A posting on govdoc-l from Janet Fischer,
Collection Development/Government Documents Librarian Golden Gate University Law Library in San Francisco shows us that Congress has been tight-fisted regarding government documents for a very long time:
I’m wrapping up a fine read: Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Sea of Glory,” about the U.S. Exploring Expedition that sailed around the world from 1838-42, mapping
Pacific Islands, part of the antarctic coast, and the Columbia river basin and US Pacific coast, among other things. The ExEx, as it was called, brought back copious amounts of samples, specimens, artifacts, charts, journals, etc., much of which provided the basis for the foundation of the Smithsonian.
Among the problems was securing funding to publish the findings of the ExEx. Wilkes, the controversial leader of the ExEx, wrote, “I had more trouble and difficulty in securing the appropriation annually than I experienced in the command of the Expedition.” Philbrick goes on to write:
“A nation that prided itself in its democratic scorn of book-learning was reluctant to acknowledge that publishing volumes about ‘bugs, reptiles, etc.’ was a necessary expense. When asked to vote on yet another appropriation to pay for the seemingly never-ending publications of the Exploring Expedition, one vexed senator complained, ‘I am tired of all this thing called science here.’ … [There was a] growing realization in Washington that scientific pursuits such as geology, botany, anthropology, and meteorology were crucial to the progress of the nation. Almost in spite of itself, Congress began to
see the wisdom and necessity of paying for expeditions…”
Congress began to see the wisdom and necessity of paying…in spite of itself.
While we continue to be frustrated at GPO’s underfunded mandate to provide copies of our government’s work to the people, it does warm my heart a little to know that it has been ever thus.
One of the reasons that we at FGI continually advocate a decentralized approach to the access to and preservation of government information is because of this long history of Congress being unwilling to fully fund information efforts.
A system that depends on a centralized approach is held hostage to Congressmembers who may not always see the value of no-fee, permanent public access to fully functional government information.
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