Finding and Using U S Government Information A Practical Guide for Librarians pdf pdf
About the Series
This innovative series written and edited for librarians by librarians provides authoritative, practical information and guidance on a wide spectrum of library processes and operations. Books in the series are focused, describing practical solutions to problems facing today’s librarian and delivering step-by-step guides for planning, creating, implementing, managing, and evaluating a wide range of services and programs.
The books are aimed at beginning and intermediate librarians that need basic instruction and guidance in specific subjects and also at experienced librarians who need to gain knowledge in a new area or guidance in implementing a new program or service.
About the Series Editors The Practical Guides for Librarians series was conceived and edited by M
Sandra Wood, MLS, MBA, AHIP, FMLA, Librarian Emerita, Penn State University Libraries from 2014 to 2017. Ms. Wood was a librarian at the George T. Harrell Library, the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, College of Medicine, Pennsylvania State University, in Hershey, PA, for over thirty-five years, specializing in reference, educational, and database services. Ms. Wood received an MLS from Indiana University and an MBA from the University of Maryland. She is a fellow of the Medical Library Association and served as a member of the MLA’s Board of Directors from 1991 to 1995.
Ellyssa Kroski assumed editorial responsibilities for the series beginning in 2017. She is the director of Information Technology at the New York Law Institute and an award-winning editor and author of thirty-six books, including Law Librarianship in the Digital Age for which she won the American Association of Law Libraries 2014 Joseph L. Andrews Legal Literature Award. Her ten-book technology series, The Tech Set, won the American Library Association’s Best Book in Library Literature Award in 2011. Ms. Kroski is a librarian, an adjunct faculty member at Drexel and San Jose State University, and an international conference speaker. She has recently been named the winner of the 2017 Library Hi Tech Award from the ALA/LITA for her long-term contributions in the area of library and information science technology and its application.
Titles in the Series edited by M. Sandra Wood
1. How to Teach: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Beverley E. Crane
2. Implementing an Inclusive Staffing Model for Today’s Reference Services by Julia K. Nims, Paula Storm, and Robert Stevens by Matthew C. Mariner
4. Outsourcing Technology: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Robin Hastings
16. Collection Evaluation in Academic Libraries: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Karen C. Kohn
25. Story-Time Success: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Katie Fitzgerald
23. Patron-Driven Acquisitions in Academic and Special Libraries: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Steven Carrico, Michelle Leonard, and Erin Gallagher 24. Collaborative Grant-Seeking: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Bess G. de Farber
H. MacKellar 22. 3D Printing: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Sara Russell Gonzalez and Denise Beaubien Bennett
21. Meeting Community Needs: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Pamela
20. Infographics: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Beverley E. Crane
19. Integrating the Web into Everyday Library Services: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Elizabeth R. Leggett
18. Using Google Earth in Libraries: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Eva Dodsworth and Andrew Nicholson
17. Creating Online Tutorials: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Hannah Gascho Rempel and Maribeth Slebodnik
15. Genealogy: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Katherine Pennavaria
5. Making the Library Accessible for All: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Jane Vincent
14. Children’s Services Today: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Jeanette Larson
13. Going Beyond Loaning Books to Loaning Technologies: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Janelle Sander, Lori S. Mestre, and Eric Kurt
12. Mobile Devices: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Ben Rawlins
11. Usability Testing: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Rebecca Blakiston
10. Using iPhones and iPads: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Matthew Connolly and Tony Cosgrave
9. Implementing Web-Scale Discovery Services: A Practical Guide for Librarians by JoLinda Thompson
8. Makerspaces: A Practical Guide for Librarians by John J. Burke
7. Digitization and Digital Archiving: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Elizabeth R. Leggett
6. Discovering and Using Historical Geographic Resources on the Web: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Eva H. Dodsworth and L. W. Laliberté
26. Teaching Google Scholar: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Paige
Alfonzo and Geri Swanzy 28. Data Management: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Margaret E. Henderson
Burke, revised by Ellyssa Kroski
46. Teen Fandom and Geek Programming: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Carrie Rogers-Whitehead
45. Coding Programs for Children and Young Adults in Libraries: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Wendy Harrop
44. Serving LGBTQ Teens: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Lisa Houde
43. Making Library Web Sites Accessible: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Laura Francabandera
42. Instructional Design Essentials: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Sean Cordes
41. Finding and Using U.S. Government Information: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Bethany Latham
40. Implementing the Information Literacy Framework: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Dave Harmeyer and Janice J. Baskin
39. Summer Reading Programs for All Ages: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Katie Fitzgerald
37. User Privacy: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Matthew Connolly 38. Makerspaces: A Practical Guide for Librarians, Second Edition by John J.
29. Online Teaching and Learning: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Beverley E. Crane
36. Managing and Improving Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Programs: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Matthew C. Mariner
35. How to Teach: A Practical Guide for Librarians, Second Edition by Beverley E. Crane
34. Understanding How Students Develop: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Hannah Gascho Rempel, Laurie M. Bridges, and Kelly McElroy
A. Dalal, Robin O’Hanlan, and Karen Yacobucci
33. Video Marketing for Libraries: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Heather
32. Providing Reference Services: A Practical Guide for Librarians by John Gottfried and Katherine Pennavaria
31. Gamification: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Elizabeth McMunn- Tetangco
30. Writing Effectively in Print and on the Web: A Practical Guide for Librarians by Rebecca Blakiston
Titles in the Series edited by Ellyssa Kroski
Finding and Using U.S. Government Information A Practical Guide for Librarians Bethany Latham PRACTICAL GUIDES FOR LIBRARIANS, NO. 41
ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD Lanham • Boulder • New York • London Published by Rowman & Littlefield An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706 Unit A, Whitacre Mews, 26-34 Stannary Street, London SE11 4AB Copyright © 2018 by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanicalmeans, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Available
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Librarians are information professionals, and the U.S. federal government produces a massive trove of valuable information. Yet due to how federal government information is produced and organized, these resources can be more difficult to locate and effectively use than traditional information sources. Additional layers of understanding must be added to the librarian’s core skill set in order to make the most of these unique resources.
This book introduces the field of federal government information and provides a subject-based guide for government information reference sources and other issues related to government information management. The approach is one of simplicity—government information can be complicated, and it can also be intimidating for librarians who possess little experience with it. Think of this work as the sort of guidebook you would take to a foreign country when unacquainted with the culture and language. Guidebooks will not turn you into a native, but they will help you communicate, get around, and essentially get the job done. That is the goal of this book.
This work is written in plain language for practicing and new librarians in the areas of reference and other user services, as well as anyone interested in gleaning a basic understanding of how federal government information is created, acquired, organized, searched, and used. It is also written with the “inadvertent” depository coordinator in mind—those librarians who find themselves responsible for government information at their institutions but have had no background or training in this area. Those in charge of collection development will also find this book beneficial, since government information resources are often freely available, authoritative primary sources repackaged and sold by vendors to libraries at premium prices. Knowing what is freely available from the government allows libraries to be more efficient in the allocation of financial resources, which furthers collection development and management goals.
Both tangible and digital government information is covered in this book. The focus skews more toward the digital simply because this is the U.S. government’s focus for the current information it releases, in addition to the retrospective digitization projects it has begun. Many library users now prefer cartographic materials). I have made every effort to provide easy access to digital resources when possible, with the caveat that this method is notoriously impermanent since it involves the use of URLs that change quite frequently.
This work is not a textbook for library and information science students (though they can certainly benefit from it, especially if they do not have the opportunity to take a government information course), and it is not intended to be an exhaustive examination of every single government information resource; such an endeavor would require multiple volumes and would not serve the audience for this book. Instead, the goal is to cover major resources and provide a ready reference for the types of sources that can answer many of the questions commonly encountered at the reference desk. Sources that will already be familiar to most practicing librarians (e.g., historical, archival, and library-related materials from the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services) are eschewed in favor of less familiar sources that can be used to answer government information questions from library users.
The scope of this book is information produced and disseminated by the U.S. federal government or under its auspices. Since the federal government aggregates state-level data in many of its sources and reaches outside our country’s borders in others (e.g., trade data), information at these levels can be found in this book. However, international/intergovernmental, state, and local government–created information is outside its scope. A few selected commercial resources are included to illustrate the ways vendors repackage government information and how those commercial resources can be weighed against freely available government information to determine which sources are best for certain applications. But the vendor resources listed are not comprehensive, nor should the inclusion of any particular commercial resource be taken as an endorsement of that product. They are provided simply to inform users about additional methods to access some types of government information.
The first three chapters of this book provide the background necessary to give those new to government information a foundation for further examination of the subject. Chapter 1 elucidates why government information is valuable and provides a brief history of government information in this country—how it grew into our present-day government information environment. Since it is the primary organ for disseminating U.S. government information, the Government Publishing Office and the legislative foundations in which it is grounded are also examined, along with its and other federal agencies’ role in the organization of government information. The majority of libraries that have substantial government information collections are members of the Federal Depository these materials. Thus the history, governance, and procedures of the FDLP and the role it plays in public access to government information in the United States are covered in some detail. Chapter 2 briefly examines the available formats and methods of delivery for government information, as well as the branches of government that produce it and the few special audiences often singled out by the government as target audiences when creating its information. Chapter 3 discusses approaches to locating and using government information; some reference processes are universal, but government information reference has unique aspects that can affect the reference process, so librarians must be aware of them.
The meat of this book can be found in chapters 4–13. Taken on their own, these chapters can serve as a ready reference tool for those seeking government information broken down by subject. Parsing government information by subject can be problematic, since the information is a provenance-based system—it is beneficial to know the agency and what types of information it collects and publishes before pigeonholing subject categories to know what is available. Some agencies produce information that fits into multiple subject categories. Thus, chapters 4–13 arrange government information by the primary subjects under which most government agency publications fall. This topical list is not comprehensive but rather made up of the major topics that general users seek in the realm of government information. Each topical section also includes “practical applications” at its conclusion. These vary, from more in-depth terminology to assist with searching in certain subjects (e.g., industry information) to “how do I?” step-by-step guides geared to answering a particular question. These applications illustrate government information in action, showing the practical ways it can be used to further reference and informational goals.
The last two chapters offer some tips for managing government information collections to ensure their usefulness, as well as ideas for further professional development and continuing education in the field of government information.
Part I CHAPTER 1
Introduction to Government Information
The value of federal government information Background and history of government information in the United States Organization of government information
HE AMOUNT OF government information is vast, and it can be
intimidating to the uninitiated. Even defining what constitutes “government information” is not a straightforward proposition. For the purposes of this book, we will primarily be exploring information produced and
disseminated by the U.S. federal government, with side trips into the area of commercial resources, which repackage information in a meaningful way. The realm of international/intergovernmental, state, and local government information is as large; it is also beyond our scope. The goal here is to familiarize you with federal government information with an emphasis on digital methods of delivery and to provide you with the tools you need to understand how this information is:
Produced Organized Located Accessed Effectively used
Why should one put forth the effort to learn about government information? You may be thinking that there was a reason, probably a good one, for avoiding that government documents course in graduate school. The fact is that, for those of you working in reference and collection development, a passing knowledge of the types of information available from the federal government and where to look for this information is an integral part of your skill sets—learn how to access this information and you will be a better librarian. You do not have to be knowledge of government information sources. More importantly, your users will benefit, since they will have a more effective librarian to guide them. Government information includes sources of great usefulness, but its disparate systems of organization and the (often illogical) statutory dictates that affect its creation, access, and use can mean that library users will need even more assistance than with traditional, nongovernmental resources. You need to equip yourself with the knowledge necessary to offer that assistance.
The Value of Government Information
The U.S. federal government produces an enormous amount of information which encompasses almost every conceivable subject area. While the most familiar government information products are usually concerning law, demographics, or commerce, the government collects and disseminates information on everything from library cataloging practices to teen pregnancy to the number of forest acres impacted by the Rocky Mountain pine beetle. If your user has a topic in mind, chances are the government has collected and published information on it, probably at length. It is also possible that the government is the only source which has produced this information; while others may repackage or redistribute it, the U.S. federal government is uniquely positioned to provide primary source material. As you will read in the discussion of the history of public printing in this country, vendors have long recognized that government data is commercially valuable, and the relish with which the private sector has exploited this information has only grown with time and the use of digital methods of harvesting and delivering the information. The government itself recognizes this:
Government data is a key input to a wide variety of commercial products and services in the economy, although many of these uses may not be apparent because attribution to the Government is not required. . . . The lower-bound estimate, based on a very short and incomplete list of firms that rely heavily on Government data, suggests that Government data helps private firms generate revenues of at least $24 billion annually—far in excess of spending on Government statistical data. The upper-bound estimate suggests that this sector generates annual revenues of $221 billion. These crude estimates provide rough order-of-magnitude estimates of the range of the sector’s size and illustrate the 1 importance of Government data as an input into commercial products and services.
