Your main difficulty is that the library director does not have the authority to bind the federal government. Thus, any formal agreements between libraries have to be passed through lawyers and spelled out pretty completely, much as a contract to access to a commercial database is spelled out in detail. While the library director may initiate, negotiate and monitor a contract, it is the financial officer who signs off on the contract and pays the check.

            So, if the state library agrees to a Farmington Plan to collect materials on caves, the federal library agrees to collect materials on tunnels with the purpose of reducing costs and sharing resources, what happens when Congress suspends the budget of the federal library? Or the federal agency’s mission changes, and they no longer need information on tunnels, but now have an increased need for info on caves? Or is this happens to the state library? What happens if the library is contracted out- does the contractor have an obligation to maintain a collection agreement with another non-federal library? If so, that will need to be spelled out in the contract proposal so the costs can be factored in. Is there a financial liability to continue to collect information that isn’t mission supported in order to fulfill an older agreement?

Since these actions are beyond the control of the library director, any commitments should be binding on the agency or departmental level. Remember also that the primary mission of federal libraries is to support their agency. The public access is secondary. Thus, I can go to the Library of Congress and use their collection, but I can’t take out books and walk home with them. The mission of the Library of Congress is to serve the Congress- all else, including service to other federal libraries, is secondary.

When public access is permitted, it also must be non-discriminatory. Thus, a federal library that offers a library card or checkout privileges to the public, must make it available to all the public. It would be difficult to justify giving checkout privileges to the students of one local school or university, and not to others. Thus, federal libraries exchange inter-library loans with other libraries, and not to individuals.

Informal agreements and policy exceptions are common, but they are also dependent upon certain people on the staff. When those people leave, retire, transfer or are RIFfed, many times those informal agreements fall apart. The consequences can then be hurt feelings (“You always did it this way when John was there.”) and resentment.

And finally, any agreements should be to the advantage of the federal library. They should not be done to increase the stature of one person, or for personal reasons of friendliness to individual non-federal employees. They should always demonstrate some sort of advantage to the federal library or its mission, and should not show a loss.

Gift and exchange agreements between federal libraries and other organizations can be informal or formal. If there was a document exchange agreement between a federal agency and another state government agency, such as between an EPA library and a state EPA organization, then someone should actually monitor the agreement to insure that other agency fulfills their side of the agreement. This may not be an equitable agreement, in that often the federal organization gives out more documents and higher value documents than they receive in exchange, or vice versa, but it is important that the agreement be monitored to show that the federal library at least gets the basic benefit of the exchange of the state EPA documents. This means that some of the library staff, as part of their duties taken away from other jobs that need to be done, are needed to check on these obligations, and force the decision by management to suspend the agreement if the principles aren’t observed by the other party.

Also, check of the Handbook of Federal Librarianship at:

Good luck in your research. Actually, this is a good subject for a journal review article for federal libraries.




R. Lee Hadden

Geospatial Information Library (GIL)

Topographic Engineering Center


7701 Telegraph Road

Alexandria, VA 22315-3864

(703) 428-9206

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From: FEDLIB: Federal Librarians Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Cindy Rankin
Sent: Wednesday, May 17, 2006 5:28 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Question: federal to state/ local relations


Could anyone recommend training or location of information regarding public relations between federal and state governments?  e.g. Fed libraries and State libraries.  Or just in general.
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