Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2005

HJR 6: Virginia Public Records Act and Electronic Records

April 7, 2005

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 7, 2005.

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.

Section 42.1-19.1 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 publications.

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 Cox

For information, contact:
Lisa Wallmeyer
DLS Staff Attorney



Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2005 

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