Like most US agencies charged with the oversight of the public's health, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) relies on accumulated wisdom as it navigates new and varied problems. So imagine the information it stores at 27 libraries: books, journals, reports, and documents numbering in the millions. According to agency statistics, in 2005 EPA library staff fielded more than 134,000 database and reference questions and distributed tens of thousands of documents to researchers and the public. The library is the institutional memory of the EPA.

Like most libraries, EPA libraries have not scanned most holdings into electronic format. So librarians and location- or specialty-specific repositories are important to the EPA and those who consume its information. You'd think that the agency responsible for, say, all clinical information on the effects of pesticides would do anything to keep those systems of information fully operational and to modernize. But in fact, the greatest...

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