NASA Headquarters Library to be Downsized?

The following memo is circulating around NASA Headquarters:

"There is a radical move afoot to close or drastically downsize the NASA library--to drastically reduce the size/staff/resources/capabilities of the NASA library to create a "museum to "showcase the Enterprises" , doing outreach to our publics. This apparently is Courtney's idea, and he has asked the new head of Code C, Jim Frelk, to meet with the AAs to let them know.

Those of us who use the library feel that this is not acceptable. Their strategy is to have it done in 90 days, with no public discussion--they have even put a gag order on library staff to prohibit them from discussing this with their customers.

I wonder if you might be able to gather support to put a stop to this? Attached are some fact sheets on the library. Below are some additional talking points:"

The opponents of this plan attached the following description of the NASA HQ library to this message:

NASA HQ Library: An Expanded Profile

Books and Publications

The NASA Headquarters Library's collection of books and periodicals focuses on the following subjects:

  • astronautics and aeronautics
  • astronomy and astrophysics
  • engineering
  • computer science
  • life sciences
  • space exploration
  • space policy
  • management and business

The library also maintains special collections in Program/Project Management and Career Development. A microfiche collection of technical reports and articles cited in NASA's ASAP database is available for browsing.

Reference Services

All HQ Library patrons, including members of the public, may request reference and research services. These services include:

  • Simple and obscure fact finding (Ex: What is the speed of sound on Mars?)
  • Citation verification and citation searching (Ex: Do I have the right date for this article? or How often have works published by this person been cited?)
  • Document identification, location and retrieval (Ex: Can you find for me books, articles, and web pages on 360 degree feedback?)
  • Answers to in depth questions (Ex: What agencies are implementing this policy and how successful is it?)
  • Continuous research support (Ex: We are working on a project and need someone to find and retrieve information on topics as they arise.)
  • Bibliographies
  • Current Awareness (available to NASA employees only)

The reference staff use a variety of print materials, databases, internet resources, and personal contacts to answer questions. Most requests are answered within 1 day, simple requests may be answered with an hour. Rush requests from NASA HQ employees are welcomed and are processed and responded to immediately. Online searching in commercial databases is not performed for the public.


Library staff have created and update ~70 bibliographies and information pathfinders on Program/Project Management and a variety of other subjects relevant to NASA HQ.. The management bibliographies are updated monthly: the others are updated as time allows and new materials are acquired. NASA HQ employees may request materials from bibliographies, request a new bibliography on a particular topic, or request that a bibliography be updated.

Current Awareness Services

The Library offers specialized current awareness services to NASA HQ employees by creating a profile based on patron(s)specific interests. Citations are sent to the patron(s) via email for their review; upon request, full-texts are then sent to the patron(s).

Database Searching

Database searches are used to prepare subject bibliographies, and to locate items including journal articles, conference papers, biographical details, news stories, statistics and business information. The Library subscribes to databases that cover aerospace, theoretical and applied science, computer literature, engineering, management, legislation, patents, and national and international news.

Interlibrary Loan

The Headquarters Library borrows materials from other libraries: books, reports, government documents and journal articles that are not available in the Library collection can be obtained through interlibrary loan.

Document Delivery

The Headquarters Library obtains NASA Technical Reports, ISO standards, Military Specifications, white papers, conference proceedings, government documents, journal articles, SEC filings, patents, and other documents.

Reader comments:

I read about what is happening at the NASA HQ library with great disappointment. I was supervisor of the JSC STI Center in early 2002 when a similar decision was made to drastically downsize the JSC library. As at HQ, there was no public discussion at JSC before the decision to downsize the library was made. Library staff was strongly pressured not to discuss what was transpiring with library customers. No cost/benefit analysis of the decision to downsize and "partner" with a nearby college was ever asked of me as library supervisor. To my knowledge, no such analysis was ever made. I did provide a proposal which indicated how we could downsize staff and the collection and continue to maintain a value-added and quality service. Included were the reasons I felt this should be considered. Interestingly, I believe it is because the climate was so politically hot that this proposal was not advanced up the JSC management chain for consideration. I also suggested, as I know others have before, that the NASA libraries are a rich and valuable resource that could be working together much more closely to consolidate costs and resources. This was not pursued by JSC management.

What interests me most here, and I find so utterly disturbing, is the process by which the fate of both the HQ and JSC libraries is being/was made. As a supervisor, the decision making process to downsize the JSC library was certainly the antithesis of any best management practices with which I am familiar. Unfortunately, and for reasons that escape me, management seemed unwilling to believe that library staff and customers could provide valuable insights into the pros and cons of such a downsizing. An unwillingness by management to listen to or seek the advice of those using and providing the library resources seems extremely dangerous to me. I believe an important opportunity has been missed to maximize NASA's information resources, effectively save costs, and encourage researchers to come to NASA. If the experience I had in the JSC library is any indication of a wider NASA management problem, then as a taxpayer and a former NASA contractor, I welcome any investigative board that helps NASA reevaluate its management practices, particularly with regard to decision making.

