ISSUE 110, JULY 2005

FDLP Myths and Monsters


Myth: You have to isolate government documents from the rest of the library collection. You must organize your depository collection using the Superintendent of Documents Classification sytem.
Reality: There is no requirement to isolate government documents from the rest of the library collection. Each depository library is free to decide how best to manage their government documents collection.

Myth: Government document collections must be housed in the basement.
Reality: GPO has no requirement mandating the physical location of the collection within a library beyond situating the collection in alocation that allows access to the material.

Myth: Government documents don't get used.
Reality: Government documents are utilized more and more, particularly as they are added to the library's OPAC. Outreach programs and training sessions with reference and other librarians can help increase comfort levels with government information.

Myth: All government information is available on the Web.
Reality: While a great deal of US government information is available on the web, there is still a fair amount that is only available in tangible form and does not lend itself to electronic access such as maps. Also the vast majority of the legacy collection has not been digitized.

Myth: Federal Depository Libraries aren't needed anymore because the public accesses government information online.
Reality: According to a study by the Urban Libraries Council, 75.2% of Internet users also continue to use the services of libraries. Use of the library and the internet is directly related to educational attainment and libraries received high ratings for ease of use, low cost, and helpfulness of librarians.

Myth: Depository libraries must provide anybody access at anytime.
Reality: GPO recognizes the legitimate need for institutions to balance the security concerns of depository libraries with public access. GPO permits various methods of access by administrators to ensure security of their facility and personnel. Permissible actions include asking patrons for identification, asking users to sign a guest register, asking questions that screen users to make sure that the library has what they need and even escorting users to the depository library.

Myth: A library, once it selects an item, can never get rid of it.
Reality: Material listed in the Superseded List may be discarded. Selectives may discard material 5 years after receipt with the permission of their Regional. All libraries may also apply the Substitution Policy which permits librarians to withdraw materials prior to 5 years by substituting online versions. Guidance is available at

Myth: A depository library has to maintain a certain Item Selection Rate to remain a depository.
Reality: As long as they are not a Regional, a depository can select as little or as much as meets the needs of their community.

Myth: The Shearer Measure of one hour staff time per item selection percentage is the standard measure for determining the staffing needs for a depository collection.
Reality: Both professional and paraprofessional staffing levels must be sufficient, in terms of hours allocated to the depository and in staff expertise, to meet depository responsibilities. Professional and technical support staff should be added depending on the size and scope of the library and methods of organization of the collection.

Myth: The new economic model for GPO will eliminate free public access to government Information.
Reality: GPO has an abiding commitment to provide free permanent public access to official federal government information and the Public Printer has upheld this commitment. In the Strategic Vision, he states one of the three essential missions of GPO is "to provide, in partnership with the Federal Depository libraries, for nationwide community facilities for the perpetual, free, and ready Public access to the printed and electronic documents and other information products of the Federal government."


Monster: Government documents are perceived as second-class citizens in many institutions.
Issues: The fundamental importance, educational and research value of government documents needs to be marketed to some library administrators.

Monster: Some institutions believe the space used to house government document collections can be put to better use by housing more popular collections.
Issues: The role libraries play in keeping the public informed about their government and how it operates, the stereotyping of government materials as not relevant to user needs, and the importance of promoting the collection both in the library and the community.

Monster: Some institutions process and catalog government documents into collections last.
Issues: There ia a misconception that it is far more difficult to catalog and process government documents. There is also a misconception that government documents do not have a high user demand warranting priority cataloging and processing and therefore, nobody will notice if they aren't cataloged and processed in a timely manner. However, libraries experience an increase in the use of the government documents collection as the material is added to the OPAC. With the ILS coming online, GPO also plans to help libraries catalog government documents by pushing cataloging to depositories.

Monster: Some administrators believe there is not benefit to being a depository library.
Issues: The size and age of many tangible collections pose collection management challenges including preservation.

Monster: The size and age of many collections pose collection management challenges including preservation.
Issues: The quantity and diminishing quality of collections must be addressed. Specifically, tangible materials that are rare and endangered, as well as those most at risk need to be identified by the community. The number of copies that must be preserved and their location need to be agreed upon. We need to assess what is currently being done, if anything. We need to determine standards for preservation.

Originally presented by Tim Byrne of the University of Colorado Library at Boulder and Janet Fisher, of the Arizone State Library, at the Spring Federal Depository Library Council Meeting in Albuquerque. According to Byrne, the GPO Staff had a lot of input on this piece.

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    Jon Harrison : Page Editor
    Social Sciences Collections Coordinator
    Michigan State University Libraries
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    Last revised 07/14/05