Newsletter of the Federal Depository Library Program
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April 15, 2003 GP 3.16/3-2:24/04
(Vol. 24, no. 04)
Assuring Free Public Access to Federal Government Information
Free public access to Federal Government information is of paramount importance to the U.S. Government Printing Office. It is at the core of the Federal Depository Library Program, as mandated by Title 44, U.S. Code, Chapter 19. According to the Instructions to Depository Libraries, July 2000:
Free access as defined by GPO means that any member of the general public can use Government information products in all media at the library without impediments. Providing free access by the general public to the resources of the documents collection, including electronic resources, is a fundamental obligation of all Federal depository libraries...
Access policies, posting of signs, World Wide Web pages, and public service hours for depository patrons must conform to this requirement. Depository libraries must ensure that their security or access policies, or those of their parent bodies, do not hinder public access to depository materials.
Some examples of recent instances of impediments to patron access in depository libraries include:
- Limited service hours, i.e., 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. weekdays only. Depository materials are located in locked rooms without access except during these hours.
- Closed stacks with limited public service hours, limited cataloging, and limited indexes.
- Offsite storage facilities where the material is not cataloged or available for browsing, or retrieval time is longer than 24 hours.
- Age limitations, most commonly applied to children under the age of 16; they cannot use the library unless accompanied by an adult or other responsible individual.
- Age limitations imposed for computer terminal use. Again, these limitations are most commonly applied to children under the age of 16.
- Internet access is limited. Filtering software is employed, or access is restricted to .mil or .gov sites, with other sites added at the discretion of the library.
While depository library administrators may determine local operating hours, access and security procedures, it is important to keep in mind the public access requirements of the FDLP. New policies are not needed to address these issues, which are covered under the following policies updated to reflect the changes associated with identification requirements:
Guidelines for the Federal Depository Library Program
Instructions to Depository Libraries, July 2000
FDLP Internet Use Policy Guidelines
Depository Library Public Service Guidelines for Government Information in Electronic Formats
Managing the FDLP Electronic Collection: A Policy and Planning Document
An additional step libraries may wish to take in reviewing access policies and procedures associated with the Federal depository operation include a review of the operation from a fresh perspective. The review may include any or all of the following suggestions:
- Checking the library for signs that may have a "chilling" effect on public patrons, i.e., "Private," "Not open to the general public," "Open only to authorized persons."
- Reviewing the library's policies and procedures, especially those dealing with age, material placed on reserve, and computer access.
- Searching the library's or parent institution's web pages for limiting policies that depository staff may not know have been developed, implemented, and posted for users to see.
- Taking a fresh look at where the depository operation is situated: is it visible or is it hidden away in a basement?
- For integrated collections, reviewing the cross-training of staff in other departments. Is the reference staff trained to identify depository resources that are relevant to patron requests, even if the patron has not specifically requested U.S. Government information?
- Reviewing hours of operation and service for adverse impact on public access. Have there been reference and support staff hour cuts, essentially preventing anyone with a traditional working schedule from accessing the depository material?