This particular report, by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration, refers solely to economic data. The value gleaned by the private sector throughout the subject range of government information is incalculable. It is important to note because, for cash-strapped libraries, understanding where the information has been gathered from through the use of their paid tools can result in more efficient collection development and better allocation of library resources. You may not need to pay for that database because the information it has repackaged is freely available from the to everyone. This is precisely the case with the majority of government information. One simply has to know where to look for it and, once found, know how to utilize it.
Librarians have long seen it as a professional responsibility to educate information seekers about the authority of sources, and this is another area where government information demonstrates its value. As Eric Forte notes, “One of the most empowering aspects of understanding government information is 2 the ability to conduct one’s own fact-checking.” While no information produced by someone can be said with certainty to be completely bias or agenda-free, government information is recognized as reliable source material. In an era when many library users get their “facts” from Facebook, checking information and statistics against official government sources can provide clarification. The digital age has also brought with it the concern of authenticity of information; since technology has changed how information products are created and delivered, that same technology has also provided a multitude of opportunities for alteration. U.S. federal government information has developed strategies to meet the challenge of verifying information—of ensuring that government information products are verified as authentic, unaltered, and “official.”
The Government Publishing Office (GPO) applies digital certificates to the government information it publishes in PDF format. Users can verify these certificates using Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat. Users can tell which documents the GPO has certified because a visible “seal of authenticity” with an eagle logo is added to the document; a blue ribbon icon also appears beneath the top navigation and in the signature panel. When a GPO- authenticated PDF is printed, the seal of authenticity prints on the document as well.
Background and History
The history of government information in the United States finds its roots in the “publick printers”—Benjamin Franklin is one recognizable example—of the colonial era. These businessmen produced official documents when America was still a colony, primarily in the form of legislative and other government documents detailing the works of the English Crown. Steeped in Enlightenment philosophy, many colonial printers held the worldview that individuals had a right to know about the proceedings and legislation of their government. The government information has commercial value, and it was also lucrative for them to print and sell such documents (e.g., Acts of Parliament). By the end of the American Revolution, the concept of having access to government information as a right rather than a privilege solidified with the formal establishment of the United States of America as a country. The Continental Congress made provision for congressional journals to be printed, and Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution of the United States requires that “Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the 3 same.” James Madison held forth his view, now taken as a mantra by government information specialists, that “A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the 4 power which knowledge gives.” It is from these ideological roots that the concept of freely available government information produced through taxpayer expense was developed.
The tap for government information in the fledgling United States had been turned on, but logistical issues were yet to be resolved. In the late 1700s, Congress began accepting proposals from printers, and a small number of firms were employed to handle congressional printing. These firms soon realized that, with the increasing volume of government printing and the steady stream of revenue it provided, they could subsist almost entirely on the work commissioned by the federal government. Printers even followed Congress around, relocating from Philadelphia and New York to Washington, DC, when Congress moved to the newly established capital in 1800.
Yet these local, private-sector printers were far from ideal as a way to produce government information for extensive dissemination. There was no uniformity or quality control, and end products varied widely. Pricing was also an issue. Originally, public printing was performed at a fixed rate, but Congress realized that as technology improved, fixed rates meant the government was paying significantly more for print jobs that were requiring less effort and time— resulting in a large profit margin for the printers. In the 1840s, several laws were passed with the intention of remedying this situation, of introducing competition into the mix. The United States Congress Joint Committee on Printing, which still exists and to the present day plays a prominent role in government information, was formed during this time. Despite the supposedly competitive bid system, costs continued to rise, and when a switch was made back to a fixed rate, the result was the highest printing costs the government had ever seen, thanks to cronyism, lack of oversight, and outright fraud. The public reaction against all this waste and corruption resulted in an attempt at reform, of removal of the private sector from the printing process. Joint Resolution No. 25, which was passed in 1860, provided for the purchase of buildings, machinery, and all materials. The Government Printing Office (GPO) 5 opened for business on March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln’s first day as president.
The Government Publishing Office
A detailed history of the GPO is beyond the scope of this discussion, but an overview of certain aspects of its operation is necessary to understand how government information has been and currently is created, procured, published, accessed, and preserved for future use. You may notice from the heading of this section that the GPO is no longer the Government Printing Office—legislation was passed in 2014 to change its name to the Government Publishing Office, an update in terminology intended to reflect the myriad ways in which the GPO now produces government information.
The statutory foundation of the GPO originates in Title 44 of the United States Code; this legislation underpins the GPO’s mission and provides a basis for its organizational structure and operations. It is important to note that, as a government agency, the GPO is bound by statute and governmental mandate. Even what the GPO defines as a “government publication” is codified (specifically, “informational matter which is published as an individual document 6 at government expense, or as required by law”). Many who delve into the world of government information find certain aspects confusing or frustrating. One encounters a great deal of: “Why do they do things this way? It would make more sense to . . .” In the majority of these cases, the GPO approaches issues the way it does because it is required to by law; modification would necessitate a literal Act of Congress.
The United States Congress Joint Committee on Printing is responsible for oversight of the GPO and for ensuring that any issues regarding the delay of services, neglect, or waste are addressed. Title 44 stipulates that the GPO be overseen by a Director (until 2014 known by the title of “Public Printer”), a 7 presidential appointment made with the advice and consent of the Senate. Of the six major branches of the GPO’s organizational chart which report to the Director, the branch of primary relevance to our discussion is Public Access (i.e., the division responsible for the dissemination of government information to the public at large). This branch is overseen by the Superintendent of Documents (SupDocs), who is chosen by the GPO’s Director, and administers the divisions of Library Services and Content Management and Publications and Information Sales.Figure 1.1. Government Publishing Office organizational chart, highlighting the Public Access division, which includes the Federal Depository Library Program. Courtesy of the author.
So how exactly is government information procured, published, and made available? The GPO is, by law, the sole source authorized for federal printing services. This does not mean that the GPO prints or produces all these materials itself; it can also serve as a procurement agency, contracting out to the private sector. Primarily, the GPO functions as a clearinghouse of sorts for all three branches of the federal government for any publication which meets the requirements of Title 44. In the past, this resulted in an enormous volume of printing, making the GPO the single largest printer not just in the United States but the entire world. With the advent of digital technologies and the concept of e-government information, the GPO saw its print production nosedive. Since the 1990s, it has downsized its print production facilities significantly while branching out in other areas. To remain viable, it has evolved—which is still ongoing—with an end goal of being the centralized source for all official government information products in all available formats.
In the era of print publication, it was relatively simple for the GPO to keep up with the information produced by the various agencies of the government: those agencies gathered and created the information, and they needed the GPO to print that information for them. There was a financial incentive for agencies to use the GPO—for the additional copies necessary to make a document publicly accessible, the GPO would bear the cost, not the agency. If an agency went outside the GPO for production of a document, the agency was required to pay for the extra copies necessary to disseminate it. For those few publications that were printed by a publisher other than the GPO, Title 44 also required that statutory exceptions (e.g., classified and official-use-only or strictly make available to the public the majority of government information produced by the three branches.
Born-digital government information has complicated the process. When an agency employee can compile a report, use desktop publishing software to put it into a “document” file form (e.g., PDF), and post that to an agency’s website to “publish” it, the GPO is less necessary as a middleman. It is by no means assured that every agency employee is even aware that the GPO is mandated to be such a middleman (i.e., not all agency employees may be familiar with Title 44). The GPO also has no power to compel federal agencies to use its services or notify it of these types of documents floating around outside the system (known as “fugitives”); Title 44 has no legislative teeth. In lieu, the GPO uses a sort of value proposition—that agencies can have significant cost and effort savings by utilizing the GPO for printing or digital production. In addition to print production, the GPO offers graphic design and digital media services, e-books, and web and other facilities aimed at helping government agencies provide their information in any way they choose, especially as electronic content.
Once the GPO has been made aware and seen to the production of a government information product, how is that product then made publicly available, for free, to any citizen of the United States? This is where the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) comes in.
The Federal Depository Library Program
The origin of what would become the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) pre-dates the GPO by nearly half a century. In 1813, Congress passed legislation to allow the provision of one copy each of the Journal of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate Journal, as well as a few other congressional documents deemed of importance, to be deposited with selected historical societies, state libraries, and universities. This resulted in the first “depository library”—the American Antiquarian Society (AAS). The responsibility for administration of this program originally rested with the Secretary of State.
Through the years, it would pass to a “Superintendent of Public Printing” within the Department of the Interior, and then to the Secretary of the Interior in the 1850s. During this period, the Secretary of the Interior had the power to designate which libraries, as government depositories, would receive publications. Later legislation allowed each representative to designate a single depository from his or her district, and delegates from the territories were also included. Shortly afterward, each senator was also given the right to designate a depository in his or her state.
The Superintendent of Documents, formerly a Department of the Interior position, would finally move underneath the purview of the GPO with the Printing Act of 1895, Title 44’s direct antecedent. One other piece of legislation of importance is the Depository Library Act of 1962. The FDLP, as its structure hierarchy for depositories, but it also finally introduced the element of choice— the ability for certain depositories to select the publications they wished to receive. The last piece of the puzzle was added in the 1970s with the addition of an outside advisory body, the Depository Library Council to the Public Printer. Consisting of fifteen members who are appointed by the Director and serve three-year terms, and the Depository Library Council’s role is to advocate for depository libraries and the FDLP and to advise the GPO’s Director and Superintendent of Documents.
Governance and Structure of the Depository System
Title 44 and the other legislation which provide the statutory framework for the FDLP have been excerpted and compiled into a single, slim volume entitled Legal Requirements & Program Regulations of the Federal Depository Library 8 Program. This publication, last updated in 2011, supersedes some of the other, more complicated attempts at putting Title 44 and its brethren into a manual- type format that depositories could easily use to govern their operations, such as the 210-page FDLP Handbook. The Handbook, while superseded, can still be consulted for more in-depth information—such as explanatory or background information that helps libraries maintain compliance with FDLP regulations. If your interest is in learning exactly what a depository must do as a member of the program, Legal Requirements will offer enlightenment in nine pages or less, with every mandate a building block toward a very specific goal: providing the public with access to government information, free of charge, and unimpeded.
Librarians quickly learn that there are two types of statements the government uses when soliciting action from a depository: “should” and “must.” The GPO makes a large number of “should” statements—things it would prefer depository libraries do, but these actions are not mandatory. By contrast, “must” statements (like those in the Legal Requirements) are few but nonnegotiable; depositories are mandated to comply, or they risk expulsion from the program. In the past, the GPO’s stance was somewhat unforgiving: depository status was viewed as a privilege, and if the depository did not meet its obligations, then that privilege could be revoked. Formerly, depositories underwent regular inspections by designated GPO inspectors who would travel to the library’s physical location and scrutinize operations, looking for areas of noncompliance. A report was then issued to the depository noting the areas of noncompliance and the steps the library must take to address them. This process is now known as a Public Access Assessment. A representative from the GPO reviews a library’s policies, website, and other information provided by the depository before speaking with the depository coordinator (more information on depository coordinators will follow) and others involved in the operations via phone to help clear up any issues or concerns that are encountered. These assessments also seek to point out the areas where a depository is succeeding “notable achievements.” This is representative of a certain shift in mindset; many libraries have voluntarily given up depository status due to staffing and space concerns, and the GPO itself has seen a reduction in staffing and other resources. Due to these factors, the approach now is more one of shepherding— the GPO wants libraries to remain in the program and has positioned itself more as a partner to help with meeting rules and regulations, rather than looking to penalize for noncompliance. The legislation also requires that depositories report to the GPO every two years; this is accomplished through the Biennial Survey, a questionnaire that depositories complete and submit online. The GPO then releases the results to the depository community.
