libraries would be receptive to receiving publications
from these environmental groups? How does a group target selected
libraries, and are there associations of "environmental librarians"
that could provide guidance? Fred Stoss, another of our panelists,
provided several links to environmental materials maintained
- Pat Bonner asks the group to explain
their suggestions on organizing information. Are we talking
navigability on the Internet, and usability, or something
- Pat Bonner asks what makes some communities
successful early adopters of ideas. How do you replicate a
success like David Gershon's group, Global Action Plan? How
big can the "community" be? What types of communities should
EPA's pilot library projects serve?
- Pat Bonner also asks whether providing
online "training" materials would be useful to think about?
Can libraries and other community centers work to build awareness
and move people to action?
- Jonda Byrd asks us to assess how successful
the vocabulary feature is on the Browse Topics page that provides
a topical approach to the Web site:
by Barbara Brandon, email@example.com
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