The Federal Depository Library Program

The Documents Department of the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida is a Regional Federal Documents Depository serving Florida and the Caribbean. In the digital era, the idea of access to “networked information” seems fairly standard and it seems tied to the technological delivery system. That’s far from the truth though because the concept of shared, accessible, connected information has been supported by programs like the Federal Document Library Program for so much longer.

The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) was established by Congress to ensure that the American public has access to its Government’s information. Since 1813, depository libraries have safeguarded the public’s right to know by collecting, organizing, maintaining, preserving, and assisting users with information from the Federal Government. The FDLP provides Government information at no cost to designated depository libraries throughout the country and territories. These depository libraries, in turn, provide local, no-fee access to Government information in an impartial environment with professional assistance.
As institutions committed to equity of access and dedicated to free and unrestricted public use, the nation’s nearly 1,250 depository libraries serve as one of the vital links between “We the people” and our Government. Anyone can visit Federal depository libraries and use the Federal depository collections which are filled with information on careers, business opportunities, consumer information, health and nutrition, legal and regulatory information, demographics, and numerous other subjects. (From: FDLP)

This is an incredible amount of work–distributing, organizing, and coordinating service from 1,250 libraries for the public to access print and now digital materials. And, FDLP has been been doing it since “electric” was new.
Supporting digital collections–designing landing and help pages, connecting paths, creating records and links, refining interfaces for easy comprehension, answering questions, ensuring backups are in place and correctly implemented–is a ton of work. Doing it in paper, when horses were the transport method, managing the changes in technologies and needs, and continuing to provide service and scaling up over decade upon decade is very near to inconceivably amazing.
FDLP’s scaled structure has “Selective Depositories” and “Regional Depositories”. The Selectives “select” the materials most useful to the citizens of their community and are required to make the publications available to the public. The Regionals receive all of the federal documents distributed through FDLP. UF is the Regional Depository of federal documents for Florida and the Caribbean. Thus UF is connected to partners in the Caribbean through FDLP and through the Digital Library of the Caribbean, another shared preservation and access collaborative and one that traces its roots all the way back to paper and on through “mobile microfilming units” with microfilm cameras on barges and has now added digital as the newest of the new technologies.
The entire concept of information distributed, organized, accessible, and supported even with so many of the technological advantages today isn’t easy. While it’s easy enough to put stuff online where it is technically possible for someone to get to it, to really make it connected, organized, accessible, and preserved/guaranteed in the manner necessary for it to be truly usable isn’t easy. Doing it well even without the technological supports is inspiring.