There are approximately 1,200 libraries currently in the FDLP, and they can be one of two types of depositories: “selectives” or “regionals.” Selectives are what they sound like—depositories with a small basic collection to which they must maintain access, but outside that collection selectives are allowed to select which government publications they wish to receive.Table 1.1. Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) Basic Collection
American FactFinder Online Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government Online
Budget of the United States Government Online and Print Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Online and Print Catalog of U.S. Government Publications Online Code of Federal Regulations Online, Print, and
Microfiche Congressional Directory Online and Print Congressional Record Online, Print, and Microfiche Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation
Online and Print Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents Online Economic Indicators
Online and Print Economic Report of the President Online and Print FDsys (soon to be govinfo) Online Federal Register
Online, Print, and Microfiche Occupational Outlook Handbook Online Social Security Handbook Online and Print United States Code
Online and Print United States Government Manual Online United States Reports Online and Print United States Statutes at Large Online and Print
They are also allowed, within certain constraints and after following prescribed procedures, to discard publications. Each selective is required to have a depository coordinator; this is an individual who is responsible for keeping current with FDLP information, monitoring changes in regulation, liaising with the GPO, and in general overseeing depository operations for the library. Though depositories designate a coordinator—occasionally spreading these duties out across multiple positions within an institution—the final responsibility for meeting all mandates and regulations rests with the library’s top-level administration (i.e., dean, director, etc.).
Selectives report to a regional library, which is tasked with overseeing them and offering guidance and assistance, especially in the realm of collection management and materials disposal. In addition to acting as a intermediary between selectives and the GPO, regional libraries, of which there can be no more than two per state, were intended to serve as legacy collections; they were initially required to receive 100 percent of the publications available from the FDLP, and, with a few exceptions (e.g., superseded materials), to keep at least one copy in tangible form (print or microform) in perpetuity. In this way, preservation of these materials for continued public access would be assured. This resulted in an ever-expanding collection that could never be culled, a state of affairs that many regional libraries, after decades in the FDLP, began to see as a burden. In 2016, the Superintendent of Documents issued a policy statement allowing regional libraries to discard certain publications which had been retained for seven years and had authenticated digital versions available from the GPO or those which had at least four tangible copies geographically 9 distributed within the FDLP. Advance approval for this disposal must be granted by the GPO, and the publications must be offered to the selective depositories within the regional’s state. This process is similar to the disposal process under which selectives have always operated: namely, that with regional approval and after offering the publication to all selectives within the state, a selective may dispose of a publication which it has held for five years.
How does a library receive these publications in the first place? Regionals are still sent everything the GPO produces; selectives are allowed to choose which publications they prefer to receive through use of the GPO Item List—a list of numbers a depository library has selected are known as that library’s selection profile. Using a publication entitled the List of Classes of United States Government Publications Available for Selection by Depository Libraries, selectors can cross-reference item numbers with the titles of the publications they represent.Figure 1.2. The printed version of the List of Classes of United States Government Publications Available for Selection by
Depository Libraries, 2015 revision.
While the Item List’s name suggests that selection could be made with specificity (one item number equaling one title), that is not the case. Many item numbers correspond to entire classes of publications, some of which are not helpfully labeled (e.g., Department of Agriculture, Electronic Products, Miscellaneous). The GPO has made strides over the years toward modifying the Item List to clarify what a library will be receiving if it selects a particular item number (and perhaps just as importantly, in what format that item will be received), but there is still much work to be done. The GPO also employs a practice it considers helpful: randomly adding certain item numbers to a library’s profile because the library selected an item number the GPO considers to be similar—consider it along the lines of Netflix’s type of suggestions where “because you watched Jane Eyre, we suggest you’ll enjoy this unspeakable squid-based erotica.” Government information librarians refer to this as “profile creep” and must monitor their selections to make sure they drop item numbers which result in publications they do not wish to receive (and occasionally, never selected). Understanding how government publications are selected—the item number method is codified in a statute—is essential, since it affects collection management in ways not applicable to traditional library resource acquisition.
In the past, the profile update cycle was annual; libraries could only make additions or drop item numbers once a year. Using the intuitively named Depository Selection Information Management System (DSIMS), libraries may now update their profiles continually, dropping or adding item numbers at any time. The addition of electronic products take effect immediately, as does the dropping of any item number; additions of tangible publications are “held” by the system until the beginning of the next fiscal year. Similar to ordering anything else online, tangible publications arrive at depository libraries in a cardboard box from a warehouse, usually from the larger of the GPO’s warehouses, located in Laurel, Maryland.
Acquisition of digital materials is more complicated than receiving tangible ones. If a library selects an item number for a tangible publication, that publication then arrives at the library in a box; if a library selects a digital publication, literally nothing happens. The GPO offers a notification of sorts through a tool called New Electronic Titles. This is a list of all of the new digital titles released, which libraries can then compare with their profiles to find titles to select so that the libraries may then provide access, either through creating records for their online catalogs, linking in LibGuides or the library’s website, or through other methods. Vendors (e.g., Marcive) also offer batch records for electronic resources based on a depository’s selection profile, which some libraries use to manage and provide access to their digital selections from the GPO. As is the case with much government information, the majority of these information, in this case through the Catalog of Government Publications ( ). Vendors are simply repackaging this information for libraries to purchase, with the value-added service of parsing it by library selection profile.
It bears mentioning that tangible federal government publications can be acquired outside the depository system, most notably through the GPO Bookstore. In the print era, the GPO operated some brick-and-mortar bookstores where government publications could be purchased. With the transition to a digital environment, these bookstores became a casualty of the GPO’s overall downsizing of facilities and personnel. The GPO still maintains a physical storefront location at its headquarters on North Capitol Street in Washington, DC, but the GPO Bookstore now exists primarily as an online presence ( ). Users can sign up for email alerts on new government publications by topic, and some of the recognizable titles (e.g., Code of Federal Regulations) are available for purchase and subscription. However, the purpose of the GPO Bookstore is not, as is that of the FDLP, to provide the public with access to government information; the GPO Bookstore is a cost-recovery and profit model program, so the titles it offers fall into the category of “customer favorites”—titles the GPO thinks it can sell in quantity. The vast majority of government publications are not offered for sale; membership in the FDLP is the only way to acquire them.
Organization of Government Information
Now that government information has been created by an agency, procured or published by the GPO, and selected and acquired by the library, how is it organized? Perhaps the most important concept to grasp about the organization of federal government information is that, in keeping with archival principles, the organizational system is based on provenance, not subject matter, as is the case with most library categorization (e.g., Dewey and Library of Congress classification). Government publications are classed by the issuing agency. This government-specific system is known as Superintendent of Documents Classification (SuDocs), and it was developed by librarian Adelaide Hasse originally for classifying government information at the Los Angeles Public Library. It was adopted by the GPO when Hasse began working for a 10 government library in the late 1890s. Hasse and those who worked with her on the SuDocs system created a classification which assigned an alphabetic symbol to each authoring agency, most often, though not always, based on the agency’s name (e.g., S for State Department, HS for Department of Homeland Security, and PREX for Executive Office of the President). As of the last update in 2010, there are fifty-eight agency classifications. Governmental entities are far from static; as new agencies are created, old agencies die or are subsumed change. The alphabetic symbol is followed by a number, which represents the subordinate office or sub-agency, followed by a period. A second number after the period represents the type of publication (e.g., annual report, maps and charts, etc.). This is an important feature to remember: SuDocs is a whole number system which uses periods, not decimals. This means that sorting in SuDocs order will differ from traditional library classifications—and can cause chaos for the uninitiated. After this second number is a colon; everything up to this colon is known as the SuDocs stem, and the stem represents a class of publications. Everything after the colon describes the item at hand—serial items will show a volume number, year, month, or a sequential designation. Monographs are given cutter symbols based on title rather than author. The general rule for sorting is date, letters, numbers, word, and an empty space will file before a letter or number. While this provenance-based classification is often mystifying to those first encountering it, it allows government publications to be cataloged using only the item at hand—all the information needed to create a call number can be found on the document itself since its subject does not have to be determined.
Y 4.EC 7:C 73/7 Y 4.EC 7:C 73/10 Y 4.EC 7:S.HRG.110-646 Y 4.EC 7:SA 9/2
Despite all the time and effort that has gone into SuDocs classification, it may be surprising to discover that it is not mandatory for depositories and other libraries to actually use it—there is no requirement to classify government publications by SuDocs, even for members of the FDLP. While almost every library will include a SuDocs number in its catalog records (since those records are usually created by the GPO and thus come with SuDocs classification already assigned), some libraries, in the interest of making things easier for their patrons, will assign Dewey or Library of Congress (LC) classification to the government publications they receive. This has resulted in two varying approaches to organizing government information, especially tangible publications, within library collections: separated or integrated. Due to a desire to save staff time and effort, the majority of libraries do not take the additional step of creating Dewey or LC classification numbers for their government the library’s main collection due to its disparate call number system. Integrated libraries, by contrast, treat government publications in the same manner as all other library acquisitions, assigning them comparable call numbers based on subject and shelving them within the main collection. Other libraries may choose a hybrid approach, creating subject-based call numbers for major government publications while sorting and shelving certain classes of them (e.g., vertical file pamphlets, microforms, and maps) by SuDocs.
Government information encompasses a large number of resources on nearly every conceivable subject. While it is often repackaged by commercial vendors, government information obtained directly from the federal government can offer a freely accessible trove of primary source materials of great value to library users.
Federal government information in the United States is made available to the public through the Government Publishing Office (GPO), which serves as a procurement and publishing agency and a clearinghouse for information created by all government agencies. Libraries can acquire federal government information through membership in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) or through purchasing some titles directly from the GPO, which oversees the FDLP. The FDLP is governed by Title 44 of the United States Code; the responsibilities this entails for depository libraries are excerpted and provided for them in the Legal Requirements & Program Regulations of the Federal Depository Library Program. There are two types of depository libraries: selectives and regionals. Selective libraries are allowed to choose which publications they wish to receive, and they can also deselect publications after certain restrictions are met. Regional libraries oversee selectives and are intended to serve as legacy collections and preservation repositories; they must select 100 percent of the publications available through the FDLP. Each depository library must have a designated depository coordinator who is responsible for keeping current with FDLP information, monitoring changes in regulation, liaising with the GPO, and overseeing depository operations. Final responsibility for compliance with mandates and regulations rests with the library’s top-level administration. Government publications are assigned Superintendent of Documents Classification (SuDocs) numbers by the GPO. SuDocs is a provenance classification system based on issuing agency, rather than a subject-
Notes 1. Fostering Innovation, Creating Jobs, Driving Better Decisions: The Value of Government Data, (U.S.
Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, 2014), 4.
2. Cassandra J. Hartnett, Andrea L. Sevetson, and Eric J. Forte, Fundamentals of Government Information: Mining, Finding, Evaluating, and Using Government Resources (New York: Neal-Schuman, 2016),
3. U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 5.
4. James Madison, Letter to W. T. Barry (August 4, 1822).
5. U.S. Government Publishing Office, Keeping America Informed: 150 Years of Service to the Nation (U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2011), 5–8.
6. Title 44, United States Code, Section 1901, 62.
7. Title 44, United States Code.
8. U.S. Government Printing Office, Legal Requirements & Program Regulations of the Federal Depository Library Program (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2011).
9. Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Publishing Office, Public Policy Statement 2016-3: Government Publications Authorized for Discard by Regional Depository Libraries (Washington, DC: U.S.
10. U.S. Government Publishing Office, Superintendent of Documents Classification Scheme (Washington,
Types of Government Information
Available formats and delivery methods Information by branch of government Special audiences for government information
OW THAT YOU ARE familiar with the basics of how U.S. federal
government information is created and organized, let’s take a look at how that information is presented. We will look at the available formats or methods of delivery, the types of information by the branches of government,
N and some of the specific special audiences that government information targets.
Available Formats and Delivery Methods
The focus of this book tends toward digital when it comes to format for two primary reasons: 1) This has increasingly been the format chosen by the government for the dissemination of its information, and 2) this is the format in which many users are most interested. In the 1990s, when the concept of electronic government information began its forward momentum, the United States Government Publishing Office (GPO) and other government entities made claims that 100 percent of government information would be available only in digital format by a timeline for implementation that was pushed further and further back. Even today, when approximately 97 percent of government 1 information is available digitally, this has not yet come to pass since government information still exists in a hybrid environment; it skews toward the digital, but many titles are released simultaneously in digital and tangible format. Some materials are simply more convenient to use in one format versus another. An additional aspect of the process which is unique to government- produced information (as opposed to commercial publications) is that the GPO— the entity publishing the information—does not always have a say in what formats to offer. It is the agency that originates the information which determines the delivery method for its content, and this decision might be made depository librarians and general users often ask for a particular title to be offered in a specific format, and these pleas fall on deaf ears. Commercial publishers have a single goal in mind: sell a book (e-book, database, etc.), and make as much profit as possible while doing so. This means taking into consideration what buyers want. Since most government agencies are not looking to sell their products, this is a non-issue for them. Thus an examination of the formats available from the GPO is in order.
