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EPA: Online collections will be more accessible than libraries

WASHINGTON—Environmental Protection Agency officials on Monday defended their decision to close several agency libraries and replace them with online research collections.

"When libraries go digital, everyone benefits," EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock said. "By modernizing our libraries, EPA is bringing our cutting-edge science to your fingertips, whether you live across the street or on the other side of the world."

Not everyone is so upbeat. The EPA's own scientists, as well as other experts and members of Congress, are concerned. They've complained that the EPA is digitizing only its own materials and intends to throw out other documents and publications or to store them in warehouses where they won't be easily accessible.

Some critics have said the closings contribute to suspicions that the Bush administration has tried to rein in the EPA's mission.

"If I was doing this, the first thing I would do is digitize before I threw stuff out," said Chuck Orzehoskie, a wetlands enforcement officer and top union official for EPA employees. "This could be a positive thing. But if it was, they wouldn't have done it this way."

The EPA already has closed regional libraries in Kansas City, Kan., Chicago and Dallas that served 15 states. Branch libraries remain open—though some operate under reduced hours—in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle.

The EPA also closed its headquarters library and its specialized library on chemical research. Both are in Washington.

Several Democratic lawmakers, who'll be influential on EPA affairs in the next Congress, have asked the agency to halt all removal or destruction of library materials. Peacock said the agency had agreed to do so until all questions were answered.

Linda Travers, the acting assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Environmental Information, said that all the documents from the closed libraries would be online next month. All unique EPA documents agencywide will be available through the Internet in two years.

"We are setting the record straight," Travers said. "When libraries go digital, everyone benefits. They're not just available to EPA scientists, but also to the public. We're ensuring that libraries don't get left behind."

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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