Yes, Virginia, There Is a State Plan for Our Federal Depository Libraries
by Walter Newsome and Janet Justis
"Depository libraries shall make Government publications available for the free use of the general public…" 44 US Code § 1991
It is difficult to believe that it has been more than twenty years since Depository Library Council first advanced the concept of state plans. State plans began with a Resolution passed by Council in April 1981. The idea was that state plans for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) could provide a cost-effective means of enabling depository libraries to share the responsibilities for the development of collections and provision of services.
By the early 1980's, the law establishing Regional depositories had been in effect for nearly 20 years, and some serious collection management and space issues had developed. This was the pre-electronic era, and the Government Printing Office (GPO) was distributing vast amounts of paper and microfiche products. As a result, regional collections were outgrowing their facilities or literally bursting at the seams. Since Regionals are required to keep copies of all items distributed by GPO, coordination at the state level was seen as one possibility for alleviating this problem of lack of physical space for collections.
But times changed, and although the era of an ever-growing abundance of physical print sources has given way to an age of electronic information, GPO through the FDLP has continued to emphasize that the concept of state plans is not past. It is more essential than ever that depository libraries work together to redefine program relationships and to develop a support network that places initial reliance on state and regional resources.
The transition to the electronic Federal Depository Library Program has caused a major re-examination of the roles and responsibilities of GPO and the regional and selective depositories. Users' expectations of instant gratification and service 24/7 put stresses upon traditional library services. The trend towards integrated government information services and collections continues to grow, reflecting a desire to provide central service points or "one-stop shopping," so to speak. It also reflects the difficult reality organizations face when they must consider downsizing and consolidation of staff and departments for financial and other reasons.
On August 17, 2001 the Superin-tendent of Documents wrote a letter to the directors of depository libraries requesting that they support revisions of state plans to reflect new issues facing libraries in the 21st century. The belated development of a State Plan for Virginia began in late fall 2001 when Walter Newsome, as FDLP Regional Librarian for Virginia, issued a call via the govdoc-va listserv for volunteers to begin the process of drafting a state plan. Nine individuals volunteered to join the effort. These included:
Alan Zoellner, Swem Library, College of William and Mary
Ann Martin, Chesapeake Public Library
Barbie Selby, Morris Law Library, University of Virginia
Bruce Obenhaus, Newman Library, Virginia Tech University
Janet Holly, Preston Library, Virginia Military Institute
Janet Justis, Perry Library, Old Dominion University
Keith Weimer, Boatwright Library, University of Richmond
Mary Clark, Library of Virginia
Terry Long, Virginia State Law Library
This group of volunteers represented a cross-section of all types of FDLP libraries in Virginia, including public, academic, law and special libraries, an ideal committee ensuring diverse representation.
The committee's organizational meeting was cancelled because of a winter snowstorm covering most of the state; however, the committee seized the opportunity to do most of the initial research and drafting by email. The committee's virtual approach highlighted some of the issues facing depository libraries as we attempt to serve our users 24/7 without meeting face-to-face. One of the committee's first steps was to review other state plans to see how our colleagues are responding to the challenges. Some sample plans are available at: http://www.libofmich.lib.mi.us/services/plans.html.
The committee met in mid-March to discuss drafts of various sections previously exchanged electronically among members. Two important concepts grew out of this meeting. First, the idea of building the plan around government information formats was not ideally suited for addressing our concerns. Second, the committee reached early consensus that our state plan would be one of "guidelines" rather than "legislation." That is, we would use our plan to encourage participating libraries to follow "best practices" rather than as an enforcement tool requiring individual libraries to "sign-on" and then be subject to additional rules.
Using the traditional terms in place for decades to describe and categorize library services, the committee was able to very efficiently build a draft plan using objectives and strategies exchanged previously among members. These traditional responsibilities and concerns represent core sections of the document. These are Services; Collections; Bibliographic Control and Library Cooperation. Some things about libraries have changed drastically in recent years; others have not.