Currently, approximately 25 percent of the classifications of publications the 2 GPO offers to depository libraries are available in print format. Translating classification formats into the actual number of items in print is difficult since, as outlined in Chapter 1, a single item number classification can equal a single publication or hundreds of different publications. While one might assume that “print equals book,” that is not the case. When using the List of Classes for selection, print classes are designated by a the letter “P,” and they include monographs but also items such as journals, newsletters, maps, posters, kits, flash cards, brochures and pamphlets, forms, calendars, coloring books, puzzles, and more. Also, the format designation in the List of Classes is based on what an agency tells the GPO. Some agencies do not bother to notify the GPO of what format they plan to use in publishing a particular item. In such a case, no format designation is listed, and the publication could appear in any format. Many publications will also be listed in hybridized format (e.g., “P/EL”), which means that publications under that classification stem could be released in either format or both.
A significant number of the printed materials offered from the GPO are cartographic in nature—this includes everything from world and country maps published by the Executive Office of the President to vehicle and trail use maps for national parks. Other examples include: nautical and navigational charts airport terminal charts and aeronautical plans topographical maps soil, geological, and mineralogical surveys land use maps atlases political maps economic analysis maps
T he Federal Depository Library Handbook even includes an entire appendix 3 the GPO. Since the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is a large government agency, it will come as no surprise that this agency produces a great number of the cartographic materials published by the U.S. government. While these materials are selected by depository libraries from the GPO using the print format designation in the List of Classes, they can also be purchased directly from the USGS through the USGS Store ). As will be seen in Chapter 9 under the section on Geographical Information Systems, Maps, and Other Cartographic Materials, tools such as this are helpful to end users, since print is not the only format in which many cartographic materials are now being offered by the GPO. A large number of these materials have recently been migrated to a digital format which, given how they are meant to be used, makes them far less convenient for many users. Thus, when the digital version is available through the GPO, many users will still turn to printed versions from the agency itself, even if that means they must pay to purchase their own printed copy.
Microforms have never been user-friendly, and they are now considered to be an outdated method of condensed storage for large collections. Most librarians do not consider them if digital options are available. Microforms are also subject to degradation, making them an unstable format for long-term storage. In the past, the GPO was highly invested in microforms, especially for legislative materials, and therefore many depository collections contain large numbers of this format, which librarians can find perplexing to manage. This is especially true of regional collections since regional libraries were formerly required to collect almost everything in a tangible format provided by the GPO and keep it in perpetuity. Microforms were seen as the only viable solution to the storage and space issues holding a large collection engendered. The GPO was so entrenched that it had to be forced to abandon the format long after most libraries had voluntarily made the change. Microforms were contracted out by the GPO; it did not create and process the format itself. Since the number of commercial companies creating microforms has dwindled, the types of content typically microformed have been subsumed by digitization, and the GPO must now find ways to dedicate resources to more useful formats. The GPO has now all but retired its primary microform format, microfiche. The GPO does still offer about 2 percent of its classification numbers in microfiche format, though this may be attributed more to a need to update the List of Classes rather than a reflection that anyone is actually selecting this format. It still bears noting that there are a significant number of retrospective government publication collections that have not yet been digitized, and anyone working with government information should be familiar with microfiche and the types of government information often found on the format. As previously mentioned, the Department of Education was another significant contributor, as were agencies that created technical reports.
CDs and DVDs
Like microforms, CDs and DVDs as formats for the dissemination of information are becoming obsolete. Many desktops and laptops on the market today have eliminated the disk drive altogether. In the early 2000s, depository libraries were required to meet certain “minimum technical requirements” by the GPO for the workstations the public used to access government information within library buildings. This included computers with drives to read the formats the GPO used for dissemination: CDs and DVDs. The GPO’s revised editions of these requirements eventually fell by the wayside, and libraries which update their public access machines on a regular basis have now reached the point where many of the machines no longer have the capacity to read such formats. The types of government information which were usually disseminated on CD or DVD included geographic information system (GIS) programs, training programs and/or videos, census data, and occasionally monograph publications in PDF format. These CDs and DVDs, as is the case with microfiche, are now a very small percentage—approximately 1 percent—of the classes of publications available for selection. Most libraries that consistently weed out and appropriately manage their collections will have already transferred the PDFs to online-accessible versions and deselected the other software-based CDs and DVDs. This format retirement has not been without pitfalls. As just one example, many libraries deselected DVDs containing detailed data sets from the 1990 Decennial Census when this information became available through the online American FactFinder tool ( ), only to learn later that the detailed data was intended to be kept in American FactFinder solely for the latest two censuses. Historical census reports are available, but they do not contain all of the data that was found on these DVDs. Many libraries that deselected them in favor of relying on American FactFinder now rue that decision.
As previously discussed, government information in digital format has become one of the most widely disseminated formats (currently 68 percent of the item numbers in the List of Classes are available solely in digital format) and the format for which the majority of general users indicate a preference. Digital formats are many; everything from agency websites to discrete publications in PDF format to raster images of maps to restricted-access databases is on offer from the U.S. federal government. The number of formats has resulted in a variety of challenges for those who manage government information collections. from a tangible format or born digital—is an area that has been problematic because standards can vary from agency to agency and may result in a different end product. These differences were one of the driving factors behind the creation in 2007 of the Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative ( ), which seeks to provide a measure of consistency and sustainability for digitized and born-digital historical, cultural, and archival content from federal agencies. It bears noting that this type of information is by no means the bulk of the information created by federal agencies, ensuring that a great deal of digital government information falls outside these guidelines.
Since it can be easily altered, authentication is another concern of digital government information, especially when this information represents the official record. To address issues of alteration, the GPO has developed methods to ensure authenticity (see the textbox on page 5), primarily through the use of digital certificates. The GPO digitally signs the documents, usually in PDF format, and the documents are given a Seal of Authenticity (see Figure 2.1). The seal offers end users an easily visible method to determine that their document is the official version of the publication issued by the GPO.Figure 2.1. The Government Publishing Office Seal of Authenticity, used to designate authentic versions of government information vetted and produced by the GPO.
The ultimate problem, however, is one of preservation. Unlike a printed publication, or even one housed on an outdated medium such as microfiche, most digital government information is not preserved by a depository library. Though there has been discussion by both the GPO and the depository community about the concept of a digital deposit—whereby the GPO would maintain and preserve them—the majority of depositories do not archive digital government information in bulk since they have neither the time nor the resources to do so, especially to continually migrate to ensure preservation. The impetus for the preservation of this format has rested primarily with the GPO, though it has and continues to look to Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) libraries for ways to partner in shouldering this responsibility. One example can be found in the GPO’s partnership with the University of North Texas Libraries to create CyberCemetery (examined further in Chapter 4) which captures, caches, and provides permanent public access to the websites of defunct agencies and commissions. There is a standing call for libraries, agencies, and other entities to reach out to the GPO with proposals for partnership, and as of this writing, eight libraries are currently serving as preservation stewards in partnership with the GPO. The libraries tend to choose projects that correlate to unique items already in their collections or items that are heavily used by their primary users. So far, the majority of these preservation efforts involve the retention and digitization of tangible government publications (e.g., Works Progress Administration posters). Given that there is no systematic nature to these types of projects, the result is a patchwork of random pieces as opposed to a comprehensive system of preservation based on particular standards of selection.
The GPO’s current method for providing permanent access to digital content revolves around persistent uniform resource locators (PURLs), redirects which, in theory, the GPO maintains so that when a publication moves locations, the link is updated and access for the public is not lost. In actuality, the GPO relies on the depository community to report broken PURLs, and the response is often that the publication has been removed from the issuing agency’s server, the GPO does not have a copy archived, and access cannot be restored. The exceptions to this are the publications housed in the GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys). The previous system, GPO Access, was discontinued in 2012. In 2003, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) had designated the GPO as an official archival affiliate for all of the digital content to be found in 4 GPO Access. The GPO itself acknowledged in the 1990s its statutory responsibility to provide permanent public access to government information, and this included publications in digital format. FDsys ( ) was unveiled in 2009 and existed simultaneously with GPO Access until that system was discontinued. Publications housed in FDsys (and thus, not subject to the vagaries of the agency that created the content) are focused on a few key areas: a variety of congressional and legal publications (bills, hearings, the Congressional Record, public and private laws, United States Code, etc.), major economics and finance publications (e.g., Budget of the United States Government, Economic Indicators, etc.), Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) educational reports, and presidential retrospective back to the early to mid-1990s, which is when the digital versions of the information first became available, but there are a few collections that have more historical timelines. FDsys itself is nearing its end—it is to be replaced with govinfo ( ). Launched in 2016 and still in beta at the time of this writing, govinfo is intended to provide a one-stop shop for public access, content management, and digital preservation. More information about both FDsys and govinfo can be found in Chapter 4.
Information by Branch of Government
As taught in most grade schools, the three branches of government are the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. It is a simple enough breakdown, but given the behemoth that the U.S. federal government has become since its inception, it is beneficial to take a brief look at each branch of government, the major entities that make up each, and the information each produces. It is essential to understand this because, as it will become apparent in Chapter 3 when approaches to government information research processes are examined, provenance is more important with government information than some other types of reference—knowing which agency produces what kind of information is a building block for the effective and timely location of resources.
Most equate the executive branch entirely with the Executive Office of the President, but it is, in fact, a conglomeration of agencies, all of which are meant to serve an administrative function: to execute the laws of the land and enforce and implement the policies put forth by the government. The executive branch contains not only the president, vice-president, and the members of the president’s cabinet, but all of the major cabinet-level departments which we think of as being content producers for subject-based government information:
Agriculture Commerce Defense Education Energy Health and Human Services Homeland Security Housing and Urban Development Interior Justice Labor
State Treasury Veterans Affairs
These departments oversee a variety of sub-agencies, offices, and commissions, and in addition to these major departments, there are also many independent agencies and government corporations. Everything from the Central Intelligence Agency to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and much more can be found under the umbrella of the executive branch. Unsurprisingly, the amount of information this branch generates is vast, as are the subject areas it encompasses.
In comparison with the executive branch, the organization of the other two branches of the U.S. federal government is refreshingly less complicated. The legislative branch, made up of the elected officials of the United States Congress, makes the laws which the executive branch is tasked with executing. In addition to senators and house representatives and all their staff, there are also a few other agencies and offices which can be found in this branch:
Architect of the Capitol Congressional Budget Office Government Accountability Office Government Publishing Office Library of Congress United States Botanic Garden
As evidenced by the fact that at one point the Government Publishing Office operated under the Department of the Interior in the executive branch, agencies, offices, and government entities can move around. Just because an office originated under a specific agency or department does not mean that it will continue to reside there (or, indeed, that it will continue to exist at all).
Though some activists and even members of the Supreme Court itself have taken a different tack, the original purpose with which the judicial branch was tasked was not to create new laws but simply to interpret the laws already made by the legislative branch and to evaluate them when constitutionality is called into question. The Supreme Court and the justices who sit upon it are the most recognizable faces of the judicial branch, and all of the offices and entities within this branch are related to the interpretation of the law in different contexts:
Administrative Office of the United States Courts United States territorial courts United States courts of appeals United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims United States district courts United States Court of Federal Claims United States Court of International Trade United States Sentencing Commission United States Tax Court
The structure of the federal judicial system and some of its most important resources are examined in greater detail in the Law and Judicial Interpretation section of Chapter 12.
Information of use to almost every citizen is created by the U.S. government, and much of it is directed toward a general audience. There are, however, a few special audiences worth mentioning, since there is a large amount of information produced specifically with these groups in mind. The way the information is presented often differs from what is intended for general audiences, and the information often appears as a subset of subject resources from different government agencies.
The Department of Education (ED), after the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense, has the largest budget of any Cabinet- 5 level agency. It should then come as no surprise that the ED has increasingly insinuated itself into a realm that was originally intended to be managed primarily by state and local government: schools. On the ED website, the Department notes that it operates programs that affect every area and level of education, from K–12 to postsecondary. Many of these activities are outside the scope of this discussion, but some have a bearing on educators as a special audience. One aspect of how the ED currently defines its mission is to release information on effective teaching and learning strategies. With stated goals of improving educational outcomes, the Department of Education produces a monumental array of information geared toward educators: teachers and school administrators. The Institute of Education Sciences includes the National Center for Education Research, National Center for Education Statistics, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, and the National Center for Special Education Research. The types of publications these centers offer run the gamut, from long-term studies following students through their educational education is not limited strictly to the ED; many government organizations (e.g., the National Parks Service, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the GPO, the USDA, and even the U.S. Postal Service) produce lesson plans, publications, and other information intended to be used by teachers with their students in the classroom.
