Shouting about Government Documents

Maybe it was my recent trip to DC and tour of the Library of Congress that renewed my love for Government Documents.  I dunno.  But the love is real.  And I have to shout it from the rooftops.

I just have to start by trying to scrub some stigma off of the name.  When you read “Government Document” what comes to mind?  A bunch of loose leaf paper barely bound with metal brads, covered in Courier font with terms politicos and lawyers use to camouflage understandable language?  Well maybe some of them are exactly that, but the government publishes information in so many different formats that only the word “document” can really encompass all of them.  For example, check out this space jigsaw puzzle brought to you by NASA. 

Or this atlas — of galaxies! (While this link implies that the only copy of this is in McKeesport, you really can ask for it at the Main Library. Just use the “SuDoc” call number NAS 1.21:496.)

 There’s also cool stuff (cool to me anyway), like We Deliver: The Story of the US Post Office.

 Or check out this pamphlet on the Underground Railroad published by the US National Park Service, which puts out sweet handbooks on about 150 of our National Parks. (Again, this item really is at the Main Library. SuDoc call number I 29.9/5:156.)

 If you’re a history buff (or conspiracy theorist), you can peruse local history like the Three Mile Island Accident and how the government spun it to the public, to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and to special subcommittees back when it all went down.

Or if you’re an animal lover (like me) and want to learn about Alternatives to Animal Use in Research, Testing, and Education, well, the government wrote about that too. 

Or combine local history and animals and you get the Survey of Pennsylvania Migratory Waterfowl.

 GovDocs are truly some of the wackiest and most useful documents that are published.  You’d be amazed at some of the research this country has spent money on…   or actually maybe you wouldn’t.  Either way you look at it, they are a great resource.  And we pay for ‘em, so why not use ‘em?  Am I right?

Now here’s a little civics lesson.  Every state has one Regional Federal Depository Library, which means that they get a copy of everything the government publishes.  Literally everything.  Congress set this program up back in 1813 so that the American public would be able to freely access government information.  You know, as part of the informed public democracy thing.  Wasn’t that nice?  The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is a Selective Federal Depository Library, which means we don’t get everything, but we do still get a ton.  Mostly the interesting stuff. 

You can also find many government documents online at the Government Printing Office’s website, but if you would like help exploring our collection of GovDocs, Irene is our very own super smart Government Documents Librarian.  You can find her on the Second Floor of the Main Library in our gorgeous Reference Department. 


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