Eight goals were defined as follows:
- To maintain equity of access to government information for all citizens of Virginia.
- To provide efficient and effective service to all users of government information across the Commonwealth of Virginia.
- To ensure public access to federal information of continuing value across the Commonwealth. (historically valuable resources)
- To ensure access to electronic government information and products for all citizens of the Commonwealth.
- To ensure the continuing effectiveness of the Federal Depository Library Program in Virginia.
- To provide citizens of the Commonwealth the capability to identify and retrieve federal information in any format. (print indexes, online catalogs, web guides and web links)
- To ensure quality and consistency of access to federal government information across Virginia by fostering cooperation among Virginia's federal depository libraries.
- To improve consistency of bibliographic control, collection maintenance and service among all federal depository libraries in Virginia.
The goals and core sections of the state plan deal with traditional and futuristic concerns of libraries. Whether we are dealing with a print document from the 1800's or a PDF version of an annual report, depositories face two main issues. How do we provide access (physical or virtual), and how do we provide the best customer service?
The plan also addresses issues of staff training, particularly regarding the use of technology, to ensure successful delivery of information in a virtual world. However, even in a high tech environment, staff also need to remain familiar with more traditional tools such as specialty print indexes, pathfinders, and guides to help researchers locate and use valuable historic publications which may never be available in digital format. In other words, how do we embrace the challenges of the future without losing the skills to access the treasures of our past?
Not surprisingly, many discussions were held regarding the challenges of bibliographic control and access in a virtual environment. When we begin to add thousands of electronic-only records and links to our catalogs, new cataloging skills, workflows, and technologies are needed, as well as a commitment to ongoing maintenance of web links. For many of us with large virtual collections, link maintenance is a labor intensive and ever expanding job.
While most depository libraries have diligently tried to do retrospective cataloging of older federal documents, thousands of publications are still unavailable in online catalogs. Print indexes and guides must be consulted to help users locate the information they are seeking. The plan encourages depositories to continue efforts to catalog historic publications and to add their holdings to OCLC whenever possible to assist in inter-library loan and the exchange of documents within the state. Realistically, for large depositories, funding for these types of projects is always a concern.
The committee published the draft for comment as an Internet document, but more importantly, decided an open comment forum for FDLP libraries' staff would be offered in May. The public meeting was held on May 18th at the UVA Law School. Although revisions suggested by those attending were minimal, a number of the provisions of the plan were re-written to clarify intent and refine concepts.
Depository Inspector Walter Zoller also attended the open forum to offer clarification of GPO guidelines and to respond to questions from the group. Mr. Zoller praised the group for its work and mentioned that our state plan is one of the first to actually encourage libraries to adopt electronic competencies for staff in depository libraries. These e-competencies for all staff assisting users with government information are based on the draft principles of the Government Information Technology Committee (GITCO) of the Government Documents Roundtable (GODORT) of the American Library Association (ALA). The draft principles for e-competencies cover three tiers of skills needed for providing access and service to users in the future. They may be viewed at: http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/GODORT/gitco/ecomps.html.
Attendees agreed to accept the draft as revised as the official FDLP State Plan for Virginia. The final version of the Plan was implemented effective July 1, 2002. Full text of the State Plan for FDLP Libraries in Virginia is available at http://www.lib.virginia.edu/govdocs/depos/stateplan/VA_StatePlan.pdf.
While depository libraries in Virginia have always cooperated closely by exchanging publications via inter--library loan, conducting training and workshops across the state for personnel from various types of libraries, referring reference questions, and networking with colleagues at national and state conferences, the state plan articulates and solidifies our commitment to continue to work together to meet the challenges of the future. Perhaps it is because we are so connected to our nation's history in Virginia that we continue to learn from our past to meet the challenges of the future, trying never to sacrifice one for the other. Virtually or face-to-face, depository libraries seek to serve the citizens of the Commonwealth by keeping them informed.