As mentioned above, a subset of the government information offered specifically for educators is meant to be used in the classroom, and thus it is geared toward children. Several government organizations make it a point to provide information that is age-appropriate for children. One of the most recognizable from the GPO is “Ben’s Guide to the U.S. Government” ( ). This website illustrates the type of information created for children by the government. Using colorful, cartoon-like illustrations of Benjamin Franklin, the site offers crossword puzzles, games, and other activities that teach children how the U.S. government works, about its structure, and what functions each branch of government performs. The activities are subdivided for those appropriate to children ages 4–8, 9–13, and 14+.Figure 2.2. Cartoon version of Benjamin Franklin created to
engage children in the activities found on the “Ben’s Guide to theU.S. Government” website ( ).
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) takes a similar approach using a sub-site called the “NASA Kids’ Club” ( to offer age-appropriate information on everything from the International Space Station to the Mars Rover and items NASA thinks children will find engaging, such as ringtones fashioned from the sounds of historic space missions. The products geared toward children are not limited to the digital environment—puzzles, coloring books, picture books, and more are regularly distributed to depository libraries through the FDLP. The National Parks Service (NPS) has even teamed up with Sesame Street characters to make videos promoting child-friendly activities and safety tips for use in the National Parks, as well as creating the Junior Rangers program, aimed at children ages 5–13. These are just a few examples of the types of government information that are created for children.
The United States has always been a melting pot, and it is also a country with the predominant language is Spanish. In addition, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on national origin, which has been interpreted and expanded via Executive Order 13166 to state that “limited English proficiency” individuals should have meaningful access to programs, activities, and services conducted by or receiving partial funding from the U.S. 6 federal government. Most agencies expand this further to publications deemed vital, defined as those publications containing information critical to obtain federal services or benefits. Due to these factors, government information directed at non-native English speakers or those with limited English proficiency is produced by most agencies. Government information deemed crucial to health and safety is the most visible type offered to these audiences. For instance,
the Department of Homeland Security’s public service campaign to
assist the public in preparing for and dealing with disasters and emergencies of all kinds, offers its publications and versions of its website in a many languages, including Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Haitian-Creole, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Urdu, and Vietnamese. The same approach is taken by the National Institutes of Health with its publications on various diseases and has also been adopted by other government agencies that provide services vital to health and safety.Figure 2.3. Ready.gov emergency supply preparation checklist in Hindi, just one of many languages
in which U.S. federal government publications are offered.
Seniors and the Disabled
The Older Americans Act of 1965 was designed to create a suite of social services aimed at assisting the elderly (defined as individuals aged 60 or older). The Act has continually been reauthorized and expanded. There are a variety of government programs that have been instituted to provide for seniors— Medicare and Social Security being two of the most readily recognizable. The Administration on Aging (AoA), a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, was created as a part of the Act to serve as a sort of focal point for all federal programs and information for seniors, a clearinghouse to offer assistance on government programs for the elderly. The AoA contains a variety of offices which provide targeted information for seniors and their caregivers: Supportive and Caregiver Services, Nutrition and Health Promotion Programs, Elder Justice and Adult Protective Services, and more.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was a piece of legislation designed to prohibit discrimination against the disabled. Ever since the passage of this law and the subsequent guidelines and enforcement measures, a large amount of information targeted at the disabled has been created by the government on topics including labor, housing, health care, education, transportation, and more. Most of the primary Cabinet-level departments have sections on their websites and sometimes within their organizational structures that deal with the rights of and services for the disabled (e.g., the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination of the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the Department of Homeland Security). It has also resulted in the offering of tangible government materials geared toward those with specific disabilities. Since it is one of the major agencies that provides benefits to disabled persons, the United States Social Security Administration (SSA) publishes many of its informational materials in formats most useful for those with a particular disability—as just one example, the SSA offers braille-format publications to provide access for the blind.
The benefits provided to veterans by the U.S. government date back almost as far as the American Revolution, and they have evolved with time. They now include medical and disability care, free postsecondary education through the GI Bill, assistance with housing, home loans and insurance, and benefits for the families of veterans and their survivors. The Department of Veterans Affairs serves as a focal point for information about all these topics and more. Many government agency websites (e.g., ) also have sub-sites dedicated specifically to information aimed at veterans and their families.
Government information is available in a variety of formats, the information produced by the three branches of government differs widely by branch, and while most government information is written with a general audience in mind, there are certain audiences that government agencies sometimes target.
Formats available for government information include printed and tangible materials, cartographic materials, microforms, CDs and DVDs, and born-digital and digitized tangible materials. Of these formats, digital is the most prevalent and also the most preferred by end users. Government information is produced by the three branches of the government: executive, legislative, and judicial. The executive branch has, by far, the widest range of subject coverage due to the variety of departments and agencies under its umbrella. Special audiences often directly targeted by the government in the production of information include educators, children, individuals with limited English proficiency, seniors, the disabled, and veterans. In many cases, this is due to legislation created specifically for these groups.
1. “Government Documents Initiative Planning and Advisory Group Charge,” HathiTrust Digital Library , August 1, 2017, 2. “Documents Data Miner 2,” Wichita State University, 2017,
3. Library Programs Service, U.S. Government Printing Office, Federal Depository Library Manual, Appendix C (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993).
4. U.S. Government Printing Office, Digital Preservation at the U.S. Government Printing Office: White P a p e r (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008),
5. U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the U.S. Government: A New Foundation for American Greatness, Fiscal Year 2018 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2017),
6. William J. Clinton, Executive Order 13166: Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency (Washington, DC: The White House, 2000).
Approaches to the Research Process
The reference interview The referral The proper foundation Admitting ignorance ANY ASPECTS OF THE reference and research process are universal.
No matter what type of research is being performed or the subject of the information, certain things about the process remain the same. Government information, due to the unique nature of its production and
M dissemination, can add additional layers to the research and reference process.
We will look at the process with these differences in mind, incorporating and addressing them to achieve a successful result.
The Reference Interview For librarians, every research process starts with a reference interview of sorts
In the past, users walked up to a reference desk and asked a question. Maybe they picked up the phone and called. Librarians now experience the reference process through a variety of additional access methods, such as email, texts, or chat. The objective is always the same: connect the user with the information he or she needs—the information he or she really needs. This information may not actually be what that user initially asks for. This is where the reference interview comes in.
It is important to be approachable. Whether it is your demeanor at the reference desk or the tone used in emails, you want users to be comfortable asking questions and talking with you. Library anxiety and disappointment with reference services as experienced by users has been the subject of journal articles and book chapters, and you don’t want to add to it. Whatever method you’re using to interact with your library’s users, make sure that the interaction i s pleasant for them. Listen, pay attention, and don’t interrupt or jump to waiting until fifteen minutes before closing to ask a question or make them feel insecure or belittled for what they don’t know. Don’t give the impression that they are an unwelcome interruption or that you don’t have time for them. Don’t give them caveats about how difficult their question will be to answer (and government information questions can be some of the most difficult you may receive). Instead, focus on helping them. If you’re a librarian, it’s what you’re there for—never lose sight of that.
Ask open-ended questions to assist with narrowing queries. Think in terms of working from expansive down to minute. The average library user often asks for something broad when what is being sought is something quite specific. If you don’t take the time to narrow that field before you begin searching, you can waste a great deal of effort (not to mention never finding what was being sought). Or you might possibly send the user on a wild goose chase—you may have sent them off with exactly what they asked for, but it isn’t what they actually need. A typical interaction may go something like this: the user walks up and asks where the medical books are. You could give him a call number and send him on his way. If you do, you are a bad reference librarian, because: 1) you don’t send users off on their own, and 2) what he’s really after is a specific statistic on infant mortality that can be found in the Centers for Disease Control’s National Vital Statistics System. But it’ll take several questions from you to drill down that far. This type of interaction happens a great deal with government information; users may not understand where the information they seek is being generated or they think they do but are incorrect. Even when they’re aware it is government information that they are seeking, factors such as unfamiliarity with government structure and terminology can result in wrong ideas about where to look or even what to look for. A user may say he or she needs to look at judicial material, but in the course of the reference interview, you discover that what the user is actually seeking is an executive order and the reference process shifts to a different set of resources. The first step in the process is to get at what the user truly needs. To do that, you need to ask questions until you are certain exactly what it is you are being asked to find. Then you can start your search.
You may find that there are instances where you didn’t perform the initial reference interview yourself. If you end up being the de facto government information person at your library, you’ll probably find that your colleagues start sending people or forwarding emails your way at the mere hint that government information may be involved. It should be noted that a referral is different than collaboration, where colleagues seek your input. In the case of referred emails or other non-real-time contacts, you may need to reach out to the user to ask certain they’ve conveyed to you what the user needs. It should also be noted that the referral can be a tricky proposition: the user has already been handed off once, and most people don’t take well to being passed around repeatedly. Thus even if it’s a situation where you might otherwise hand a request off to a more qualified or specialized colleague, you might want to consult with that colleague instead—collaborate—and provide the information to the user yourself, keeping a single point of contact. This also goes for unmonitored referrals of the user—when a librarian essentially points users in a direction and refers them to a source but doesn’t follow through to make sure that they found that source or that the users’ questions were addressed. You need to ask if the user has all the information he needs, or if he has additional questions. Always leave the door open for further questions or interaction from the user—hand him or her your card, give out your email, and make sure the user knows that you’re a resource to come back to if there are more questions. When weighing a reference experience, users sometimes have difficulty differentiating between how they feel about how they were treated (i.e., was it a pleasant transaction) and whether or not their question was successfully answered. To put it another way, you may give the user exactly the information he’s looking for, but if he ends up feeling that he didn’t enjoy how he was treated during the transaction (for whatever reason and by whomever was involved in that process), it might deter him from asking questions in the future.
The Proper Foundation
As will be stressed repeatedly in this book, government information is unlike traditional reference resources in that it relies much more heavily upon knowledge of provenance—of understanding what particular government agencies and entities are responsible for and what subjects fall within their purview so you can then have an idea of the types of information that come from them. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to acquire this knowledge; you simply have to familiarize yourself with governmental agencies, their hierarchies, and how they are structured, and that can only come through studying them. It takes some time, and it certainly takes some effort. Governmental bureaucracy is massive and it is always evolving. Many librarians panic when confronted with government information research questions because they do not have a clue where to start. (It’s also the reason you’ll get those referrals if your colleagues catch a whiff of government information.) If you need the basic building blocks, one tool you can use is the United States Government Manual . Even for government information librarians, it is not a fun read, but the digital version will allow you to browse governmental structure and drill down to give you an understanding for further study of the U.S. federal government. It is a handbook along with basic information about each, and you can use it as an index. If you want to know what the Economic Development Administration is, why it was created, who runs it, and what it does, the Manual has that information, along with links to sources of further information.
Once you’re familiar with the basics of how the government is structured and the types of agencies it contains, you’ll start to notice patterns. You’ll also notice patterns at the reference desk—users ask for certain types of information with some frequency. You can look at the LibGuides for other libraries’ government information collections or even their collection development guidelines, and you’ll notice patterns there as well. There will always be tough questions that, if you can answer them, introduce you to sources you’ve never seen before. But if you familiarize yourself with a handful of key resources, they will provide answers to most of the questions you will frequently encounter. You can get an initial inkling of what those key types of resources might be through considering the patterns above. Perhaps you get a lot of questions about things that fall into a particular category—such as things that happen in the Senate or House, for instance. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the Congressional Record—a key resource—you’ll know where to start future searches. You can branch out from there into committee reports, the Serial Set, the Congressional Research Service, and so on. Or maybe people always ask you statistical questions. The second you open (or view online) a copy of the Statistical Abstract, you’ll realize that all your statistical dreams have come true—and now you have a jumping- off point to answer those statistical questions, even if the particular statistic being sought is not in the Abstract. If there is one word of advice that is invaluable, it is to look at government information sources. Don’t just read descriptions of what they contain and consider yourself educated—pick up a copy of the Federal Register and look inside it. For digital resources, tinker with them. Build yourself a custom table in American FactFinder and see how the tool works. There is no better way for you to gain an understanding of how government information is presented and what using these sources will really mean than to get hands-on. You’ll find various sources of information along with many more within this book, especially in the next chapter. Examining the resources found here will help you understand how the structure of governmental agencies influences the reference process—how you can be more efficient in finding information when you are more confident about the sources from which the information comes.
