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Govdocs are hard mkay?

I thought I’d recount an interesting little research question I had yesterday that took me down a rabbit hole trying to answer. This student was looking for an edition of a 1913 publication called the “Immigration Laws and Rules” (WorldCat helpfully notes the uniform titles of “Laws, etc.” and “Immigration Laws”!) but couldn’t find the right one in google books (go figure!).

Hi! I’m looking for copies of the “Immigration Laws and Rules,” published by the D.C. Government Printing Office. Specifically, I’m interested in finding editions printed in 1913, because I’m researching a change in immigration policy that happened when an immigration rule was amended on June 16, 1913. I’ve found one edition on Google Books that reflects amendments made March 10, 1913. Modifying my search on Google Books hasn’t produced the editions closest to that June date that I would be interested in. I’d really appreciate help finding those editions, either in print or online. Thanks!

My library unfortunately does not have this title (anyone want to send me their run? I’ll take good care of it!) I found other editions online (e.g. in the Internet Archive, Hathitrust, Harvard’s digital repository, and Proquest Congressional Publications, but not the specific edition that this student thought she wanted. The record is in WorldCat (but NOT in the CGP!), so the student could get the correct edition via Interlibrary borrowing.

But the best part of this was when I went to the Monthly Catalog to find the publishing history of this title. The July 1913 – June 1914 MoCat volume (btw, Internet Archive has a long run of the Monthly Catalogue online!) gave me a description of the publication along with this little gem of a quote on p.156:


A QUESTION OF EDITIONS

Immigration laws, rules of Nov. 15, 1911, was issued in January, 1912. The same publication, with amendments, 2d edition, appeared in May, 1912. A 3d edition, with amended footnotes, was published in August, 1912. Another print of this last-named publication, with amendments, and designated as 2d edition, was issued under the printed date Mar. 10, 1913, and entered in the April Monthly catalogue. The same publication, without amendment, was reprinted later in May, 1913, as 4th edition. A fifth issue, dated Sept. 9, 1913, is called 1st edition. The reason for calling this a 1st edition instead of a 5th edition is stated to be that it is the first publication of the Immigration laws made by authority of the present Commissioner General of Immigration. This seems a natural enough reason, but when it comes to be considered it will be seen that it amounts to numbering the official instead of the publication.

President Wilson did not find it necessary to start a new set of numbers for his proclamations and Executive orders. He continued the same series that had been begun by Presidents Roosevelt and Taft. President Taft’s last proclamation is numbered 1236, President Wilson’s first, 1237. President Taft’s last Executive order is no. 1743, President Wilson’s first, 1744.

The various editions of the Immigration laws are sent, by requirement of law to nearly 500 official libraries, which must arrange the publications received in such order that they may be readily found when wanted. With two 1st editions, one published in 1912 and the other in 1913, and two 2d editions, showing the same discrepancy, with a 1st edition of a later date than the 4th edition, and a 2d edition following the 3d edition, it will be seen that the work of the librarian remote from Washington, and consequently from official explanation, is made needlessly hard and confusing.

This is the only reason why the Monthly catalogue thinks it necessary to print this note. The Catalogue is the official medium between the depository libraries and the Government publishing bureaus, and the libraries look to the Catalogue to straighten out for them those things in the public documents which on the surface appear tangled and troublesome.

Government documents are hard, mkay?!

That is all.

Exploring MetaLib

For Dr. Rabina’s Government Information Sources term paper that Johanna mentioned in her last post, I’ll be researching the Navy’s establishment on Vieques, an island part of Puerto Rico, for naval training and munitions testing, from 1941 until 2003. The purpose of the assignment is to use government information to thoroughly research a topic, so when I saw in the DLC Fall Meeting Conference Proceedings that Marianne Ryan from Northwestern University and Catherine Jervey Johnson from LexisNexis Academic presented “1960 at Fifty: An Historic Year in Hindsight – Using Government Information to Discover the Past”, it caught my eye. Through some whimsical and some serious comparisons, the slideshow demonstrates how some issues are ongoing throughout the lifecycle of government, and how drastically some change. (Of course, a lot of the resources in the slide show were understandably taken from LexisNexis collections, which makes it easy to view and use historical government documents!)

Since we’ll be doing all our research in materials freely available to the public, and since I know a lot of online material currently available from FDsys will only take me back so far in time, I thought I’d start with the Catalog of Government Publications, and use my term paper as a chance to critically review MetaLib, their new federated search tool. My training thus far at SILS has taught me to always click the “Advanced Search” screen, and I quickly found one small complaint. The interface gave me options to choose a “quick set”, resources bundled by subject area, but how great would it be to select two areas in the “quick sets”? For my search, I knew there would be material on Vieques in both Environment and Defense & Military, at least, but I had to search one at a time. But by starting with Defense & Military, I found a CRS Report from 2001, with background and information on the Vieques training operation (and CRS reports, we have learned, are like gold.) I also found a hearing from the Committee on Armed Services from 1980, which I bookmarked as interesting. So far, so good.

With 66 records in MoCAT for just this area, Defense & Military, my search results were also sortable by topic, date, and author. I found myself wishing there was a way to search by type of resource, and when I backed up a little, I noticed an “Expert” search setting. Expert allowed me select which resources within each “quick set” but also to switch to Agencies, where I could select and deselect which resources might be most relevant to a targeted search, which I think is pretty useful. For each resource, I could click the info icon for more details about the collection. Even more intriguingly, I had the option to add an individual collection to the clipboard, and then create my own research set, which I could name. Then (somewhat unintuitively) I could return to Advanced Search, and use my own research set as a basis for my search.

All these initial fumblings in MetaLib did feel like they were going to pay off – I was slowly building a familiarity with the resources I needed, and MoCAT, which had previously seemed like a catalog siloed by department or agency, was starting to feel more like a database. If nothing else, I have some titles that I know I can walk into my local Depository Library and someone can help me locate them on a shelf.

Even with MetaLib making MoCAT easier for me to navigate, and even with FDsys taking full rein online over GPO Access, researching a topic across many government agencies and years is bound to mean wading through a lot of unhelpful material before finding what I need, and what will help me speak authoritatively about the Navy presence in Vieques over a span of sixty years. I can only construct an incomplete picture from in front of my computer; FDsys and MoCAT are only the beginning. Which means I’ll be coming to a Federal Depository Library soon, research question in hand, hoping for some perspective and some guidance. And maybe if I’m lucky, a CRS report or two.

– Krissa Corbett Cavouras, Pratt SILS

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