Association of Research Libraries (ARL®)

Publications, Reports, Presentations

Membership Meeting Proceedings

Future Directions of the Depository Library Program

Remarks by Judy Russell, US Superintendent of Documents

142nd ARL Membership Meeting
Federal Relations Luncheon
May 15, 2003

I’m delighted to be here with you today. I very much appreciate your hospitality and the effort that Prue Adler made to arrange this opportunity for me to speak with you. It is an exciting time to return to GPO, and I am truly honored to be the second librarian and first woman Superintendent of Documents.

Many of you are directors of Federal depository libraries. My staff tells me that 104 of the ARL libraries are depository libraries. In addition, 22 of you are directors of regional depository libraries, which receive and keep every government publication that GPO distributes. I am sure that even those of you who are from libraries that are not part of the Federal Depository Library Program have staff and clients who use GPO Access and other services of the Government Printing Office. I hope some of you use GPO access yourselves…

Knowing that some of you are from Canada, I asked my staff for some data on use that originates there. Each month, there are thousands of visitor sessions from Canada and referrals from websites using the country code for Canada. At present it is only about 1% of our total traffic, but it is growing – and obviously, there are very likely many more sessions and referrals that cannot be easily identified as Canadian in origin.

We are very proud that GPO Access is a worldwide resource, delivering an average 37 million government documents per month to its users.

I know that Prue has shared with each of you a summary of our recent Depository Library Council meeting in Reno, Nevada, which focused on the future of the Federal Depository Library Program. This is a time of great change for GPO and for the FDLP. Practically from the moment we shipped the first CD-ROM to a depository library, we have discussed and debated the future of the program and how we would meet the challenges of a more electronic FDLP.

We have all learned a lot in the intervening years. Together GPO and its partner libraries have managed unprecedented changes in the program. But our work is far from over. The greatest challenges remain ahead of us.

The new Public Printer, Bruce James, has challenged us to look at ourselves critically and evaluate the changes that we must make to prepare for the future. To do that, he has embarked on what he characterizes as a "fact gathering" effort to determine where GPO is now and to identify our assets and liabilities. Even more importantly, he has asked us to talk with our partners in the publishing agencies and the library community to see where they expect to be in the future and what services they will require from GPO. Once we all agree on the facts, we will work together to develop a plan for the future, including any necessary revisions to Title 44, and I am sure aht some revisions will be required.

This process is likely to take 18 to 24 months, although we wish it could be shorter. In addition to librarians and publishing agencies, we must involve our employees, the 23 unions that represent them, the printing and information industries, and others with an interest in and concern for permanent public access to government information. There are a lot of people to be consulted.

Bruce frequently says that he did not come to Washington to run a printing plant. He came to address the challenges of public access to government information. He sees GPO's primary mission as information management and dissemination, with printing as one way to accomplish that mission, but by no means the only way.

He frequently marvels at the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, who in 1813 created the initial law requiring the deposit of Federal government information throughout the country. To guard against the potential for a tyrannical central government, they insured that all citizens could exercise their rights to know about the actions of their government and at the same time benefit from the information compiled and created by their government. Their vision created a system that has lasted almost 200 years and has served us very well.

However, that system was created before modern means of transportation and communication – before automobiles, trains, airplanes changed our ability to move rapidly from one part of the country to another; before radio, television and the Internet transformed the way we obtain and share information instantaneously.

Our challenge is to re-examine the mission of the Federal Depository Library Program and ensure that there is a viable program for the next hundred years that acknowledges and utilizes the new technologies to support democracy and inform our users. It is a lofty, but achievable goal and one that is well worth the effort that it will require to shape it.

Each of your institutions has an important role to play in the process. GPO is not going to redesign the program in Washington and impose a new structure on the depository library community. GPO administers the program on behalf of the participating libraries and the public we jointly serve. That community must drive the decisions about what the program should be in the future. We cannot do it without you – and, even if we could, we do not want to, or intend to, do it without you.

Together we must re-examine the services that GPO provides to the public directly and through the depository libraries. We must define the services that are required now and in the future to support the mission. We must address the fundamental question that we have been asking each other since 1995: Why be a depository library when you can obtain "everything" (or virtually everything) free on the Internet without being part of the program?

We must “get out of the box” and take a fresh look at the mission we share and the determine best means to accomplish it. We should not limit ourselves to incremental changes to the current system, but seek a new vision, which respects the foundation of the current program, but is not constrained by it.

We are rapidly approaching a critical time in the program. The FDLP has always been a delicate balance between the self-interest of the library in obtaining publications without cost and the public interest in access to the information. This year only 40% of the titles selected for inclusion in the FDLP will be shipped in paper, microfiche or some other tangible format. 60% will be made available on GPO Access or through links to electronic publications on agency or other websites. The trend is clear and the change is accelerating. The balance on the scales is tipping dangerously. Within a few years, perhaps as few as five, there will be very few tangible products distributed to depository libraries, other than those that we collectively decide to preserve in paper.

Together we must determine what services GPO can offer exclusively to depository libraries that will be sufficient to keep libraries in the program when they can obtain "everything" free on the Internet. We must identify services that are of value of you as library directors. I know that you are challenged daily to accomplish more with fewer resources. The depository libraries represented in this room invest far more resources in the Federal Depository Library Program than GPO does – some past estimates suggest that each of your libraries spends $10 for each $1 worth of publications you receive, and that may be conservative. We must find a way to rebalance the scales so that libraries are willing to continue to expend resources on public access to government information.

Let me share with you some of the things that we are working on that may be part of the solution.