Jane W. Hultberg
Former JSC STI Center Supervisor, 12/1998 - 8/2002

Maybe this is another symptom of the Internet disease - e.g. "Everything's available on the Internet, so why do we need a library?" and "All the latest info is on the computer, and what do we need older information for anyway?" I am just a lowly reference librarian in a general base library (Fort Drum, NY) and even I know better. Anyone having to do with any highly technical research should certainly know better. Shame on them.

"It was not clear whether the change in historical services included the elimination of some documentation. If so, this would be a travesty. For instance, a group of us who wanted to write an operational history of Skylab could no longer find adequate documentation to accomplish that task. If I can provide any support, please let me know."

"Very interesting story, and most unfortunate...They did the same thing at the JSC library (STI Center), claiming that it was quite advantageous to "partner" with the library at a nearby satellite campus of the U. of Houston. No matter that they do not offer courses or degree programs in aeronautics, etc. The library staff at UHCL did/do not have the expertise of the JSC library staff, and in fact could not access some specialized databases since they are from a .edu domain rather than .gov or .mil. And it certainly did not matter to Vicki Pendergrass, et al, that the STI Center was well used by the JSC community (and we had the statistics to prove this). Ms. Pendergrass was recognized for her efforts (for "cost savings", I believe) and then given a position at HQ. The powers that be at JSC did not listen to the JSC community who spoke out against this. Library staff were also instructed to keep quiet (and as contractors, we were especially "compelled" to do so). I certainly hope this attempt to eliminate or downsize of the HQ library is stopped! Thank you for getting the word out about this."

"NASA-HQ library is not the only target ---

We at the Johnson Space Center find this interesting as we are in the process of transitioning our library materials -- hardbound books and journals selected to the University of Houston, Clear Lake. Any books that the university currently has and about 70% of our hardbound journals will have to be surplased as the university does not have room. This was a decision protested by our customers and of course, the library staff, but the management went forth with this idea and it is moving forward. Staffing has been downsized and will be downsized further in the coming months.

The HQ library is definitely not the only target, Marshall Space Flight Center's library closed a couple of years ago and their collection moved to Redstone Scientific Library. It appears that NASA is supposedly cutting costs but really spending additional money in the process. As a taxpayer, it is outrageous to see the how the government's money is spent.

P.S. Please do not use my name in any future articles as I wouldn't want to lose my job."

"The following opinions are my own and do not represent the views of NASA, my employer.

This article is very welcome and its contents are disturbing to me. At JSC the library a year ago began a drastic downsizing an merger with the libraray at University of Houston at Clear Lake (UHCL). The rationale is that old style libraries area thing of the past as most media is now electronic, etc., etc.,. It also claimed that we would benefit in that we would also have access in information in UHCL's library that was not in JSC's library. It was sold (with a lot of hand waving) as a win-win situation.

The problem is that much of NASA's legacy in R&D is from the Apollo era and the years leading up to that time (i.e. the 50's, 60's and early 70's). Here at JSC, while we are working the issues of hypersonics that are pertinent to the Columbia tragedy, we find that reference material we need is no longer here (it has been moved to UHCL) and is certainly not available electronically due to its age. I have nothing against electronic libraries, but we need to make sure that in this push to "virtual libraries" we provide resources to move all of the critical base literature from NASA's ( and the NACA) earlier years into electronic format. When I go to the library most of the Journal or Conference articles I need aare from the 60's and 70's. These are not available electronically and now I must drive to UHCL to get these articles. As an employee of the governement making about $50/hour this is a horrible waste of my time. I am sure that no cost benefit analysis has been done to figure in the cost of my time to drive to and from UHCL to get the material I need to support the CAIB.

NASA HQ needs to realize that NASA's (and its predecessor, NACA's) key product is technological information. In many fields, such as subsonics, supersonics, and hypersonics, this information was brought to high level of maturity long before the Web, the internet or pdf files. This criticial informaion exists today mostly in stacks of journals on NASA's (either at NASA centers or the new "partner" libraries such as UHCL) library shelves or on library microfische. To rapidly move NASA to virtual libraries without first converting our rich heritage to electronic format is short sighted and will cost us money (when looking at the full costs of such moves) (and God forbid something much worse), and time. These decisions about libraries are being made to "save resources", but are being done with the gathering of cost/benefit metrics. In my opinion this is being done too rapidly and with too little planning and care.

Feel free to share this on NASA watch, but posted anonymously."

"Please do everything in your power to prevent them from closing the library at HQ. Your suggestion is perfect, given more people visit NASM than HQ.  Next they'll set their sights on the history offices."  

In downsized NASA, the library meets a critical need, especially when key information is needed on a timely basis for NASA policy documents, testimony, special study commissions, Congressional requests for information, etc.

Experienced library staff understands the NASA mission and provides important capability for in-depth research to enable NASA scientists, engineers and policy staff to make informed recommendations.

The proposal to cut staff and resources is nonsensical.

Any support you can round up would be great. At the least, it would be helpful top question the soundness of taking this action before doing a study evaluating pros and cons, costs and benefits of such action."

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