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Virginia Libraries

Current editors:
Beth DeFrancis defrancb@georgetown.edu, Editor
John Connolly jconnolly@nsl.org, Assistant Editor

Virginia Libraries
Volume 45, Number 1

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Francis J. Buckley, Jr. Interview

by Steve Stratton

In 1869 the Superintendent of Public Documents position was created by act of Congress, and placed in the Department of the Interior. The Printing Act of 1895 established the Superintendent of Documents position within the Government Printing Office. In the years since these acts there has been only one professional librarian to serve as the Superintendent. Francis J. Buckley, Jr. was appointed to the position in late 1997 by Michael DiMario, the Public Printer. Virginia Libraries was lucky enough to talk with Buckley, a VLA member, in early September 1998 and then again in October at the Annual Conference.

VL: How did you become involved in the world of government documents?

Buckley: My first job was with Detroit Public Library more than 30 years ago. I was working at the general reference desk in the main library. In that position, I was to answer questions and refer patrons to more specialized departments if we could not answer the questions. After some time there I was transferred to the Sociology and Economics Department. I was horrified at this move! As a librarian at the general desk this was the department where we had referred those individuals who had those really tough questions about statistical data, laws and regulations, and other government information. Now I was supposed to answer those questions from people I had been referring to this department. I discovered that I enjoyed the challenge of finding government information as well as the satisfaction of helping people find information that was often very important in their lives.

This led me to become active in the Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) of the American Library Association (ALA). Eventually I was appointed to serve on the Depository Library Council to the Public Printer which advises the Government Printing Office (GPO) on matters relating to government documents. Before coming to GPO, I chaired a task force of the major library organizations which drafted proposed legislation to revamp the distribution of government information.

VL: How did a librarian come to be appointed Superintendent of Documents after so many years?

Buckley: I believe my appointment is an indicator of the growing recognition of the importance of access to federal government information in our society and within GPO. I know that the Public Printer wanted to increase the focus in GPO on access to information, and being a librarian gives me background in the use of government information and ready access to the major user groups to promote our services.

VL: What are you responsible for as Superintendent of Documents?

Buckley: The mission of GPO is to produce and procure information products for the federal government and to disseminate them to the public. As Superintendent of Documents I oversee five programs: the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP); the no-fee electronic federal information system, GPO Access; the Sales program; the International Exchange Program; and the distribution of publications we perform on behalf of federal agencies.

VL: Can you tell us a little about the size of the FDLP?

Buckley: As of November 1998, there were 1,356 libraries in the depository program; over half of that number are academic libraries, 20% are public libraries, and 11% academic law libraries. The rest of the participants are community colleges, state and special libraries, federal libraries, and court libraries. We provide the depository libraries with tangible and electronic products to make them available to the public at no charge.

This past fiscal year, which ended on September 30, 1998, we provided 14.5 million copies of approximately 39,700 tangible products to the depository program. Through GPO Access we provided online access to 83,394 titles directly on GPO servers, and we pointed to 45,2821 titles on agency web sites, making a total of 130,371 publications available.

VL: What are your goals for your work as Superintendent of Documents?

Buckley: The first, as I have already mentioned, is to promote the access that GPO provides to government information. Along with that is the need to be more comprehensive in the collection of government information for public access, the need to assure permanent public access to depository electronic government information products, and the need for the government to revise Title 44 of the United States Code. This statute mandates that FDLP be more explicit in enhancing and protecting continued access to tax-payer created information in all media for everybody.

VL: How would revising Title 44 be helpful for this?

Buckley: Revisions to Chapter 19 are probably the most important area for change in Title 44. We have been pointing to the need for Chapter 19 changes since the issuance in 1996 of our plan to transition the FDLP to a more electronic future. Electronic "publications" are not now explicitly covered by Chapter 19, Title 44, the depository library legislation. GPO's electronic information dissemination was authorized under the GPO Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act of 1993. Therefore, revision of the law needs to include electronic materials. Currently an agency that posts a publication on the Internet can remove it and we may not have any knowledge that it was there in the first place. If the agency provides the source code we can continue to provide access to it, but agencies are not required to do this currently.

We also need to examine measures to decrease the incidence of fugitive documents in print format. Currently there are some materials produced by the government which we at GPO do not print. Therefore, we cannot automatically procure extra copies of those materials for dissemination to depository libraries or for the Sales Program. Some federal agencies either produce items on their own or contract with a private firm for production of the information. Agencies are supposed to provide copies of these materials to the depository program at their own expense. This is a requirement more honored in the breach than followed, which creates what we and the depository community call "fugitive documents." This problem has increased as reproduction and digital technologies used by agencies have gotten better.

VL: Since S 2288 did not pass Congressional muster in the 105th Congress what will be the next step for GPO in revising Title 44?

Buckley:We are waiting to see whether the legislative agenda for the 106th Congress will offer the opportunity for changes to Title 44.

As you know, there will be changes in the 106th Congress in terms of the leadership, committee chairmen, members and staff. There will be both a new Chairman and a new Ranking Minority Member at the helm of the Senate Rules Committee. There will also be changes in the our House Appropriations Subcommittee, and there will be some changes in the House Administration Committee. The status of the Joint Committee on Printing is currently unclear. Although it still exists statutorily, it is not currently funded.

VL: Do you feel that the process of working on the bill educated Congress on some of the intricacies of the electronic and paper publishing worlds? Were you educated in the process of legislating?

Buckley: The process might well have educated some members of Congress and their staff. It certainly made the major library associations proactive. Librarians involved in the advocacy process learned a great deal about the legislative process -- "how a bill really does or does not become a law."

VL: How helpful was Senator Warner in advocating for the bill?

Buckley: Senator Warner was key to the process through holding hearings that identified statutory areas for revision and for introducing Title 44 reform legislation. His staff worked closely with that of former Senator Wendell Ford in crafting and advocating for that bill.

VL: Will there be another push for similar legislation in the 106th Congress?

Buckley: It depends on the legislative agenda of the 106th Congress. That is a question to be answered by the committees involved in GPO's oversight and appropriations as well as those in the library community who fought so hard for passage of S. 2288.

VL: Are there any new programs (to be interpreted as need be in this electronic age) on the horizon or announced by GPO since our last discussion that you would like to highlight?

Buckley: We are working on the expansion of GPO Access capability to handle more traffic. This was necessitated by our experience in the Fall of 1998, with the release of the Independent Counsel materials, commonly referred to as the "Starr report," which led to a dramatic increase in the use of GPO Access.

Since I spoke at the VLA annual conference in October GPO released Managing the FDLP Electronic Collection: A Policy and Planning Document, which is intended as a blueprint to guide the FDLP into the electronic future. An integral part of the process will be to build and manage an electronic collection with the long-term goal of providing permanent public access. Cataloging, indexing and the use of locator tools/services are being examined in light of this new approach to electronic government information and the FDLP.


Steve Stratton is the Health Sciences Librarian at the Medical College of Virginia campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. He has been a government documents librarian in previous incarnations of his career.

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