American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE

Special Update: USGS Library May Be Spared Draconian Cuts

(4-14-97; Last updated 6-2-97)

Current Status: The following update reported that the USGS had backed away from a proposal to cut the acquisitions budget for its libraries by half, following a howl of protest both from within the Survey and from the broader geoscience community. As part of that effort, AGI President Ed Roy wrote to USGS Director Gordon Eaton opposing the cuts and emphasizing the library's value both for research and for outreach. In May, USGS Chief Geologist Pat Leahy responded to Roy's letter, reporting that the USGS Policy Council had reaffirmed the importance of the USGS Library "both to internal users in the accomplishment of our scientific mission and as a major outreach activity." With regard to concerns over subscription cancellations, he wrote that they would be kept to a minimum this year, limited to duplicate subscriptions. Long-term decisions will be made in the context of a strategic plan being developed by the Library Board. AGI will work to ensure that the geoscience community has an opportunity for input on that plan. A more detailed update on this issue follows.

This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies

At the recent meeting of the AGI Member Society Council in Dallas, member society representatives expressed unanimous opposition to an internal USGS plan to drastically cut the budget for its library system. The proposed funding decrease would cut in half the already reduced number of subscriptions that the libraries receive, crippling the holdings of current literature and downgrading one of the Survey's best-known and well-used outreach functions. Acting on these concerns, AGI President Ed Roy wrote a letter to USGS Director Gordon Eaton opposing the proposed cuts. Many other geoscientists both in and outside of the Survey also wrote to Eaton and Chief Geologist Pat Leahy to express their concern as well.

On Friday, the USGS Policy Council met and decided to back away from the proposed cuts. Although the library's overall financial picture is still unclear, impacts on periodical subscriptions will be minimized and future decisions will be made in the context of a long-range plan. The Council, which comprises the Survey's top leadership and division chiefs, also recognized bureau-wide responsibility for the library system.

This update contains background on the library funding issue as well as the text of the AGI letter to Eaton, which was distributed at the Policy Council meeting. Long-term budgetary pressures remain, and it is important to realize that library funding will continue to erode unless efforts continue to emphasize the the value of the library system both for research and as an outreach tool.

In a memo to all USGS employees dated March 27th, Chief Geologist P. Patrick Leahy described a 48 percent cut in funding for acquisition of periodicals and books at the Survey library system. He was reporting the decision of the USGS Operations Council to cut funding from $965,000 to $500,000. For journal subscriptions, that would mean a reduction from $815,360 to $422,466. The exact number of subscriptions that will be cut is not known, although they are estimated to be commensurate with the 48 percent decrease, a cancellation of approximately 1,100 of the 2,238 current subscriptions.

Since 1986, the USGS library system has taken several budget hits. These include the cancellation of 1,667 journal subscriptions, as well as staffing freezes, and reduction of funds for purchase of monographs and for support of the exchange program. Leahy's memo reports that all easy cuts, such as eliminating duplicate subscriptions and lesser used titles, have already been made. The additional reduction will affect more heavily used materials and titles that are not otherwise available from other libraries.

Such cuts will seriously downgrade the quality of what has become the de facto national geoscience library. If USGS staff are to provide the best possible input for federal land managers and policy-makers, they must have access to current literature, which is precisely what will suffer from the proposed cuts. A letter to Dr. Leahy signed by 30 scientists in the Geologic Division stated: "Of all the facilities we maintain for our research and other work in the public interest, none is as important as our library. It is not possible to do quality research in a timely manner without a fully functional, fully supported library on the premises."

Additionally, nearly 50% of the users of the libraries in Reston, Menlo Park, Denver, and Flagstaff are from outside the USGS. The libraries are used as resources by a broad clientele, including industry, local governments, academia, and the general public. Furthermore, the libraries have also become an international source of information. As Dennis Trombatore of the University of Texas Library wrote: "It is the access to global earth science information sources that sets our libraries apart from those in the rest of the world -- I know this from the comments of many foreign visitors who regard our library as the greatest resources in the [Geology] Department."

The significance of the cuts is further magnified for AGI by the impact on the GeoRef database. Since its inception in 1967, GeoRef has used the USGS library as the primary source of publications cited. The preeminence of the USGS Library collection is reflected in GeoRef, and has been a major factor in making GeoRef the most comprehensive database in the world.

If you have any questions, please contact the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Letter to USGS Director Gordon Eaton from AGI President Ed Roy

April 10, 1997

Dr. Gordon Eaton, Director
U.S. Geological Survey
Reston, Virginia 20192

Dear Dr. Eaton:

On behalf of the American Geological Institute and the geoscience community it represents, I am writing to express strong support for the U.S. Geological Survey's library system and equally strong opposition to the deep funding cuts currently being proposed by the USGS Operations Council. This issue was raised at a meeting of AGI's Member Society Council two days ago in Dallas, where representatives of our member societies unanimously endorsed this position.

Prior cuts to the library system's budget have already taken their toll, seriously reducing the acquisition of current publications and diminishing the services the library can provide. The results of these cuts have included cancellation of 1,667 journal subscriptions since 1986, staffing freezes, and reductions in funds for purchase of monographs and for support of exchange programs. The proposed $465,000 cut to the acquisitions budget would eliminate nearly half of the library's remaining 2,238 subscriptions to journals and other serial publications, drastically reducing accessibility to current scientific literature for both USGS scientists and outside users who rely on what is truly a National Geoscience Library.

Federal policy-makers and land managers depend on USGS scientists for high-quality information. To provide that information, those scientists must have ready access to all currently available scientific literature. The proposed cuts will weaken the library's collections in precisely the most important area for supporting this vital Survey function -- current materials. How can USGS scientists provide policy-makers with the first-rate, timely advice if they no longer have ready access to current literature?

Congressional leaders who hold the USGS purse strings have repeatedly stressed the need for outreach to broaden awareness of the Survey and its activities. Given that emphasis on outreach, it seems particularly ill-advised for the Survey itself to cut funds for a library system that is one of its best outreach tools, serving as a valuable resource not only for academic and industry scientists but also for science journalists and members of the public. Nearly half of the usage of the USGS libraries in Reston, Menlo Park, Denver, and Flagstaff comes from outside the Survey, a fact that should be viewed as a strength by USGS leadership. The libraries provide access to all with open stacks that can be entered and browsed, access that is not available at the Library of Congress. The USGS library system should be valued as one of your agency's most important outreach functions, providing unique services to the geoscience community and the Nation.

AGI is particularly concerned about the future of the main Reston library, because of its importance to the GeoRef bibliographic system, the world's most comprehensive geoscience index database with over two million references. GeoRef depends on access to the Reston library for many journals, books, and other materials that would otherwise be difficult and costly to obtain. GeoRef already has been scrambling to compensate for the subscriptions lost from earlier cuts. Further cuts will make it even harder to provide our services, forcing us to choose between sacrificing the comprehensiveness of the database or substantially raising prices, thus limiting access to the many users who depend on GeoRef for their work.

The United States has always been a leader in supporting the full and open exchange of scientific information. The federal government has an important role to play in ensuring access to both current and historical information. Just as maintenance of long-term databases is a core USGS responsibility, so is maintenance of access to the scientific literature that is provided by the USGS library system.

I encourage you and the USGS Policy Council to oppose further cuts to the USGS library system and to enter into a dialogue with the user community to determine how best to maintain this important service. Please let me know if AGI can be of assistance.


Edward C. Roy Jr.
American Geological Institute

CC: P. Patrick Leahy, USGS Chief Geologist

Contributed by Kasey Shewey and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Loaded April 14, 1997 (Last updated June 2, 1997)

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