We often hear user concerns for "official" and "authentic" government information. There is a great need for information that is reliable because it is from a trusted source.

GPO is negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This contract will make GPO an official “archival affiliate” and all of the GPO Access databases will be considered the official archival copies, as if they had been transferred to NARA, but GPO will continue to maintain them for permanent public access.

At the same time, GPO is preparing to implement digital signatures on Congressional bills, Federal Register documents and eventually on all GPO Access files. These digital signatures will allow future users of downloaded files to determine that the files are unchanged since they were “authenticated” by GPO.

Pilot Projects

As I mentioned, Bruce James has indicated that the first year of his term as Public Printer will be spent gathering facts about where GPO and its partners are and what we anticipate for the future, as a basis for a strategic planning process. When he asks for facts, Bruce does not mean merely opinions, even well informed opinions. He has encouraged GPO to work with the community to develop demonstration or pilot projects, which will test ideas about services that we may wish to offer in the future and provide facts about how such services should be implemented. GPO will also conduct surveys both to support data gathering and analysis of the pilot projects and to gather more general information about the FDLP and its users.

We have a number of pilot projects that are underway or contemplated; I won’t list them all, but I would like to share a few of them with you.

If you or your staff have a proposal for a specific pilot project or would like to participate in one of the projects I have described, I encourage you to get in touch with me

Retrospective Collections

We are also considering establishing shared facilities into which collections can be de-duplicated to reduce burdens of the large historical collections on our regional depository libraries and other large selectives – on many of you in this room. We do not wish to take anything away from you that you want to keep on your shelves, but we do want to provide alternatives for little used materials that could be available "just in time" if and when they are needed. In the 1960s we went from requiring every depository library to keep everything in perpetuity to requiring only regional depository libraries to keep everything forever. It is time to look at that issue again and find ways to reduce the burdens of the large collections, without losing the value of having a distributed system that protects these assets and ensures permanent public access. We want to work with you on expanded digitization, preservation, retrospective cataloging, and other services to better mange the retrospective materials and make them more accessible to users in and outside of your libraries.

I attended the recent Center for Research Libraries meeting in Chicago and listened with great interest to the presentations on three models for cooperative collection management and shared collections. We need to examine these and other options to determine the options that best meet your needs. Again, one size does not need to fit all. We may end up implementing several different models to meet needs of different geographic areas or types of libraries.

Analysis of Policies and Procedures

As Prue mentioned in her summary, I am emphasizing strongly with my staff and the community the idea that “one size does not fit all” in the Federal Depository Library Program. We are beginning to re-evaluate procedures, policies and regulations to determine what is best for each size and type of depository library. The core collection for a small public library will be very different from that of an academic research library or an academic law library. The technical requirements for a library with a large information commons will be quite different than those for a small library, which will need one or more dedicated workstations for access to Federal government information. Similarly, the list of titles that should always remain in paper is probably different for different sizes and types of libraries.

I have been having a series of conference calls with documents librarians from different types of libraries and will continue to do that as a means to explore the barriers to and incentives for participation in the FDLP, now and in the future. I encourage every one here to talk to your staff and among yourselves and then to provide feedback to me on the changes that you would like to see. I welcome opportunities to visit your libraries and talk with you and your staff about ways that we can serve you better and make this program a valuable asset and essential part of your services to your users. I am happy to receive an e-mail message ( or a phone call (202-512-0571) from you at anytime.

Several of you have already suggested that ARL arrange for a meetings with smaller groups of ARL directors to discuss the future of the program, as well as facilitating meetings with library directors and their depository librarians to assist in acceptance and implementation of the changes that are sure to come, much as ARL did for the Interlibrary Loan project a few years ago. Prue has agreed to arrange those meetings for us. I know they will be extremely valuable.


Let me address one final topic before I conclude my remarks and take your questions. We are reorganizing the Superintendent of Documents staff to better address the issues I have identified by creating a structure that is arranged in functional areas. This will align our staff to reduce duplicative efforts and provide better service to our library partners and our other customers.

The reorganization will allow us to focus more attention on establishing a comprehensive national bibliography as required by the statute. We are in the final stages of contract negotiations for an integrated library system. This is an essential tool that will make it possible for the first time to expand the current Catalog of Government Publications by incorporating bibliographic records from other agencies and partner libraries.

Many years ago GPO turned over its historical collection to the National Archives and almost immediately we began to regret the absence of a tangible collection. We have decided to re-establish a comprehensive collection of tangible and electronic documents as a collection of last resort for the program, and the new organization will dedicate staff resources to that effort.

Agency printing is no longer the primary source of publications for the FDLP, so we need to increase our focus on acquisitions through web harvesting, outreach to publishing agencies and other means. The new organization will help us to focus increased resources and attention on acquisition of content for the FDLP and the sales program.

These changes will result in new positions and promotional opportunities for current staff, and we hope that some government documents librarians will consider applying for positions at GPO and coming to help us improve our current services and prepare for the future.


In closing, I want to encourage each of you to work with one another and with GPO to determine the mix of content and services that GPO must offer in the future to make it worthwhile for libraries to participate in the FDLP. We want you to help define the program that you want and need. It is particularly important to identify services that can be offered exclusively to depository libraries, so there are some substantial, tangible benefits to participation when all or virtually all of the material can be obtained free from the Internet without the obligations of being a depository library.

Together we can, and we must, re-evaluate and reshape the Federal Depository Library Program to make sure that the program is as strong a means of public access to government information in the next hundred years as it has been for the past two hundred years. This is a great challenge, but I one I welcome. I look forward to working with you to meet this challenge.