Sometimes admitting that you are stumped is part of the research process, and there is no shame in it. What is shameful is how quickly some librarians throw in the towel or refuse to take additional steps beyond their own understanding. If answered and are still coming up with nothing, consult with your colleagues. If you don’t have direct access to a government information professional at your institution, there are plenty of them out there in the world (succeeding chapters, especially Chapter 6, will give you some tips on how to connect with them). Mine those sources for help. One way that often results in embarrassingly quick answers to questions you have been mulling over is to simply email government documents listserv (e.g., GOVDOC-L; covered in greater detail in the next chapter) and watch government information specialists fall over themselves to answer your questions.
Certain aspects of the reference and research process are universal, but government information reference can add some unique aspects.
Work from broad to narrow; ask open-ended questions to focus on the information the user truly needs before beginning your search. Successful government information reference relies heavily on knowing the origin of the information and which agencies create what types of information. Put forth the effort to learn about how the government is structured (by using tools such as the United States Government Manual), the entities that make it up, and the subject areas in which they produce information. Don’t just read descriptions of what government information sources contain—find those sources and actually use them. Only hands-on experience will teach you what you need to know to become an effective government information researcher.
General Resources, Search Engines, and Tools for Locating Government Information
Bibliographic tools Manuals, directories, and guides Federated searching and more
NE OF THE MOST challenging aspects of effectively utilizing government information is knowing where to start for any given subject.
The size of the bureaucracy, number of government entities producing information, and the number of resources on offer make it difficult to know
where to begin. Having read Chapter 3, you now know some tips on ways to lessen the complication of the research process. You want to make sure you have read that before delving into the resources covered in this chapter and in the next few. This chapter is the beginning of a subject-based examination of government information, arranged as a ready reference for many of the most useful government information sources—a starting place for learning where to look when it comes to certain topics and where to seek answers to common questions you may encounter on a regular basis. In the “Practical Applications” section at the end of each subject-based chapter are cases that government information professionals may face in that subject area, with a reference on how to answer them—examples of government information in action, framed through cases you may come up against at the general reference desk. The Practical Applications can also be consulted for more background in specific subjects (e.g., law), for when a crash course in terminology may be necessary before one can search and understand what has been retrieved.
The primary focus here is on sources provided by the U.S. federal government itself, rather than commercial vendor products which repackage this same information. There is often more than one way to approach government Sources from the government are, by and large, freely available to all; libraries and individuals may not have access to commercially produced sources due to their cost. Since commercial sources are developed with the end user in mind, they can provide easier access and use of government information due to more in-depth search capabilities and intuitive user interface or simply the manner in which they aggregate information. For this reason, some widely used commercial sources will also be covered in these chapters since they can simplify reference—if one has access to them.
General Resources, Search Engines, and Tools
Before we look at subject-specific resources for government information, you will want to familiarize yourself with some of the tools government information professionals consult, because they can also come in handy when performing subject-specific reference. There are a few different categories of general tools, and some of the most useful include bibliographic resources and federated search engines and portals. Government information professionals are also an active community that can be accessed through websites and Listservs, providing a place to crowdsource knowledge when reference queries prove difficult.
Catalog of U.S. Government Publications | The Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP) is exactly what its name implies: a catalog of the publications produced by the U.S. federal government, in both tangible and digital format. It serves as the National Bibliography of U.S. Government Publications. The CGP grew out of the Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications, a monthly listing of all of the new government publications which, under slightly varying titles, was published from 1895 to 2004. It was originally distributed in print and later additionally in CD-ROM format. The CGP was developed as its online counterpart and eventually superseded the Monthly Catalog, a resource the government is required to produce by statute. Due to this supersession, the Monthly Catalog is still appropriate to consult for pre-1976 titles. While retrospective projects for publications dating back to the 1800s are ongoing, the records in the CGP are comprehensive only from 1976 to the present. Historical publications should be sought in the Monthly Catalog.
The CGP contains descriptive records created by the catalogers in the GPO’s Library Technical Information Services Division. These are full catalog records which adhere to the appropriate bibliographic standards (i.e., RDA, MARC 21, CONSER, etc.), so they are usually more comprehensive than many of the WorldCat. The GPO’s records from the CGP are also inputted into WorldCat, so there is overlap to be found with that tool. The CGP is updated daily, and it offers some unique limiters that can aid in locating specific government publications. Basic, advanced, and expert searching options are included, with the default dataset for each being the National Bibliography of U.S. Government Publications. Subsets of this can also be searched, including electronic titles, the Congressional Serial Set Catalog (the Serial Set is examined in detail in the “Legislation” section of Chapter 12), and more. Limiting by format is available, simplifying searches for certain types of materials with problematic titles or keywords, such as maps. Canned searches are also helpful—users can quickly retrieve lists of, for example, new government e-books published in the last seven days, two weeks, one month, or three months. Boolean and command language searching is supported. Persistent URLs (PURLs) are provided for digital versions of government publications, so the CGP offers quick access to the publication itself if an electronic version is available. The “Locate in a Library” feature allows users to discover which depository libraries own a particular publication, and an interactive map is provided to assist users with locating the depository closest to them. The information this links to is that which is available about the library through the Federal Depository Library Directory.
T he Federal Depository Library Directory can be searched by the public through the Catalog of Government Publications, and it includes useful information about depository libraries across the country, including:
Depository library number Congressional district Depository type (selective or regional) Library type (academic, public, law, etc.) Library size (in number of volumes held) Full contact information (the Depository Coordinator, address, phone and fax numbers, and web presence)
Online Computer Library Center’s WorldCat | As with the CGP, Online Computer Library Center’s (OCLC) WorldCat is a tool that can be used to gather bibliographic information about government vendor (OCLC), so there is a cost associated with its use, and not all libraries will have access. The same records created by the GPO’s catalogers can be found in both WorldCat and the CGP, but WorldCat offers access to other member-input records. One major difference, especially from a cataloging standpoint, involves classification. Since the GPO uses SuDocs classification, as covered in Chapter 1, catalog records created by the GPO do not include common alternate, subject-based classification numbers, such as Library of Congress (LC) or Dewey. For records with these classifications, GPO or other member-input records that have been modified by LC or others to include these classifications can be found in WorldCat but not the CGP. As with the CGP, basic, advanced, and expert search options are available, along with limiters for different types and formats and the ability to see which libraries might have a particular tangible item in their collections. Another difference is that the CGP’s “Locate a Library” feature will show libraries within the FDLP that hold a particular item. These libraries are required to provide access to the public, due to their membership in the FDLP. WorldCat’s holdings show every library that has notified OCLC they hold a particular item, but these libraries are not required to provide access of these items to the general public if they are not members of the FDLP. Also, the links to digital versions of government publications that are found in the CGP always link to the authenticated, freely available version of that publication, usually through a GPO-generated PURL, though occasionally through verified partners. WorldCat records, by contrast, may include a variety of links—often several in the same record—which connect out to paid subscription services, unauthenticated content, and so on. Each tool has its advantages and disadvantages when searching for bibliographic information about government publications and locating which libraries might hold them, but the CGP can be relied upon for freely available, “official” government information. U.S. Government Bookstore | /
In the past, the GPO operated a number of physical bookstore locations that sold a selection of the publications made available by the government. While the publications offered by these stores represented only a small number of those available through the FDLP, the store locations allowed the public to browse and purchase publications for their individual use. As the GPO has downsized, the physical government bookstore locations have been closed. The main bookstore, located on North Capitol Street in Washington, DC, is still in operation, but the GPO now offers publications for purchase outside the FDLP primarily through its online bookstore presence, the U.S. Government Bookstore. This site allows users to browse government publications by topic, by agency, or by collection or to search using keyword, title, agency, ISBN, or GPO stock number. As with the physical store locations, the publications available through through the FDLP. Those chosen to be offered for sale are usually titles which the GPO believes will appeal to the general public or titles that are overstocked that the GPO is attempting to offload.Figure 4.1. Example of a publication offered for sale through the GPO Bookstore. The Bookstore focuses on sales of publications it thinks will be of interest to the public.
Forms (e.g., vaccination forms, tax forms, passport forms, etc.) are also and serial journal publications. An offshoot of the U.S. Government Bookstore is its Government Book Talk blog ( ), a source for information on the latest and most-notable government publications and a useful tool for promoting the government publications in library collections. The blog reviews and spotlights not only new government publications but also produces themed posts (e.g., “The Privacy Act: What the Government Can Collect and Disclose About You”) that can inform librarians about government publications that may help them address user concerns and questions. For each publication highlighted in a blog post, the writers (who include GPO employees working in marketing, sales, e-commerce, and public relations) include information on how to obtain these publications, such as links to the printed publication for sale in the bookstore, to depository libraries, and links to online and free versions.
Manuals, Directories, and Guides
Guide to U.S. Government Publications Long referred to as the Andriot (the surname of its original editor) by government information professionals, the Guide to U.S. Government 1 Publications has since been taken over by the publishing company Gale
Cengage. The publication, currently available in three volumes, is regularly released and is a reference source that indexes government publications by agency, title, and title keywords, with one volume for each. The title keyword index is especially helpful since government publications can be notorious for their nondescript titles (e.g., “annual report”), which makes searching them difficult. The Guide tracks the evolution of publications (another problematic aspect of government publications, which often have name changes, are combined with other publications, etc.) so that users can find publications, such as periodicals and digital publications, that have undergone title changes or been reclassified under a different SuDocs number, which is something that happens with regularity. The Guide’s arrangement can be helpful in locating publications when the agencies that created them had a name change, were subsumed beneath another agency, or new agencies have been established. Especially beneficial for catalogers and those looking to determine if the government produced a particular publication during a specific time period or if the government is still providing that publication is the Guide’s inclusion of beginning and closing dates. The Guide indexes historical and current information in a single location on almost every government publication; it is one of the few sources that can be consulted for this type of information and is the most comprehensive. It is an indispensable tool for depository coordinators and those managing government information collections. Even those dabbling in government information reference will wish to make themselves familiar with it. United States Government Internet Directory 2 T h e United States Government Internet Directory is a monograph series published yearly by Rowman & Littlefield’s imprint Bernan Press, which is known for publications that repackage content created by the government. The Directory uses a subject-based approach to assist users with finding information through government websites—an annotated subject bibliography of government information on the internet. The subjects can be quite broad (e.g., “culture and recreation”), and the annotations offer website URLs, a description of the site, any aspects unique to it, and the types of government publications that can be found there. One particularly useful feature of the work is the lists and organizational charts (e.g., a list of all House and Senate committees, along with the URLs for each). One of the challenges of working with government information is knowing which agency or entity produces the subject-based information being sought, and the Directory is a useful tool to help with this determination. Since this publication is entirely internet-based and information available from the internet is often temporary, it is important for users to consult the latest edition.
United States Government Manual | The United States Government Manual was first published during the New Deal era, and it has since come to be known as the official handbook of the U.S. federal government. This publication is actually part of the Federal Register (covered in detail in Chapter 12 in the section on Regulations), and with regular updates, it provides a vast amount of descriptive information about the branches, agencies, programs, and activities of the government. The Manual is available in print format from commercial publishers such as Bernan Press, but this is a federal government publication, and so it is available online through FDsys. Users can search this version of the manual, or it can be browsed by:
Legislative branch Judicial branch Executive branch: the president Executive branch: departments Executive branch: independent agencies and government corporations Quasi-official agencies International organizations
Entries in the Manual include contact information (addresses, phone numbers, and websites) and lists of key personnel, along with a description of the agency and highlighted activities. Some entries contain more information than others, but this source is a go-to starting place for learning about any particular government agency or entity—how it is organized and staffed, its history and Organizations” section is of note since users can find here the organizations of which the United States is a member, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Quasi-official agencies include such entities as the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. This category of agencies represents a gray area of the federal government; they are usually public– private partnerships which receive some federal funding and recognition and were established by statute. The Holocaust Memorial Museum, for example, was originally established by a 1980 act (36 U.S.C. 1401–1408) and later deemed an independent establishment by another act (36 U.S.C. 2301 et seq.). Yet its activities and programs, while receiving some federal support, are also furthered through endowments, outside donations, and other revenue. The Manual is an excellent quick-reference source for these types of entities, as well as for the more readily recognizable government departments and agencies.
Fundamentals of Government Information 3 Now in its second edition, Fundamentals of Government Information is a textbook for library and information studies students, intended as a class text for government information courses, complete with exercises at the end of each chapter. It offers strategies for approaching government information reference which those new to the subject may find helpful. Major issues in government information management (permanency and preservation, authentication, etc.) are included, and some of the primary types of government information— congressional and law publications, regulations, statistical information, and more—are covered. The work is not a general reference guide, yet those seeking to learn more about how the government works in order to help others use the information more effectively will find interest in this volume—it is an excellent source which provides a firm grounding in the basic tenets of government information librarianship and covers some topics in-depth.
