Recognizing the need to centralize government printing and to establish a mechanism to provide US citizens with no-fee access to federal government information, Congress passed the Printing Act of 1895 that established the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) within the Government Printing Office (GPO). The FDLP has evolved over more than one hundred years to become one of the most effective and successful partnerships between the federal government and the American people today.
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is working with the US Government Printing Office (GPO) as well as others in the library community on an effort to ensure that tangible US government documents are made perpetually available through online access to the public at no cost. In spring of 2004, ARL conducted a survey of its members to set priorities for digitization. Participants were asked to rate a series of documents by applying the following criteria:
- uniformity of size of the documents
- nature of the text
- opportunity for discarding from collection
- availability, or upcoming availability, in electronic format
Rethinking public access to government information has been a priority for ARL for many years. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, federal, state, and local agencies have been grappling with issues relating to access to government information. The delicate balance between responding to concerns about homeland security while ensuring public access to government information presents new challenges to many libraries.
More recently, with the Government Printing Office (GPO) and others in the library community, ARL is reexamining the role of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) in the networked environment.
Recent Developments on FDLP (August 2011-Present)
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and its members have a long-standing participation in and support for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), a partnership between the US Government and libraries throughout the United States that ensures the public has no-fee access to government information. ARL members invest significant staff, financial resources, and space allocations to the FDLP with the belief that equitable access to information about the government and its programs is central to democracy.
Recently, changes in policy and practice by the US Government Printing Office (GPO) and its failure to embrace needed changes to the FDLP present serious challenges to the Program’s sustainability and viability. Importantly, these changes impact the ability of the public to effectively access government information both now and in the future.
Future of Government Documents
In 2005, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) sponsored The Future of Government Documents in ARL Libraries, a two-day symposium to bring together practitioners and administrators to address this important issue. The symposium was held in both September 2005 and October 2005.
In December 2004, the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) articulated in its Strategic Vision for the 21st Century an intention to "focus [the] Federal Depository Library Program [FDLP] on Digital Content Management."
Since that time, librarians in the government documents community have expressed concern about the future of the FDLP. This concern has resulted in a variety of discussions among government documents librarians, library administrators, and GPO.
This symposium convened key ARL library stakeholders to discuss issues and describe a preferred future for libraries' role in providing access to government information.
Over the course of the two-day event, participants:
- Discussed the current conditions shaping the work of government documents librarians
- Explored new service models
- Defined the role(s) of government documents librarians for a new era
- Generated next steps, for teams and for the group, on how to lead and influence the transition from print-based collections to electronic access
Participants used a "customer-in" model—placing users of government information at the apex of the decision making process—for exploring the future work of government documents librarians. Simultaneously, the group learned strategies for managing the change process, including how-to guide, support, and reward efforts that advance organizational and community goals.
The target audience for the event was two–person teams per ARL institution, ideally consisting of the head of the government documents department and the AUL (or other high level administrator) responsible for government documents.