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Posted by on Mar 20, 2006

Federal Depository Library Program

Michael Gallagher
The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP):
The Present and Future

The advent of online publishing and the GPO’s embrace of this technology have forced an analysis of the purpose, scope and specifics of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). The trend towards online publishing and the FDLP response are established in John Heintz’s “Migration of Government Information Products to the Internet”. This article stresses not only the transition from print to online materials for the participants of the FDLP program but also the inherent bibliographic control and access problems included in such a transition. Further analysis of the “electronic transition” question is offered in Charles Bernholz’s “Some Thoughts on the FDLP Electronic Transition”, which offers a positive critique of this new online capacity for providing greater access to obscure, yet relevant, government texts. A third article reiterates many of the same transition issues, further applauding the greater accessibility provided by the online FDLP; entitled “The Federal Depository Library Program: Anachronism or Necessity?” David Durant’s essay stresses the historical importance of the FDLP program by proving a background analysis of its origin. Furthermore, Durant notes that although the FDLP program is somewhat anachronistic, it should be preserved if only for the user services it provides. In light of the current advances in the technological publishing world as well as the ubiquitous nature of Internet access for many, if not most, Americans, the Durant article seems particularly suited to these changing conditions. The wisdom entailed in the expression “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” applies to the debate over the continued existence of the FDLP program; it deserves to be continued, regardless of the anachronistic nature of much of the print collection itself.

Heintz argues, in his paper entitled “Migration of Government Information Products to the Internet”, that the FDLP is “undergoing a rapid transition” from the distribution of printed documents to “ensuring access” to electronic information (Heintz, 2003, 481). This process has accelerated even further in the three years since this article has been published. Furthermore, as Heintz notes, the public’s response to these changes have been favorable; 56% of the respondents to a particular survey on e-government believe that the impact of such material will be positive, while only 11% responded in the negative (Heintz, 2003, 482). However, this positive reception of all things electronic does not precipitate, as Heintz states, a willingness to sacrifice security for the sake of efficiency. According to the survey cited in the article, 65% of Americans want to proceed with the implementation of electronic materials slowly due to fears over security and privacy (483). These statistics illustrate the general public’s willingness to proceed with cautious change. With this backdrop forming the structure of the situation, Heintz argues that, although the positive aspects of electronic FDLP access cannot be denied, the hazards of a premature “permanent” and total online FDLP collection are too great to ignore. Potential limitations of access, security and privacy issues, intellectual property rights and proper records management are all cited as potential pitfalls inherent in the transition to an online format (484-487). Furthermore, there are inconsistencies within the government agencies themselves; the GPO inclusion of a document in “their electronic collection does not meet NARA records management requirements” (488).

The situation described by Heintz warrants caution and that is precisely Heintz’s conclusion. According to the article, the GPO must continue to “improve bibliographic control of federal web resources” and take the lead in attempting to solve the questions of archiving and permanent access (493). This is tantamount to a call for caution, a stern and steady approach to a rapidly evolving situation.

A more particular situation is related in Charles Bernholz’s “Some Thoughts on the FDLP Electronic Transition”. The author reiterates the notion of the migration of documents to electronic mediums, aptly titled the “FDLP electronic transition”, choosing to focus the discussion on the availability of particularly obscure government documents such as the papers of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. Bernholz concurs with Heintz in establishing the positives of the aforementioned electronic migration, but stops short of offering cautionary criticism. In essence, as a government documents librarian, Bernholz is well qualified to discuss the particulars of the changes taking place in the FDLP program and seems encouraged by the possibilities that electronic access offers. Bernholz sees this transition as an opportunity for libraries to fulfill their ultimate purpose: to provide access “to all our patrons” with seminal documents related to the founding of the country (Bernholz, 2002, 13). In essence, this article addresses the potential that electronic access of FDLP documents has for fulfilling the purpose of libraries, a thoroughly encouraging and optimistic statement.

