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Posted 8/12/2014

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By Eileen Williamson, Public Affairs Specialist
Omaha District


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its many missions, roles and responsibilities build a large catalog of reports, documents and publications that are all in the public interest.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Library is working to give all these documents a permanent home. The materials within the collection include information by and about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. All content is contributed by offices throughout USACE and is enriched with metadata designated by its contributors and librarians.  The digitized materials are uploaded into the CONTENTdm® Digital Collection Management System which allows for greater search and retrieval of items. The digital library is managed and maintained by the USACE Library Program.

“The corps is unique in that we are a Department of Defense entity but, in the United States, our primary interaction is outside the DoD and mainly with the public,” said Tesia Williams, Project Manager for the USACE web migration.

Two years ago, USACE migrated all of its District, Division, Headquarters, and Laboratory level websites to the Defense Media Activity’s content management system.

While the web migration served routine communication efforts, it was never intended to address the thousands of studies, reports, maps and various publications produced across USACE added Williams.

That’s where the USACE Digital Library comes in.

“Using CONTENTdm® and following a set of guidelines to establish what content qualifies for the library, we began working with public affairs offices and district librarians to collect and catalog these publications,” said Raquel Santos, a librarian with the Humphreys Engineer Center Support Activity Library.

Once a publication is submitted, it becomes publicly accessible via the library’s website, http://cdm16021.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/.

“Most of the materials we acquire were published by USACE, but some collections contain materials by other government agencies written about USACE,” said Santos.

“It has really worked out great for our planners and our cultural resources program,” said Jennifer Salak, an outreach specialist in the Omaha District Planning Branch.

Many projects constructed or evaluated by USACE involve the public. The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into the decision-making process and to work with the public when considering the environmental impacts of a project’s proposed actions and to evaluate reasonable alternatives to those actions.

These values and impacts are captured in an Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the agency proposing the project. Then, impacted Federal agencies, as well as local entities and the public can review a project’s plans and the potential impacts of a project before construction begins.

The public involvement process that moves from a draft, to collecting public comments, to establishing a final environmental assessment can be housed within the library collection.

The library places the materials in a collection that keeps the related documents together. The collection has a web address and each item in the collection also has its own address.

“The USACE Digital Library is a great resource for managing documents,” said Maggie Oldham, Chief of Public Affairs for the Omaha District. “It allows us to place our focus on communicating with the public via our website about what is in the document rather than worrying about document management and file storage.”

The Omaha District’s environmental branch recently added nearly 300 documents to the library totaling nearly 60,000 pages of information on the history of environmental remediation efforts at the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado.

“We needed to make the information accessible in support of a request for proposals for a future project,” said Missy Holland, project engineer for an upcoming project at Pueblo Chemical Depot.

It took an initial effort to ensure the reports complied with the library’s specifications, but the library offered a no-cost solution to get the information to potential contractors.

“The solution also improves the corps’ efforts toward transparency of operations,” added Holland. The next step is to incorporate plans to make the reports available as they are prepared.

As more publications become cataloged, it may help with Freedom of Information Act requests as well.

“Oftentimes, we will get requests for a project or program that ended several years ago. The items may have been posted online during the project’s planning phase or public comment period, but once built and complete, a web page was no longer needed and reports sat either inaccessible on a web server or in the virtual equivalent of an unmarked box on a shelf,” said Linda Burke who manages the Omaha District’s FOIA program.

With these reports in the library, something as simple as a Google search may help the public locate the report.

As more district and division libraries catalog publications, moving forward and backward with more frequently requested items, the amount of available information available from the USACE Digital Library will continue to grow.

For more information about the USACE Digital Library, please go to http://hecsa.libguides.com/usacedigitallibrary.