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Statement About the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science Act

July 21, 1970

YESTERDAY, I signed S. 1519, creating a National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. In signing this bill, I would like to express my hopes for the Commission and express certain reservations.

Libraries and information centers are among our most precious national resources. Americans from all walks of life look to these institutions when they wish to expand their knowledge and wisdom beyond their own life experiences. They look to them also for help and enrichment in more immediate concerns, from high school dropouts finding their own way back into learning to nuclear chemists retrieving sophisticated scientific materials from a computerized data bank.

As a nation, we ask much of libraries and of information centers. To help them come closer to the goal of making knowledge available in a timely way to all who seek it, the Federal Government has established various libraries and information centers and has developed programs to assist them in serving their clientele.

The National Commission, created by the bill before me, will be asked to provide an overview of our needs in this area and to advise on what steps we can take to ensure that we are meeting them. The Commission will be empowered to study the effectiveness of existing programs, and to develop plans to coordinate the diversity of library and information activities of all kinds and at all levels.

These are important tasks. I look to the Commission to tell us much about the state of our library resources and to encourage us to develop and use them more wisely than we have in the past. For example, our program of Federal assistance to the States for library services and construction, as presently constituted, imposes needless administrative burdens on the participating States and impedes their freedom in meeting their most pressing library needs. We have already proposed steps to overcome these inefficiencies by sending to the Congress a legislative proposal, the Library Services and Construction Amendments of 1970,1 which would consolidate several narrow categorical library programs into a single, streamlined State plan program. We have also suggested the simplification and improvement of the program of college library assistance and library training and research under title II of the Higher Education Act of 1965. I take this opportunity to urge prompt enactment of these important reforms.

1 Enacted on December 30, 1970 (Public Law 91-600, 84 Stat. 1660).

I am hopeful that the new National Commission will help us to confront these and other problems in this vital field.

However, I do want to note my reservations about the Commission's design. S. 1519 provides that the Commission be a wholly separate agency within the executive branch. It will also be authorized to accept an unlimited amount of gifts and bequests for its work. I would have preferred that the Commission be placed within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, where the major Federal library assistance programs are administered. In this way, its advice and recommendations would be more closely and productively related to the manner in which these programs are carried out and their funds spent.

I have on occasion recommended or endorsed the creation of new agencies when I believed the need was great and the objectives could best be achieved by that means. In principle, however, I firmly believe that we should avoid the proliferation of executive branch agencies. Each new governmental unit adds to our problems of supervision, management, and coordination which are already staggering. And, quite often, the establishment of a small new separate agency does a disservice to the achievement of its objectives since its activities can easily be lost in the vast machinery of government. Indeed, several such proposals are now before the Congress. As Chief Executive, I believe that this trend can have serious organization and management consequences and I intend to oppose it.

Two of these proposals are the Council of Health Advisers and the Council of Social Advisers which would be created by statute within the Executive Office of the President. Such a step would proliferate problems of organizing the Executive Office and would duplicate the purposes for which the Domestic Council and the Office of Management and Budget were created a few short weeks ago. These staff agencies will provide an opportunity for the President to receive the coordinated and best advice of the Federal establishment on not only health and social matters but on other issues of importance to our national well-being.

I would also have preferred that there be a limitation on the amount of gifts and bequests annually receivable by the Commission established by S. 1519 to counter the possibility that the Commission's work could be distorted if it came to depend too heavily on any particular interest group for funds. Because the public funds available to the Commission may be quite limited, I view the possibility of such dependence as a danger against which I will guard in carrying out my responsibilities under the new law. I know that the distinguished Librarian of Congress [L. Quincy Mumford], who is a statutory member of the Commission, will be sensitive to this problem and will help guide the Commission in avoiding needless duplication of effort and in closely coordinating its activities with other library programs of the Federal Government. I intend to appoint to the Commission distinguished citizens who will be equally sensitive to these matters.

Despite my reservations about this bill, I look forward to the contributions of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. That body is to seek the improvement of America's knowledge of knowledge, its libraries and information centers. This task is a crucial one, for the continuing health and enrichment of our Nation. With this knowledge, I have signed S. 1519.

Note: As enacted, S. 1519 is Public Law 91-345 (84 Stat. 440), approved July 20, 1970.

Richard Nixon, Statement About the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science Act Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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