A project of the EPA, Information Renaissance and the Environmental Law Institute

Libraries as a Community Resource for Environmental Information



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Discussion Summary: September 20, 2000

Today Steve Curwood asked a three-part question aimed at different segments of our audience. First, he asked the librarians to tell us the kinds of requests they are getting, and share some anecdotes. Next, he asked library users to share their experiences with librarians assisting them in their online and offline searches. Finally, he asked EPA and state and local agency librarians to specify what resources they are offering libraries to understand and use their information?

Many of you have provided each other with useful information, which you can find by checking the thread index or by using the search engine.

Responses to the Moderator's Questions

  • Several participants criticized the use of Adobe format and advocated putting older, hard-to-find EPA documents online. Such a project is presently under way.
  • Several librarians suggested that EPA number and catalog every document approved for publishing before it is released.
  • An EPA librarian asked whether EPA should make a greater effort to put draft policies and reports on the Web site.
  • EPA's Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water wanted to know how they could distribute more broadly documents they have produced for communities about protecting the sources of drinking water. Can libraries help to make these publications available to the public? [Some documents are too large to download easily from the Internet.]
  • Pat Bonner asks participants to think about how EPA could better use listservs to aid librarians.
  • A local agency librarian recommends a site like the Environmental Information Project in the California Digital Library as a starting place on the Internet.

Issues Raised by our Panelists

  • Why is it difficult to get answers about genetically modified foods from EPA and FDA? [Blackwelder]
  • What requirements does EPA have on how long reports will remain available online? What happens when a report is taken down? Is there a risk that the item will be lost forever? [Fox]
  • Industry worries that EPA may post misleading information on its site and supports the practice of providing a heads-up to companies about new materials that will be posted online. There should be a uniform Web-wide feature that allows for error corrections. [Conrad]
  • EPA should enable people to answer the most basic questions on their own such as: [1] What toxic ingredients are in pesticides? [2] What pollution sources and hazards are near their home, work or school? [3] What regulated and unregulated contaminants are their drinking water? [4] How do they get data on a single plant from a single source? and [5] What are the known and unknown hazards of a particular chemical? [Orum]
  • The EPA Web site should have information and links to aid citizens in finding their way through the bureaucracy and in tracking down other sources of help and assistance. [Smith]
  • States recognize the need to work with EPA to provide good information. Difficulties arise from incompatible data systems. There are problems with the quality and accuracy of date in reports such as Envirofacts and the Sector Facility Indexing Report. [Duncan]
  • EPA has insufficient resources allocated to fund library projects. [Stoss]

New Issues Raised by Our Participants

  • EPA should provide more help in searching the Federal Register. FOIA documents should be indexed online.
  • EPA should provide descriptors with information on the required reading level and technical content of documents on the EPA Web site.
  • Some features of the EPA site make it too time-consuming to download materials quickly.
  • Printed copies are easier to read, copy and loan. Rural areas may lack access to online materials.
  • Printed materials can be hard to find in a timely manner. Not everything sent to a depository library stays available at that library.
  • Budget cuts have led the federal government to cut back distribution of print materials.
  • Electronic formatting issues and the Americans with Disabilities Act raise real problems for libraries and their patrons.
  • EPA should provide a choice of formats in its databases.
  • EPA should provide case studies of citizen involvement in the regulatory and permitting process that include: (1) where to gather needed materials; (2) how to prepare and present information for a hearing and (3) how to follow up with post-hearing submissions.
  • EPA should present "issue" collections on hot topics such as the breaching of dams on the Snake River through a combination of web sites, local news stories, advocacy groups and government documents. The Boulder Area Sustainability Information Network provides a local example of such an effort.
  • Local libraries can establish small information repositories for community groups.
  • Local companies should place information on their activities at local libraries under "good neighbor agreements."
  • Local groups should budget mailing costs to libraries to broaden distribution of their materials.

Questions from Our Participants

  • What public libraries and communities have worked well together, and what they learned?
  • How can Superfund dockets be better organized?
  • Is online training an acceptable approach?
  • Is there some type of publish-on-demand feature that would allow libraries to print up and bind Internet documents as needed?

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

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