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Libraries as a Community Resource for Environmental Information



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Discussion Summary: September 27, 2000

Tom Hughes asked how EPA and its partners can support libraries in building capacity. Pat Bonner asked how to increase the usefulness of EPA's Internet resources with a particular focus on the stakeholders Web page. [http://www.epa.gov/stakeholders]

Library Capacity - Training, Funding and Study Circles

  • More federal resources - CDs, documents and online materials - should be provided to libraries for free. [Eklund, Hughes]
  • State library associations should hold regional training events with EPA regional staff and other stakeholders.
  • Tanner's study circle was viewed as innovative by many. This format could be extended to other topics. [Smith and Tanner]

Other Public Outreach Approaches

  • Libraries should provide public participation information. They could also provide displays, access to databases, meeting rooms and document depositories about permit actions and a cheap print-on-demand capability for online documents.
  • Libraries have a tradition of standing up to controversy. [Smith]
  • A city agency in San Diego built an environmental library in partnership with the city library system. The library catalogued the materials in their collection, making them available to departmental staff and the public.
  • The BASIN project in Boulder is a successful example involving multiple stakeholders providing online environmental information on water resources.

EPA Library Issues and Web Security

  • EPA should develop the equivalent of Medline; this would provide access to diverse opinions and research on the environment.
  • A National Environmental Information Infrastructure could bring together Internet resources (and not just EPA's), multiple library systems, mirror sites, environmental clearinghouses, universities, and regional, state, and local environmental libraries and public libraries to create a system that keeps on ticking when any one component fails. [Hughes]
  • An EPA employee pointed out that all Web sites are vulnerable and asked what the public should do when it is denied electronic access, especially when a deadline is looming.

"Let's Get Real" and "Raw Data" threads

  • EPA should compile information that lets people understand what is going on. For example, there should be an inventory of facilities operating under expired industrial water pollution permits. [Blackwelder].
  • Data gaps in raw TRI files, better mapping resources and the need for access to more raw data were discussed.

Digital Divide Issues

  • Nearby libraries and Internet access are not valid assumptions for Native Americans, but EPA is thanked or recognizing the problem.
  • Government Web sites have become too glitzy and too difficult for older computers to load. Plain old HTML and 56k modems should be viewed as an appropriate user standard. Rural phones make for slower connections.
  • Limited hours of rural libraries might call for computer kiosks from which the public could get data on a 24/7 basis; this functionality could be combined with that of ATMs.

Internet Improvements

  • Listserves should notify stakeholders of documents, events and links to state and local agencies. Chat rooms are another useful mechanism. [Eklund]
  • Key identifiers were recommended as a way to organize EPA data; this can be hard because the data are collected for regulatory purposes. Human assistance will always be necessary to help the public.
  • EPA should provide online data on enforcement history and inspections, and it should build tools that display trends over time.
  • Searching EPA's web site for a specific publication is too often hit or miss. Searches often return screens with meaningless information. Awareness of the Online Library System [OLS] should be heightened. [Hughes]
  • The OLS would be more useful to researchers if the system was Z39.50 compliant, which is an international metadata standard that allows a compliant browser to search multiple catalogues and databases. [Hughes]

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


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