An increasingly-digital FDLP could challenge GPO authorities, says CRS

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Much of the Federal Depository Library Program’s content is now available in digital formats through the Government Printing Office’s free, online FDLP Electronic Collection, but GPO may not be able to manage FDLP within its existing statutory authorities, says a recent report.

GPO is the central point of distribution for tangible federal materials and distributes digital information in the same way it would printed information, even though much of that government content is not produced or controlled by GPO, says a Congressional Research Service report (.pdf) dated March 29.

This creates a few challenges. For example, “digital distribution authorities provide for online access to publications, but are silent on GPO’s retention and preservation responsibilities for digital information,” say report authors.

The CRS report, obtained by the Federation of American Scientists April 10, notes that several recent forums and studies conducted by the GPO, a private firm and a consortium of FDLP libraries have investigated FDLP's digital challenges.

These reports generally agree “that the statutes governing FDLP, and last visited by Congress before the digital era of information creation, collection, and distribution, are insufficient to regulate contemporary processes carried out by government and depository institutions,” says the CRS report.

How Congress can use policy to create a more robust digital system is a “complex question,” say authors. The report suggests Congress consider the following issues:

  • Development of methods, materials and technologies to support the long-term preservation of digital information;
  • a revised, inclusive definition of materials to be included in FDLP collections, as there is “no clear link to which digital material should be included;”
  • the possibility that the current institutional model of FDLP be expanded beyond regional and selective libraries, given that “information management is a more specialized activity now;” and
  • long-standing funding models for continuing the program in the digital era.

The president’s Fiscal 2013 budget request said the $25 million proposed for Depository Library Distribution should go toward the maintenance and expansion of the Federal Digital System, or FDsys, and FDLP.

“We are proposing to shift our funds away from the conventional printing and distribution activities toward an increased investment in technological improvements," Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks told an appropriations subcommittee in March.

The agency would apply printing and binding savings to its revolving fund, where they would be used to develop the information technology infrastructure that supports the Federal Digital System, she said at the time.

For more:
- download the CRS report (.pdf)

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