HJR 6: Virginia Public Records Act and Electronic Records
The joint subcommittee
studying the Virginia Public Records Act and electronic records
(HJR 6, 2004), began the second year of its study with a meeting on April
The Library of Virginia
provided a tour of the State Records Center in eastern Henrico County
in advance of the meeting. The State Records Center houses some of the
Library's archival collection, as well as inactive, non-permanent records
of state and local government agencies. The tour was provided not only
to show off the state-of-the-art facility, but also to provide context
to the discussions of the joint subcommittee.
The joint subcommittee
convened at the General Assembly Building at 2:00 for its meeting. Staff
reviewed the legislation recommended by the joint subcommittee during
its first year of study and adopted by the 2005 General Assembly. The
changes are reflected in Chapter 787 of the Virginia Acts of Assembly
(2005) (House Bill 1791, Cox). The amendments were meant to clean up the
Virginia Public Records Act in anticipation of more substantive recommendations
at the end of this year's study, and were largely technical in nature.
The main focus of
the meeting was to review the Library of Virginia's State Documents Depository
Program (the Program) and the opportunities and challenges presented by
the publishing of government publications on the Internet. The Program
was established by statute in 1981. Currently, state government agencies
are required to send up to 20 copies of all of their publications to the
Library of Virginia. The Library keeps two copies for its own collection,
and distributes the other copies to 13 designated depository libraries
around the Commonwealth. The policy behind the Program is to provide access
to government documents to all citizens of the Commonwealth, irrespective
of geographical distance from Richmond, and to ensure that information
published by state agencies remains available to the public.
of the Code of Virginia defines a "publication," and the Library
has interpreted it broadly to include all items published at state expense,
such as posters, calendars, manuals, and university publications. The
Library is also required to compile a list of all state publications including
the costs to print and distribute each one and to prepare and publish
annually a catalog of publications printed by each state agency.
Increased use of
the Internet by state agencies to efficiently and quickly disseminate
publications and information raises issues and opportunities concerning
the current practices of the Program. Cost-saving opportunities might
be found in allowing agencies to fulfill certain reporting requirements
by publication on agency websites instead of printing reports in hard
copy. However, this raises questions as to how the Program will receive
these documents, and as to whether the Library requires more authority
to actively search for and harvest state publications from websites.
The joint subcommittee
received a briefing on the current operation of the Program from Mary
S. Clark, Director of the State and Federal Documents Program at the Library
of Virginia. She shared that the Program has provided free, reliable access
to government information in established locations throughout the Commonwealth
for many years.
The creation of the
Program in 1981 allowed the State Library to establish a centralized source
for the collection, dissemination, and description of Virginia government
publications. It has reduced duplication of effort for both libraries
and state agencies. The Program provides protection to the access of government
information through redundancy by keeping copies of government publications
in libraries in geographically diverse parts of the state.
Each year, under
the State Librarian's signature, the Library of Virginia contacts, in
writing, the head of each state agency, commission, board, and institute
of higher education. Agencies are reminded of their duty to provide copies
of each publication to the Library for the use of the Program. Additionally,
they are asked to provide a list of all publications currently in print
and available to the public for free or for a fee. From this list the
Library creates its web resource publication, Virginia State Documents,
which is published annually.
All copies of the
publications are received at the Library, and shipped to Depository Libraries.
The average shipment has between 35 and 100 titles, produced by 18 to
35 different agencies. Boxes are usually filled and shipped every two
weeks, and each box includes a packing slip indicating the contents of
the box. Shipping lists are available at the Library's website, and are
searchable by agency, subject and shipping list number. All publications
are cataloged by staff at the Library, with the goal of having all new
titles cataloged before the shipment reaches the depositories.
Next, Alan Zoellner,
Government Documents Librarian at the College of William & Mary, addressed
the joint subcommittee concerning the establishment of the existing Program
and his opinion regarding some of the challenges presented by electronic
Mr. Zoellner began
his career as a librarian 28 years ago at Hampden-Sydney, one of the federal
depository libraries. At that time, he and his colleagues around the state
felt that the citizens of Virginia should have the same kind of local
access to Virginia government publications that they had to federal publications.
A proposal was developed for a state depository program, and legislation
was introduced by Gerald Baliles.
Much has changed
over the past three decades. The creation of the Internet and the World
Wide Web and the move to web publishing by government agencies has dramatically
changed the nature of government information dissemination.
In the past the agency/library
partnership has solved the problem of geography. In the Internet age,
geography is no longer the main problem. Now issues such as whether government
information will continue to be freely available, whether government information
will be authoritative, whether government information will remain accurate
and uncorrupted, and whether government information will be preserved
must be considered.
Publication of a
document on an agency web page today is not the same as depositing a copy
in a library. Government agencies formulate policies and publish information
related to the development and implementation of those policies. Libraries
collect, organize, catalog and preserve information and provide assistance
in using it.
Mr. Zoellner believes
that the depository partners should test and develop a system of distributing
digital versions of electronic government information as they have distributed
printed paper versions of government information in the past. One method
that might be explored is the LOCKSS ("Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff
Safe") model. This software, developed at Stanford University, is
a low-cost system that libraries are using today to systematically preserve
material published on the web.
Delegate Cox, chairman
of the joint subcommittee, led the joint subcommittee in a discussion
of some of the issues presented by the electronic publication of state
publications. The subcommittee agreed that the Program should be amended
to include electronic publications within its purview. The subcommittee
also agreed that the Program should be established as a specific chapter
within Title 42.1. Currently, the provisions regarding the Program are
scattered and not presented in a unified manner. Senator Houck, a member
of the joint subcommittee, suggested that further discussion relating
to the Program should start from the premise that the public interest
is best served by keeping access to these publications -- whether in electronic
or paper format -- as open as possible. The joint subcommittee referred
more specific issues regarding the Program to a work group comprised of
subcommittee members Delegate McDougle, Mr. Nawrocki, Mr. Wilson, and
Ms. Mayo. The work group will meet and solicit public input before the
next meeting of the joint subcommittee concerning issues such as how the
definition of a publication should be amended, whether local government
publications should be included in the program, and the scope of the authority
that should be given to the Library of Virginia to establish and administer
an electronic depository program.
The meeting was adjourned.
The next meeting date has not yet been set.
The Hon. M. Kirkland
DLS Staff Attorney