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Highlights

Established in 1971, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) library network provides staff and the public with access to environmental information. Its 26 libraries contain a wide range of information and resources and are located at headquarters, regional offices, research centers, and laboratories nationwide. In 2006, EPA issued a plan to reorganize the network beginning in fiscal year 2007. The plan proposed closing libraries and dispersing, disposing of, and digitizing library materials. GAO was asked to assess (1) the status of, and plans for, the network reorganization; (2) EPA's rationale for reorganizing the network; (3) the extent to which EPA has communicated with and solicited the views of EPA staff and external stakeholders in conducting the reorganization; (4) EPA's steps to maintain the quality of library services after the reorganization; and (5) how EPA is funding the network and its reorganization. For this study, GAO reviewed pertinent EPA documents and interviewed EPA officials and staff from each of the libraries.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency 1. To ensure that critical library services are provided to EPA staff and other users, the Administrator of EPA should continue the agency's moratorium on changes to the library network until the agency incorporates and makes public a plan that includes developing a strategy to justify its reorganization plans by (1) evaluating and determining user needs for library services; (2) taking an inventory of EPA information resources and determining the extent to which these resources are used; (3) evaluating technological factors, such as digitization procedures and integration of online databases, to ensure an optimal level of services; (4) evaluating and conducting a benefit-cost assessment for each alternative approach for the network, including the approach that existed before the reorganization; and (5) reviewing and revising, as appropriate, the existing policy and procedures that guide the library network.
Closed - Implemented
EPA's current library procedures require libraries to perform an inventory of its collections on a regular basis, update the catalog records accordingly, and to collect statistics on the services they provide and the usage of library materials, including print materials in the library and electronic resources available online. In addition, EPA surveyed library users in 2009 to evaluate and determine user needs for library services. The goals of the assessment included evaluating how EPA staff use library services, determining what library services are most critical to customers, and what additional library services and/or resources are needed. EPA is using the results of the assessment to plan effective library services that meet user needs. For example, based on input from users and librarians, along with usage data, EPA has (1) increased electronic journals subscriptions on the EPA Desktop Library from approximately 2,000 titles to over 5,400, (2) enhanced the search capabilities on EPA websites, (3) offers training on how to use the library resources and services, and (4) provides remote access to offsite users. EPA has also made improvements to the agency's digitization procedures and the user interface for the digital archive. Over 40,000 electronic documents are now available in EPA's environmental publications archive; and efforts continue to ensure that all digital documents are linked to EPA's online catalog records. To ensure that EPA's existing policies and procedures remain current, EPA's processes require review of policy and procedures every three years.
Environmental Protection Agency 2. To ensure that critical library services are provided to EPA staff and other users, the Administrator of EPA should continue the agency's moratorium on changes to the library network until the agency incorporates and makes public a plan that includes improving its outreach efforts by developing a process that (1) informs stakeholders of the final configuration of the library network, and the implementation goals and timeline to achieve this configuration; (2) communicates information to stakeholders early, often, and consistently across all libraries, and solicits the views of EPA staff and external stakeholders; and (3) obtains the views of industry experts to determine leading practices for library services.
Closed - Implemented
As we reported in September 2010 (GAO-10-947), EPA has taken steps to communicate with staff and other stakeholders about its library network including providing information about the libraries as well as soliciting information from library users. In general, EPA staff and external stakeholders told us the agency is doing a better job of communicating with them and soliciting input on the operations and future direction of the library network, particularly at the local level. To keep library managers and staff engaged in improving library operations, EPA has adopted a number of techniques to communicate with them and solicit their input. These techniques have allowed EPA to gather staff input for policies and procedures, operational issues, and Web page improvements. Examples include the following: The national library program manager holds monthly network teleconferences with library managers and staff on matters of interest to the entire network or on operational topics, such as the library policy and procedures. The national library program manager also holds ad hoc teleconferences with library managers elsewhere in the network to discuss their libraries needs. Managers and staff use mailing lists to communicate with one another about daily library operations or requests for assistance. EPA also holds annual network meeting in different locations for library managers and staff to foster collaboration, provide training, and share information about the network. At the October 2009 meeting, participants discussed ways to address results of the 2009 staff survey, prepared for the next round of digitization, and discussed ways to improve library services.
Environmental Protection Agency 3. To ensure that critical library services are provided to EPA staff and other users, the Administrator of EPA should continue the agency's moratorium on changes to the library network until the agency incorporates and makes public a plan that includes a process that (1) ensures sufficient oversight and control over the reorganization process, (2) continuously and consistently monitors the impact of the reorganization on EPA staff and the public, and (3) takes corrective actions as necessary to provide the continued delivery of services.
Closed - Implemented
To provide oversight of the reorganization process and ensure sufficient monitoring, and continuous improvement of the Library Network, EPA has implemented a process that requires the review of library policy and procedures every three years. To keep library managers and staff engaged in improving library operations, among other things, the national library program manager holds monthly network teleconferences with library managers and staff on matters of interest to the entire network or on operational topics, such as the library policy and procedures. EPA's Library Network Policy and Procedures are publicly available on its website and guidance is posted on the Network's Intranet site. In addition, the Library Network Annual Meeting, held in April 2012, included a session on policy and procedures. The Library Network has also developed and implemented multiple feedback mechanisms using a variety of communication channels to gather feedback from library users and stakeholders, including an agencywide information needs assessment, a centralized customer feedback form, and a dedicated email address to gather feedback from EPA customers, concerned stakeholders, and the general public.
Environmental Protection Agency 4. To ensure that critical library services are provided to EPA staff and other users, the Administrator of EPA should continue the agency's moratorium on changes to the library network until the agency incorporates and makes public a plan that includes implementing procedures that ensure that library materials are dispersed and disposed of consistently and in accordance with federal property management regulations.
Closed - Implemented
On March 4, 2011, EPA's Chief Information Officer issued Library Materials Dispersal Procedures. The stated purpose of the document was to establish Agency-wide procedures, by which libraries in the EPA National Library Network retain, reduce, disperse or dispose of their library contents when appropriate. In November 2011, EPA's Library Network updated guidance developed in 2009 to assist library staff with the appropriate dispersal of materials. EPA's procedures for dispersal of library materials are available on the agency's intranet site and have been shared with the Library Network staff.

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