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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Reference question and the saga of chasing down a Congressionally mandated report

I had a student come to me looking for a federal document called “Population representation in the military services.” She was doing research into the history of enlistment in the armed forces and was interested in finding statistics on the number of enlistments and applications to enlist per state from 1985 – 2000. The report has supposedly been published since 1970, but unfortunately was only available online from 1997 forward on the DoD site and most library catalogs only had the link.

It appeared after much digging that this report was never distributed to libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) even though it was a Congressionally mandated report, reports that are required by statute to be submitted by Federal agencies to the Senate, the House of Representatives, or to Congressional committees or subcommittees (check out the long saga of Congressionally mandated reports which have historically been hard to find but after many years of advocacy by government transparency groups, librarians and others are not required to be sent to GPO!).

After consultation with my many govinfo librarian colleagues on the govdoc-l Listserv — the amazing hive mind of govinfo librarians around the country! — I was able to piece together reports back to 1983 from our own collection (which were not cataloged but buried in the microfiche of the American Statistical Index (ASI) which is at least indexed in the subscription database Proquest Statistical Insight), the agency itself, a couple of editions available on the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) database, and a solid run in paper back to 1983 at the Pentagon Library. There are still a couple of gaps in the series, but I have at least been able to piece together 1983 – present. I requested the Pentagon Library volumes (1983 – 1997) and Stanford Library’s awesome digitization services team are in the process of scanning them. After the volumes have been scanned, I’ll send the files to the Government Publishing Office (GPO) through their “unreported documents” process (the process whereby federal publications that should be but are not for some reason in the FDLP’s National Collection can be collected, cataloged, and made available to the public).

I do hope that GPO’s new Congressionally Mandated Reports collection will help to solve the issue of access to these important reports that are often lost in the ether. But it will take the dogged work of countless govinfo librarians to continue to hunt these unreported documents down for students, researchers, journalists, and the public.

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:


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.

Sourcebook of the United States Executive Agencies

GPO’s Government Book Talk blog posted an item yesterday about the Sourcebook of the United States Executive Agencies with links to the GPO online bookstore and a suggestion to search for hardcopies of the book in FDLP libraries, using WorldCat. The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt University has a digital copy (pdf) available online.

  • All the President’s Men and Women: Sourcebook of the US Executive Agencies, Government Printing Office, Government Book Talk blog (May 24, 2013).

    …a first-of-its-kind publication by the Administrative Conference of the United States.

    This first edition of the Sourcebook of the United States Executive Agencies was published in December 2012 to break down information and numbers by what they refer to as the “executive establishment,” which is the executive branch and all the other Federal agencies, offices, bureaus, and boards that serve the President that do not fall neatly under any of the three branches of the Federal government.


  • Sourcebook of United States Executive Agencies, [announcement] Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, Vanderbilt University.
    • Sourcebook of the United States Executive Agencies, [pdf] David E. Lewis and Jennifer L. Selin, Administrative Conference of the United States, Vanderbilt University, First Edition, 2012.
    • ACUS Sourcebook Codebook/Appendix. [pdf] This document describes the data collected for theh ACUS Sourcebook of the United States Executive Agencies. It includes the codebook describing the variables and their coding and the statutory provisions justifying the coding.
    • ACUS Sourcebook Data. This Microsoft Excel spreadsheet includes data on 55 statutory characteristics for 10 agencies in the Executive Office of the President, 15 executive departments, and 81 independent agencies. The data was collected by a team of researchers during the summer of 2012. Data collection details are included in the accompanying Sourcebook Codebook and Appendix.

Death of a Dictionary?

Slightly off topic: the editor and editorial office of Webster’s New World Dictionary “seems to have vanished.”

69 Days to Government Information Liberation

So, where are we at?

Yesterday and today were one of those Rubicon moments — reminding me once again how librarians repeatedly throw themselves across the chasm that lies between the digital and paper shores; a kind of human bridge to bear the burden of our user’s information needs. Digital tools are great, and add greatly to the strength or span of our bibliographic structures — but in the end, it more often than not comes down to just how much the librarian in the breach knows about both worlds that makes the journey across either a success or abject failure.

Let me be specific. Yesterday morning I finally met a person who was only an exchange of emails to me. He was searching for a digital copy of the Treaty of Vienna. I couldn’t find it, so we agreed to walk into the paper world together and we met at the old fashioned reference desk. Reflecting on the insights of Thomas Mann’s two articles about the essential connections between reference and cataloging — it took me about 15 minutes to find a set of reference books that contained the original text of the treaty. It was really a matter of “generalizing” the LC subject headings and finding the one that referred to a collection of the treaty texts in five easy volumes. I know for us librarians this is a cake walk; but I am surprised how much the use and influence of the web and ubiquitous key word searching has wiped this once common research practice from our user community’s collective experience.

The other public service moment remains virtual as well and involved the grand jury report on the shooting of Fred Hampton. Using the web, he found a link to the report on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, but he wasn’t sure how to get a copy of the report through this mechanism. After a day or so of sorting through the confusing title information, I finally located the relevant information using the shorter version of the title — REPORT OF THE JANUARY 1970 GRAND JURY — which then leads us to a bibliographic record and then a SuDoc number, and then to the volume on the shelf. I actually found the SuDoc number first through a discards and offer list — irony so noted. The patron will be arriving tomorrow to take a look at the document.

So, these two small examples speak to what we do as civic librarians. We make connections. We think in a pragmatic fashion that sees the gap of knowledge between what the user wants and what he or she knows. We know it is not sequential, linear, or straight forward.

Just because you can ask a question does not mean you can get an answer. As we use to say in reference class back in the day — the best reference interviews never begin with the first question posed or end with the last source consulted.

The tools of civic engagement mentioned and exchanged so far during this blog conversation speak from librarianship’s ad hoc approach to the cross the information bulwarks — something we will need to constantly fashion and refashion in this blended world of many formats. As we speak of education, teaching and outreach — is it our ultimate goal to make our users “mini-librarians?” Much of the discussion of egovernment is freighted with promises of self service and empowerment of the user.

As Thomas Mann points in his articles — the heart and purpose of librarianship aims to sustain an information ecosystem for users he calls the “researcher” and not the “information seeker.” Does the fate of government/civic information librarianship depend the same duality?

See you on day 68