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Creating Gov Doc “Libraries” in Google Books

Digitized Government Documents in Google Books has been written about quite a lot over here at the FGI (check them out) and I’d like to revisit this topic again but with a different focus.

I was searching for Civil War era government documents for a History Professor, and I realized that we did not own one of the documents he sought. Before suggesting that he interlibrary loan a copy of this document, I decided to search online for a full-text digitized version. Alas, it did not exist in the digital realm, but I did find some other digitized gov docs pertaining to his research needs in Google Books. We were both elated, he because I had found what he needed, and I because so many documents I found digitized on Google Books were the same documents we had lost to mold and water damage from Hurricane Rita!

Out of curiosity, I did a Google Book search for other types of government publications and found these gems:

Trial of the Conspirators, for the Assassination of President Lincoln

Illustrations of the Gross Morbid Anatomy of the Brain in the Insane (isn’t that a Cypress Hill song? Nevermind…) by the Government Hospital for the Insane.

How it Feels to be the Husband of a Suffragette
(not published by the Government Printing Office, but it is a book housed in the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection in the Library of Congress).

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion

Most of these documents were scanned at large research universities or depositories, but the quality is not always decent andcan sometimes border on the illegible. I was quite amused when I discovered a staff person’s hand digitized on this document’s cover:

However, there are bigger snafus than a digitized librarian’s hand. For example, despite government documents being in the public domain, Google Books treats most post-1922 (i.e. post-copyright law) government documents as copyrighted material by only allowing a limited view! For more details, please read James Jacobs’ post on this issue.

Despite all these issues (which have yet to be resolved), I decided to take advantage of the access to full-text, pre-1922 government documents and create a McNeese Gov Docs “Library”account in Google Books for my depository. The account also allows you to subscribe to updates of its holdings via an RSS feed. I put a link to the library account and the RSS feed on my depository’s homepage and our “Gov Guides” wiki. I’ll add more of these interesting and old documents as I come across them, especially those pertaining to Louisiana or documents that were lost to Hurricane Rita.

Here are some tips for finding gov docs in Google Books: Use Advanced Search, and in the Publisher field, type in Govt OR GPO OR “Government Printing Office”. You can also search by agency, (i.e. “Department of the Interior”) by typing the name of the agency in the Author field.

Have fun exploring and building your own digital collections, but please let me know if you find some really cool gov docs, ok?

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  1. jrjacobs says:

    I like this line of thinking, but I for one would rather have an electronic govt documents library actually IN a library rather than on the servers of a for-profit company (or in addition to!). And what better place than the Internet Archive. It should be noted that Carl Malamud has been using the Archive as a depository for govt documents from Congress, DHS, Mine Safety and Health Administration, US Courts, GSA, USDA, EPA, and more.

  2. blakeley says:

    Good ideas, both of you, and I agree…Internet Archive is the way to go. The way the pages turn just gets me all giddy! (Similar to the British Library’s website and the way you can flip virtual pages) I did not know about Internet Archive, which shows you what a newbie n00b I am. Haha.
    Thank you so much for pointing this resource out because I found some more documents in this archive that would be great for our collection and for our patrons to use, especially our Louisiana History class.
    I created a “virtual library card” account on Internet Archive and I will include some of the links/pdfs to these virtual books in the Gov Guides Wiki that I recently started building.
    You have made my day.
    I hope more Gov Docs will be added to the collection, but there is an impressive amount on some great topics (i.e. 100 things you should know about communism series)! This would be a good reason to apply for a grant to get a decent scanner and start submitting some of my depository’s gems…

  3. This is brilliant! Maybe we should have an official Godort Google library? Would that be feasible?
    As far as the limited view, I mentioned this in my post last month about the U. Michigan digitization project with Google http://freegovinfo.info/node/1606. If you read the comments, there are ideas about fixing the limitation problem with all the govdocs that are being digitized by the Google projects.

  4. blakeley says:

    Ah, I didn’t see your post about that! Glad you pointed it out to me because those are some good ideas about fixing the limitation problem. I’ll be using the feedback function when I find a public domain documents, that’s for sure.

  5. Lora says:

    I think that I will copy your idea. Although, I am still hopeful that GPO will step up to some degree and work on creating retrospective digital collections.

  6. blakeley says:

    Hope hard. 😉

  7. dcornwall says:

    While I’m in agreement that a digital retrospective collection would be a benefit to the community, I don’t think GPO should do more than coordinate activity from depository libraries and other holders of tangible federal publications. Tangible stuff will still be there in 50 years, for the most part.

    But the born digital stuff, which GPO is attempting to get a handle on with things like the EPA web harvesting project, is far more fragile and needs more immediate description and preservation. FDSys alone won’t be able to handle it because agencies will continue to web publish outside the GPO process.

    At this particular point in time, I think trying to force GPO into active digitization of print and microfiche products would be a drain of energy from more more urgent tasks. If GPO had $2 Billion a week thrown at it like some other federal ventures do, then they could do both. But their resources are extremely limited.


    "And besides all that, what we need is a decentralized, distributed system of depositing electronic files to local libraries willing to host them." — Daniel Cornwall, tipping his hat to Cato the Elder for the original quote.

  8. blakeley says:

    Oh, I certainly agree with that. Born digital docs and archiving/digital authentication certainly are areas that take precedence. That’s why I said “hope hard” with whatever ideas/plans you want GPO to accomplish since born digital and FDSys are the major projects right now. Anything else will just have to wait! 😉

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