By contrast to Barnholz’s article, David Durant’s “The Federal Depository Library Program: Anachronism or Necessity?” retraces much of the same ground established in “Migration of government information products to the Internet” by establishing the alterations of the FDLP landscape in response to the increasing migration of documents to electronic formats. Durant, however, focuses on the viability of the FDLP program in light of these changes, stressing the inefficiency of a system dictated by geographical concerns. Both articles establish the inherent pitfalls of such changes and both seemed inclined to view this transition as inevitable. However, Durant concludes by reinvigorating the concept of the FDLP library as a “portal or aggregator for federal government Web resources” (Durant, 2004, 7). The Federal Depository Library has proven itself capable of providing service and relevancy in an electronic format and there is no reason to believe this trend will abate, especially in light of the ephemeral nature of electronic information (7). In short, government information needs to have a home and an open door and the FDLP has provided and will continue to provide both.

Durant further mentions that the changes underway in this migration of information to electronic formats will render a “geographically dispersed network of libraries” redundant (7). The future of the Federal Depository Library Program, as established in the analysis provided by Bernholz, Durant, and Heintz, is a poised evolution, a conscientious articulation of the rights and necessity of access coupled with a dedicated physical reorganization. The program will not physically be what it once was, but that does not necessarily represent a negative, especially in the minds of Durant and Bernholz.

“The Federal Depository Library Program: Anachronism or Necessity?” represents a blend of both practical necessity and a guided focus towards a better future. The same concerns that exist in “The Migration of Government Information to the Internet” are present in Durant’s article”; the issues of security and privacy, access rights and proper records management are foremost in Durant’s vision of a FDLP future. However, where Durant veers somewhat is his reluctance to proceed with the inevitable conclusion. Indeed, his focus falls within the inherent redefinition of the FDLP concept in response to this electronic migration. If this electronic migration forces a drastic reorganization, better to maximize the advantages of such a transition. Hence, Durant mentions that FDLP libraries can revitalize themselves by providing “virtual reference” (7). This virtual reference allows the FDLP library to retain its service-oriented focus, remaining a viable service entity.

Regardless of the pervasive outlook of the respective authors towards this transition from print to electronic resources, the change is inevitable. Between 1999 and 2002, the number of FDLP paper documents processed by the Joyner Library halved and this trend has been repeated at most FDLP libraries throughout the country (Durant, 2004, 7). From 1996 to 1999, “the number of annual retrievals from GPO Access grew from over 27 million to over 181 million” (2). These statistics support a reorganization of the FDLP program that serves to accentuate the traditional focus of access and reference while moving forward with the ease and efficiency provided by electronic access. The cautious optimism presented in “the Federal Depository Library Program: Anachronism or Necessity?” is a synthesis of the anxiously cautious approach as offered by Heintz and the overriding optimism as presented by Bernholz. Therefore, it remedies a course of action that is keeping with progress towards an uncertain future.

The Federal Depository Library Program, in keeping with the organizational principles of access and reference, should welcome this electronic migration as an extension of purpose, an extension of service. Concerns over bibliographic control and access, security and privacy, and permanent collections warrant attention, but they do not facilitate a stalling of an inevitable procedure. Government information, as contained in the FDLP program, is more efficiently served in an electronic format; more information reaches more people in a much quicker manner. This core truth will dictate change; better to embrace the positive aspects of this change and strive to correct the imperfections than to be left without patronage to fulfill organizational imperatives.


Bernholz, C.D. (2002). “Some Thoughts on the ‘FDLP Electronic Transition’.” Retrieved
February 5, 2006, from

Durant, D. (2004). “The Federal Depository Library: Anachronism or Necessity?”. North
Carolina Libraries (Online), 62(1). Retrieved February 5, 2006, from

Heintz, J.P. (2003). “Migration of Government Information Products to the Internet.”
Libraries and the Academy, 3(3), 481-493. Retrieved February 5, 2006, from

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