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Libraries as a Community Resource for Environmental Information



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Discussion Summary: September 26, 2000

Over the last week and a half most of the discussion in the Dialogue has split into two sections. One section has focused on the types of information and data distribution practices EPA should have. The second section has focused on how libraries and EPA can better function to provide environmental information.

Building Capacity Through Libraries

Howard Fox will act as a "Keeper of the Thread" to help guide this discussion. Today he posed the two questions listed below.

What can libraries do to build capacity for environmental decision making?

  • EPA should provide funds to help train librarians and to develop and maintain clearinghouses of environmental information.
  • Business and the bureaucracy want to maintain control over public access to databases, making the establishment of community clearinghouses very difficult.
  • EPA should encourage environmental partnerships with libraries.
  • Lower the cost of resource acquisition.
  • Libraries need models and success stories to learn how to build sustainable communities.
  • The Web will distribute information more cheaply and quickly to community groups than libraries can.
  • Time limits and printing charges can be problems with Web access at libraries.

What do libraries need to fill the role they'd like to play?

  • Libraries make a difference in helping citizens sort through the disinformation put out by public relations firms and by helping citizens to find technical resources and to evaluate scientific data.
  • Libraries function best as a source of mediated information but should not take a more active role.
  • Libraries should focus on their local audience.
  • Local pressure groups can prevent small libraries from creating topical collections or hosting training sessions on polarizing issues.
  • Libraries should provide meeting space, organize study groups, and host public programs.
  • Staffing problems at libraries can hinder their ability to address community concerns.

Let's Get Real, continued

    • Activists said that comment periods seldom prove useful to community groups trying to change agency decisions, but one praised EPA's training efforts in Clean Air Act permitting.
    • Solutions to this problem include: early notice, more access to information, procedures that allow input prior to the start of the comment period, searchable databases like TTN and the RACT/BACT/LAER clearinghouses, and guides on how to review permits.
    • E-mails and phone calls on permitting matters are often ignored by the relevant agencies.
    • EPA could post compliance data quickly on the Web.
    • EPA's clearinghouse is too slow in delivering large documents that can't be downloaded easily.

Draft EPA Documents, continued

  • Subscription charges of publishers like the Bureau of National Affairs preclude citizens from learning what's really going on. The economic facts of life preclude cheap distribution to the public.

Trusting EPA, continued

  • A post applauded EPA for conducting this discussion in public and pointed out the number of agency personnel who felt free to speak up.

Community Issues and Access

  • Community technology centers organized at the grass roots level or through libraries are addressing the digital divide. Terminals and training are well used.
  • E-Rate and Gates grants are helping to bridge the divide.

Agricultural and other topics

  • Study circles proved effective in teaching farmers about sustainable agriculture.
  • One local library has developed new information resources for its local farming community.
  • The National Agricultural Library and Cornell are good resources for integrated pest management.
  • EPA provides online mapping resources.


Barbara H. Brandon <bhb@info-ren.org>

Dialogue Welcome page: http://www.network-democracy.org/epa/

Dialogue Thread Index: http://www.network-democracy.org/epa/archive/thrd1.html


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