2015 - A Depository Vision (John Stevenson)
In 2015, American citizens enjoy no-fee access to a selection of documents available online through GPO Access as well as to the handful of titles distributed in tangible formats through the Federal Depository Library Program. Members of Congress no longer complain about the expense of “shipping dead trees” around the country. Instead, members of Congress have started to complain about the costs of reformatting older electronic information to keep it useful.
The future has some bright points. Recognizing the incomplete coverage of online formats, the GPO implemented new models for selecting online and tangible items in 2007 to better meet the needs of participating libraries. To the relief of many, the new online selection process offered the option of Online Plus, which enabled libraries to use online access as their primary format but to automatically receive printed copies of those titles which are not published online. This option resulted in the virtual disappearance of microfiche from the program since Congressional committees’ refusal to publish some titles online was the primary motivation for many libraries selecting microforms.
In the 2010s, FDLP libraries continue to cooperate to help their patrons. With the growing number of titles available online, the administrators of many Regional Depository libraries no longer saw the maintenance of tangible collections as fitting their institutional missions, leading to a dramatic drop in the number of Regionals. Informal networks of librarians filled many of the gaps but libraries in many states were unable to find Regional Libraries willing to service their needs.
The depository program’s electronic collection compliments the light and dark archives, and GPO makes digital service copies of publications available without fee to FDLP library users. The vision of “everything” being online seems to be within grasp, especially since GPO received special one time funding to ship the collections of five Regional depositories that left the program to its archives.
Acknowledging the growing dependence on Web resources to locate and access information, the FDLP moved virtually all of its operations to the Web. The availability of online indexes and substantial digital content pleases most people, who no longer need to use a printed 20th Century Monthly Catalog to locate a classic title about the boll weevil or need to wash their hands after accessing information from earlier decades.
Since 2010, titles from the executive branch of government have generally not distributed in paper format. The libraries continuing to collect tangible government publications use several cooperative electronic clearinghouses to share information about desirable titles available from publishing agencies. The clearinghouses offer librarians information on how to obtain the printed materials, kits, and media that are no longer distributed without a specific request.
What do depository librarians do in the new online world? In the new order, there are still hundreds of libraries designated as depositories spread throughout the United States but few have documents departments or divisions as functions are mainstreamed. Although tangible depository collections are becoming smaller, larger depositories still hold a large percentage of their old tangible collections. In many libraries, depository librarians spend their work days improving bibliographic access using new records for old titles created by GPO. Where staffing allows and space is at a premium, the existence of digital versions results in projects to withdraw decaying printed volumes and to substitute online versions.
When they’re not substituting online for print in their libraries, government information specialists still go hunting and ask GPO about new titles GPO to ensure that they’re given some priority in the FDsys. The FDsys (implemented in 2007 as Harding) harvests and archives digital publications. Harding gathers immense quantities of material and indexes it, but human judgment is still needed to determine whether a version is valid for public use, or whether a file is an errata or a complete corrected edition.
Depository libraries in 2015 face similar challenges to those faced a decade earlier: competing priorities prevent many libraries from doing the best job possible. Local data storage remains an unfunded mandate. While many libraries allocate some server space for titles of local importance, most see data storage and authentication as federal responsibilities.