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An Adventure in Bureaucracy

June 30, 2010 ,

One of my research assignments as an intern here at PK involves looking at the organization and function of the Copyright Office, which exists as a part of the Library of Congress. In this research, I wanted to consider the various rules and regulations governing the Office and the Library in general. It turns out that, in addition to the relevant Federal statutes, the Library’s rules and the Office’s rules published in the Federal Register, and the Copyright Office’s “Compendium” of internal practices, all of which are available to the public online, there’s another body of regulations that are harder to find. These Library of Congress Regulations (“LCR”) are legally binding on the Library, but take some digging to find.

Once I came across a reference to “LCR 215-1: Functions and Organization of the Copyright Office”, I tried to find it on the public Internet. When that didn’t pan out, I submitted a request for it to the Library’s “Ask a Law Librarian” service, which advertises “Legal and legislative research assistance for foreign, international, federal, and state law” and “Answers to queries requiring resources unique to the Library of Congress.” The Law Library forwarded my request to the Office of General Counsel. But even the Office of General Counsel didn’t respond to it; they in turn forwarded it to Office Systems Services, which ended up giving me the (completely innocuous) documents I asked for, a week after my initial request. You can trace my query’s path on the Library’s organizational chart: from the Public Services Division of the Law Library Services Directorate under the Office of the Law Librarian, to the Office of the General Counsel under the Office of the Librarian, to Office Systems Services under Integrated Support Services.

I’d like to make it perfectly clear that every Library employee I dealt with during this process was courteous and helpful. My only concern is with the bureaucratic structure in place. It shouldn’t take a week to get a reply like this. (I can only imagine how long I’d be waiting if I’d sent my initial inquiry to the Law Library via snail mail.) Indeed, once I got a fruitful response, my follow-up request (for “LCR 1917-3: Availability of Library of Congress Records”, the LCR governing public requests for LCRs) was answered in half an hour. I don’t know whether the delay in processing this kind of request is symptomatic of a deeper organizational problem within the Library of Congress, or whether it’s at all related to issues like the Copyright Office’s extreme backlog. (The week I waited for this information request is certainly shorter than the nine-plus months I waited for my latest copyright registration certificate.) What I do know is, as the Library’s Inspector General freely admits, “The Library’s Records Management Program Needs to be Overhauled.”

More to the point, why is this hidden behind a layer of obscurity to begin with? Why aren’t these regulations simply being published, especially considering the Library seems perfectly happy to respond to individual requests for them? LCR 211-6: Functions, Authority, and Responsibility of the Inspector General is available online. Why not the rest?