Federated Searching and More
The Federal Digital System and govinfo | / and
As detailed in Chapter 1, the Federal Digital System (FDsys) replaced GPO Access, the GPO’s legacy system for access to digital government information. FDsys is intended to be a one-stop shop to serve as a search engine, a content management system, and a preservation repository—search, retrieval, and permanent public access all in one place. The mistake when using FDsys is assuming that it is a true federated search, returning results for government information across a variety of agency and other government sites. This is not the case, and it should be kept in mind that the information being searched through FDsys includes about fifty collections which are housed in FDsys’s intuitive; it can be conducted by citation, by using the basic search, or by advanced search, which offers some helpful limiters. With the advanced search, users can add one or a variety of collections to create their own search, then search that dataset with up to five separate search parameters, including full- text (of both the publications and their metadata), branch, category, government author, series, SuDocs, or title. Depending on the collection, additional limiters are added, making FDsys beneficial for searching information such as congressional hearings, since it offers limiters such as subcommittee, committee ID, congress number, and even witness.Figure 4.2. The govinfo ( https://www.govinfo.gov ) home page.
The results returned by searches are the full-text, authenticated versions of the publications with the GPO Seal of Authenticity. Many are available in PDF format and plain text. In addition to searching, FDsys also offers browsing of its collections and even XML export of bulk data for some collections. Date ranges are included in the basic information for each collection, and the links are permanent.
Though no hard timeline has been set by the GPO for final migration, FDsys is set to be superseded by govinfo, which, at the time of this writing, exists as a beta version paralleling the content of FDsys. The current date for govinfo to be out of beta is December 2017, but the GPO has not been known for timeliness and pushback of deadlines is common. Launched in February 2016, the intent FDsys but to also feature an updated, more user-friendly interface. In addition to the collections familiar from FDsys, govinfo offers curated content of a random nature (e.g., documents relating to the Titanic’s sinking). Both FDsys and govinfo include tutorials, webinars, and other training tools which users, especially those unfamiliar with searching certain types of government publications (e.g., congressional hearings), will find beneficial.
Going live in 2000 under the name FirstGov and now known as this site attempts to be what FDsys/govinfo are not—a search engine the public can use to navigate across government agencies to find information general users often seek. As a federated search engine rather than a content management system,lacks the permanency and preservation aspects of FDsys. Most of the content is arranged in the form of topical articles, available as subpages maintained by which then link out to the appropriate agency sites for more in-depth information. For instance, a user searching for “Food Assistance” will find a general page with information on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other related programs, but for detailed information on food items under SNAP, the site links out to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service website.
is an excellent first stop for the type of questions many librarians will
encounter at the reference desk. Its topics grouped for browsing are focused primarily on government benefits, from those focusing on grants, loans, and various types of financial assistance, to housing and employment assistance. Travel and immigration information are also primary topics which are easily searchable on the site. One unique aspect ofis that searches also return results from .org and other sites at the state and local level, not simply federal-level information. As an example, a search for “school choice” will bring up not only the U.S. Department of Education’s pages on the topic but also the State of New Jersey’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program pages and similar information from different states. If the user wishes to see only information from the federal level, other types of results can be excluded, and limiters for images and video are also provided.
CyberCemetery | / CyberCemetery grew out of a partnership for preservation between the University of North Texas Libraries and the GPO. It is an archive of government websites which run the gamut of subject content—the criteria for selection was that the sites have ceased operation and the CyberCemetery was created to preserve their content. These sites are usually those belonging to agencies or commissions that are now defunct. Some agencies die a natural death, others are intentionally killed, and many government entities are created with a the lifespan has run its course and existence is no longer necessary (e.g., the Columbia Accident Investigation Board). CyberCemetery archives these sites and the content contained therein. They can be searched or browsed by branch, name, or date of expiration. However, CyberCemetery was never intended to be an archive of government website content that had disappeared from the internet at large, only the web presences of those agencies, commissions, and so on which are themselves no longer operating. Even this is a large proposition, so priority has been given to topics which support the programs and curriculum of the University of North Texas.
HathiTrust | HathiTrust is a digital library created through a partnership with a number of major research institutions and libraries. It currently contains almost 16 million total volumes. However, the entirety of HathiTrust is not the focus for the purposes of a discussion of government information but rather one of its collaborative programs: the U.S. Federal Government Documents Program. The goals of this program are:
To build a comprehensive digital collection of federal government documents distributed in tangible format by the GPO to FDLP libraries; To ensure permanent access to these resources; To use community partnerships to identify, catalog, digitize, organize, preserve, host, and provide access to these publications.
The program also seeks to create a U.S. Federal Government Documents Registry (currently in beta) that will be a comprehensive repository of metadata for all federal government publications, noting whether or not those publications have been digitized or are available in digital format.
As of the time of this writing, there are over one million digital objects related to federal government information available through HathiTrust and approximately half a million discrete records. The majority of these titles, since government publications are free from copyright, are available not only to search but also to publicly access. There are a few exceptions: those with a quasi-governmental agency as the author, those items with personally identifiable information, or those for which the copyright status is in question. HathiTrust was certified by the Center for Research Libraries as a “trusted repository,” a status that the GPO itself has sought for FDsys, so users can be reasonably certain of the authenticity of the government information content they are accessing through HathiTrust, even if it doesn’t bear the GPO’s Seal of Authenticity. GOVDOC-L | GOVDOC-L is an email based discussion forum populated by approximately primarily librarians, people both within and outside of the federal government, and a few vendor representatives for companies which specialize in government information. Moderated by government information professionals, this LISTSERV is active with discussions of note to the depository library community and anyone interested in government information. Unlike other lists which general users may find too technical (e.g., DOCTECH-L), the GOVDOC-L community is mined by some who are less familiar with government information when encountering reference or other types of government information questions they find difficult to answer. Using the “REFQ:” prefix in the subject line of their emails, users can post questions to the list. Given that the majority of its membership are librarians engaged in a service profession, the response is usually swift and substantial—GOVDOC-L is populated by people who possess a great deal of knowledge and are happy to share it. Also, the list’s archives can be a goldmine of information on how to answer commonly encountered government information questions. The message strings can be browsed by time period or searched by keyword.
Documents Data Miner | Documents Data Miner (DDM) was developed by the University Libraries at Wichita State University, and it is a supplemental tool used by many depository librarians since it possesses more robust search and limiting capabilities for information generated by the GPO. DDM offers searchable data related to the List of Classes, item selection profiles, publications by agency, SuDocs, shipping lists, and much more. The majority of the features DDM provides are most useful to those managing FDLP collections, but several features are of use for general reference. Users can easily search depository profiles to see which libraries select certain publications. Item numbers, SuDocs, and publication titles can also be searched to discover if they are still active or if they have been discontinued by the GPO. The tool makes it simple to determine the frequency of publication. The agency search provided for the List of Classes is particularly helpful to those managing depository collections and pursuing collection development projects (as will be examined in Chapter 14). The tool can be used to easily calculate raw counts and percentages (e.g., the total percentage of government publications available in a particular format or the percentage produced by a specific agency). Results can be viewed on the site or exported as .csv or .xls files for easier manipulation.
This chapter is the first of a series of chapters intended to be used as a ready reference resource arranged topically to assist those searching for specific, subject-based government information. Government information is generally government agencies produce what types of information); the subject-based arrangement of the government information in these chapters will provide a reference to help those new to government information gain basic knowledge. This chapter covered general tools government information professionals use, including:
Bibliographic resources Manuals, directories, and guides Federated search engines Portals Listservs
Notes 1. Gale Cengage, Guide to U.S. Government Publications (Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 2016)
2. Mary M. Ryan, The United States Government Internet Directory (Lanham, MD: Bernan Press, 2017).
3. Cassandra J. Hartnett, Andrea L. Sevetson, and Eric J. Forte, Fundamentals of Government Information: Mining, Finding, Evaluating, and Using Government Resources (Chicago: Neal-Schuman, 2016).
Business, Economics, and Labor
Banking and finance Business, industry, and economics Labor, employment, and occupation Trade Selected commercial tools Practical applications
OLL ANY SEGMENT OF the U.S. population during an election cycle and
one of the topics of primary interest will be the economy. An economy that helps businesses to flourish so that the labor market is strong (i.e., one that allows individuals to procure a job that provides a livable wage) is a
major concern for citizens and anyone doing business in the United States. Since these areas affect people’s occupations and livelihood, it is one of the more popular subject areas on which users seek government information. Luckily, there is a wealth of government resources that can be utilized to answer questions. When it comes to some topics, government-collected statistics and detailed data may be the only primary sources to answer certain questions. Navigating this data and understanding how it is collected and what is available can be complicated. This section will lay out the major tools you’ll want to familiarize yourself with, and the “Practical Applications” section can be consulted for steps to utilize certain types of information found in this category.
Banking and Finance
Federal Reserve Bulletin and other Federal Reserve publications If you’re a complete newbie to government information, before we delve into the data that the Federal Reserve Bulletins and other publications provide, you may be wondering exactly what the Federal Reserve System is. “The Fed,” as it is often called, is the United States of America’s bank. Created through the
Federal Reserve Act in 1913, the Federal Reserve serves a few general It sets monetary policy with the goal of promoting the U.S. economy through maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates. It seeks to stabilize the U.S. financial system by monitoring and minimizing risks. It seeks to ensure the safety and soundness of individual financial institutions (e.g., banks). It provides services to the banking industry and U.S. federal government with the goal of fostering safe payment and settlement through U.S. dollar transactions. It seeks to promote consumer protection through research and analysis of issues, trends, laws, and regulations that affect American consumers 1 and American communities.
There are twelve Federal Reserve Banks, based geographically; all of the banks function independently—there is no “central bank” in charge—but each operates under the supervision of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. This Board includes seven individuals serving fourteen-year terms who are nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate.
T he Federal Reserve Bulletin has been published by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors since 1914. Its original intention was to provide a record of the activities of the Board and to disseminate information about policy issues to the public. The Bulletin is currently a newsletter which covers legal developments (orders issued by the Fed to the entities it oversees, such as banks, holding companies, etc.) and research articles which can provide in- depth statistics and information about banking and economic topics. For example, a 2016 piece from the Bulletin examined residential mortgage lending from 2004 to 2015, offering an overview and discussing the changes in the 2 mortgage market over that time period in great detail. Commercial vendors charge for products that contain detailed market analyses, some of which can be found for free through data provided by the Federal Reserve. For anyone seeking economic and financial data—historical mortgage rates and data, bank deposits and reserves, interest rates, monetary aggregates—the Bulletin is a good source.Figure 5.1. A volume of the Federal Reserve Bulletin from 1915.
The Bulletin is available from the current volume back to 1996 through the Federal Reserve’s website ( ) or from 2009 back to its inception from the Federal Reserve Archival System for Economic Research (FRASER; discussed in detail below). The print Bulletin was discontinued in 2006 in favor of the digital version. Other changes to note are that, before 2004, the Bulletin contained more statistical data; the data was then separated out into a Statistical Supplement to the Federal Reserve Bulletin, published from 2004 to 2008. The Bulletin and its statistical data were also compiled annually into the Federal Reserve Annual Statistical Digest from 1976 to 2002, and, as required by the Federal Reserve Act, the Board of Governors also produces its Annual Report of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, available from 1914 to the present. Information that can be found includes:
Monetary policy and economic developments Financial stability (supervision of large financial institutions, domestic and international cooperation and coordination) Supervision and regulation activities Consumer and community affairs (laws and regulations, research, emerging issues) Federal Reserve Banks Open Market Committee meeting minutes Statistical tables
FEDS Notes is another publication in which Board economists address a range of subjects in the areas of economics and finance, providing perspectives, statistics, data, and interpretation. FEDS Notes is available from the current issue back to 2013 from the Federal Reserve site.
If you find yourself uncertain about which Federal Reserve publication to consult for a particular subset of historical data, the Concordance of Statistics Available in Selected Federal Reserve Publications can be a lifesaver. The volumes from 1978–2000 are also available from FRASER. One final trick is performing an author search using the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (from 1935 to present; before 1935, users should try its previous name, the Federal Reserve Board) in FRASER. This will bring up all of the publications discussed here and a variety of digitized historical documents from the Fed’s archives.
Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED), Archival Federal Reserve Economic Data (ALFRED), Geographic Federal Reserve Economic Data (GeoFRED), and Federal Reserve
Archival System for Economic Research (FRASER) It’s helpful to think of the banking, finance, and economic data provided by the Federal Reserve in two ways: 1) the publications themselves, of which tangible copies of the earlier versions can be found in depository libraries, and 2) the online tools through which one can now access the majority of these publications and their content—the data and statistics they contain. The Fed offers a few different databases:
Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED) | Archival Federal Reserve Economic Data (ALFRED) |
Geographical Federal Reserve Economic Data (GeoFRED) |
Federal Reserve Archival System for Economic Research (FRASER) |
The burning questions are: What is the difference between all these tools, and which should I use for what? Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED) is maintained by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of the 8th District in St. Louis, Missouri. This is a tool compiled by monitoring all the relevant financial and economic literature; the Research Division then uses that data to produce research on the topics of money, banking, regional and international economics, and macroeconomics. FRED is a tool intended to help promote economic research and education. It’s also intended to be more current than historical—this is the tool to consult for the most up-to-date information. To further this, a FRED app is also available.
So what do all these generalisms mean? What can one actually find here? Want to track Gross Domestic Product by quarter? You can do that, along with Treasury rates, unemployment rates, industrial production, inflation; all that is here, too. FRED provides ways to track, download, and graph information. Data is available in .csv or .xls formats and graphs can be downloaded as images, PowerPoints, or PDFs. A variety of publications, including those that can be used for teaching (or educating oneself) on current and general economic issues are produced by the researchers at FRED. Ever listen to a politician talk about how using your tax dollars to subsidize building a new sports venue will spur economic development in your city? Wonder if it’s true? FRED is the place to look. FRED offers essays on specific topics such as these and on the basics of economics, and it even provides both teacher and student editions.
While FRED does have historical data since it’s necessary for comparison, Archival Federal Reserve Economic Data (ALFRED) is focused entirely on the archival aspect of economic data. The tool refers to it as “economic data time travel”—it allows users to view vintage versions of economic data that were available on a particular date. Economic data can suffer from supersession; a with at a particular time. Those coming later and wishing to reproduce that research, use it for modeling purposes, or see how it affected policy may be hard-pressed to find the original sources of data. With information dating back to 1927, ALFRED is intended to assist those concerns. Data can be downloaded as Excel or tab-delimited files for particular dates or date ranges.
Geographical Federal Reserve Economic Data (GeoFRED) is essentially FRED, just presented in a different way. Using the data found in FRED and some other sources, GeoFRED allows users to create a variety of maps. Want to quickly compile a map of your state showing the unemployment rate by county? Perhaps you’d like to see that information in the context of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits received? GeoFRED is the application for these types of activities, allowing for the creation of maps at the world, national, state, and county levels. For each dataset mapped, users can also see that same data represented graphically and the details from where that data was acquired. GeoFRED is also a good tool to check for some datasets that one would not immediately consider as economically related, such as fertility and infant mortality rates.
Unlike ALFRED, which provides time-capture snapshots of data as it appeared at a specific moment in time, Federal Reserve Archival System for Economic Research (FRASER) is intended to serve as a digital library and archive. It can be used in the same manner as ALFRED for some types of information, but this is complicated by how FRASER is structured. It focuses on the history of the Federal Reserve System, and through this lens, FRASER offers access to a myriad of publications on the economy, finances, and banking of the United States. It does this through archiving publications in PDF format that have been enhanced by running optical character recognition (OCR) to create documents that are fully searchable. Unlike ALFRED, FRED, and some other tools, this data may be searchable, but it is not available for export or download in a manner that would make it easily parsed and manipulated—a user can only download it in PDF format, not .csv, Excel, or even plain text. As a preservation and access repository for publications, FRASER is also far more extensive in what it contains than either ALFRED or FRED. Later publications that were born digital are included, and even scans of historical ones. These can be searched or browsed by title, author, date, theme (e.g., African Americans in the economy), and subject.
Business, Industry, and Economics
Bureau of Labor Statistics | Some of the same types of information found in Federal Reserve tools are also available through the resources of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an agency of the Department of Labor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is responsible for activity, working conditions, and pricing changes that occur in the U.S. economy. As one might surmise from this broad scope, the BLS is the originator of a vast store of data and discrete publications, some of which will be covered in greater detail later in this chapter under the “Labor, Employment, and Occupation” section. The BLS conducts many surveys and indexes various datasets related to:
Inflation and pricing (including import and export pricing) Pay and benefits Consumer spending and time use Employment, unemployment, and occupational requirements Workplace injuries Productivity Technological change
The information accessible through the BLS website is presented through tools intended to help with its manipulation; some information is available as downloadable text files, and most offer other options in database form—users can add sets and subsets to search or view tables. Since the number of publications and datasets produced by BLS can be overwhelming, its tools are arranged by the categories mentioned above to help users in selecting the correct way to search. It’s important to remember when searching the datasets available through the BLS site that some data is only accessible through the homepage of the program that collects it (e.g., American Time Use Survey). While some datasets date back to the 1990s, the primary focus for the BLS is current statistics and data—future projections rather than archiving the past. The data can also be parsed geographically; the BLS offers regional- and state- level pages. Some particular datasets of interest from the BLS are examined in greater detail on their own later in this section. Bureau of Economic Analysis |
An agency of the Department of Commerce, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) provides a further understanding of the U.S. economy through timely economic accounts data. This data is collected for international, national, regional, and industry accounts. Using tools on the BEA’s site, this data can be geographically mapped or analyzed using a variety of filters. For example, if a user is searching for the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting sector for a specific quarter in a particular state, the BEA’s tools provide this information. One of the more helpful aspects of the site is its “Overview and Uses” section for each type of accounting. For instance, in the industry section on the GDP, the site explains that this data can be used to identify changes in labor and capital shares; study production, capacity, and type of accounting can be found in the sidebar.
BUREAU OF ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: ACCOUNTING AND
DESCRIPTIONSNational accounts: BEA’s national economic program provides a
quantitative view of U.S. domestic production, consumption, and investment of exports and imports and of national and domestic income and saving. It features the estimates of GDP, which is one of the most closely watched of all economic statistics. Each month, BEA releases updated estimates of GDP for the prior quarter and new estimates of personal income and outlays for the previous month. Estimates of the nation’s stock of fixed assets and consumer durable goods are prepared and published annually.
Regional accounts: BEA’s Regional Economic Accounts program produces
detailed data on economic activity by region, state, metropolitan area, and county. Estimates of GDP by state—the BEA’s most comprehensive and preferred measure of economic activity—are released six months after the reference year. Estimates of personal income by state are published each quarter and annually. Estimates of personal income by county and metropolitan area are also prepared annually. BEA prepares estimates of regional economic multipliers for any grouping of counties for a fee.
Industry accounts: BEA’s Industry Economic Program produces the
input-output tables, which show how industries interact to provide the input to and take the output from each other. Comprehensive, benchmark input- output tables are prepared every five years, and they are updated in less detail by annual input-output tables. The industry program also produces the annual gross product by industry data, which measure the contribution of each private industry and government to the GDP.
International accounts: This BEA program produces the quarterly
balance of payments accounts and the monthly services estimates, which provide a detailed view of economic transactions between the United States and other countries. In addition, BEA produces the direct investment estimates, which are based on annual and quarterly BEA surveys of U.S. direct investment abroad, foreign direct investment in the United States, income flows associated with those investments, and other economic activities of multinational enterprises. This program also produces the international investment position estimates. Economic Census | Most think of a census in terms of population, but the United States Census Bureau performs a variety of censuses and collects data on a broad range of topics. One such census is the Economic Census. This census is conducted every five years and is how the economy and American businesses are officially measured by the U.S. federal government. The types of information gathered by this census (the latest of which was conducted in 2012 with the Bureau currently gearing up for the 2017 census, which will be the first to require entirely electronic response) are used by chambers of commerce, trade associations, government agencies, businesses, analysts of all stripes, and individuals for planning, development, and decision-making purposes.
Data for the Economic Census, which is currently available back to the 1992 census, is gathered through questionnaires sent to over four million businesses —essentially all but the smallest businesses in every geographic area of the United States and Puerto Rico. The statistics span over 1,000 industries and 15,000 products and include such areas as physical location, the type of industry or activity in which the business is engaged, payroll, revenue, and more. The data is accessible through tables and tools on the Census Bureau’s website and through its American FactFinder tool (covered in greater detail in Chapter 6, “Census and Housing Data”). The Census Business Builder tool ( is specifically geared toward those attempting to conduct an industry analysis with an eye to starting or growing particular businesses (see the “Practical Applications” section for greater detail). This tool is further subdivided by audience—a “small business edition” for those looking for data to include in their business plans, and a “regional analyst edition” geared toward regional planning by chambers of commerce and other local officials.
Economic Indicators There are a variety of economic indicators—statistics used to indicate how the economy is faring—available from more than one government source, but there is also a monthly publication, Economic Indicators, which is available from 1995 to the present through FDsys and back to 1948 through FRASER. Prepared by the Council of Economic Advisers, it aggregates the major indicators all in one place and is meant to give a monthly snapshot of the American economy. It offers information on GDP, employment, income, production, prices, business activity, money, credit, security markets, finance, and international statistics.
Though many of the sources are shared, if one is searching for summary information, it can be easier to look through this discrete publication rather than the multitude of datasets available as “economic indicators” from the Census Bureau ( ) or the “key economic indicators” provided by the Department of Commerce ( ). Those sources are a better choice when searching for specific information contained in one of their datasets Economic Report of the President
A related publication to Economic Indicators is the Economic Report of the President. Prepared by the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, this annual report is issued by the Executive Office of the President. It is meant to serve as an overview of the economic progress the United States has made over the past year, to chart current and future trends, and to lay out numerical goals for such economic factors as income, employment, production, and outlay by the U.S. federal government. Due to this last factor, it is closely tied to the Budget of the United States Government; the Economic Report is required by statute to be provided to Congress no later than ten days after submission of the Budget. The Economic Report is available via FDsys back to 1995 and in FRASER from 1947 forward. The Economic Report, while containing numerical information and some tables, is primarily a narrative document; thus, for detailed data, it is usually accompanied by a variety of supplementary materials which contain additional data. Some of this data is available as separate spreadsheets in Excel format.
Economic Research Service | The Economic Research Service (ERS) is an agency of the Department of Agriculture, and it is important when looking for economic data since many other datasets skip over the farming and rural aspects of the U.S. economy in their focus on industry and business. The publications and datasets of the ERS are excellent sources for information on:
Agricultural and rural economy Food, nutrition, and food safety U.S. food and agriculture in global trade and markets
The ERS publishes a number of “outlook” publications on specific markets, such as animal, crop, and food products (e.g., tobacco, sugar and sweeteners, cotton and wool, wheat, etc.). If a user is seeking information on how many head of cattle are currently being raised in the United States, these publications provide that information. They also forecast prices, the direction the market is expected to take, and the imports and exports of such commodities. The ERS Economic Information Bulletins are essentially topic-based essays covering a wide range of issues, from the food-spending patterns of households that receive SNAP benefits to reports on rural manufacturing. The ERS is also a good source for those interested in food safety and other related issues; statistics can be found here on topics such as food-borne illnesses and genetically modified crops. Consumer Expenditure Survey | / The Consumer Expenditure Survey is a collection of datasets available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Using two methods—a weekly diary survey and a quarterly interview survey—the BLS essentially asks U.S. consumers how they spend their money and on what. It is this data that allows the BLS to update the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is detailed below. This data is useful for a variety of purposes:
Market researchers use it to calculate the demand for goods and services. Government and other agencies use it to examine the welfare of specific segments of the U.S. population. Researchers use it to study spending behavior in different types of families and calculate historical spending trends.
The data is collected by household, which the BLS defines loosely and refers to as a “consumer unit.” From this data, the BLS releases news annually and at mid-year, it creates an annual report, it makes the data available in tabular and other forms, and also includes studies of the data in such publications as the Monthly Labor Review (also covered in greater detail below).
Before 1980, the Consumer Expenditure Survey was conducted infrequently at about every ten years. Starting in 1980, it was transformed into a survey that is essentially always ongoing. Consumer units are interviewed every three months, and the diary survey consists of the consumers themselves noting every daily purchase for two weeks. In this way, a snapshot of how different demographic groups spend their money is created.
Consumer Price Index | The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is one of the major economic indicators, and it’s important to understand what it is and what it is not. Many who stumble upon it assume that it is a measure of what consumers pay for a particular item. In fact, it’s a measure of the “average change over time in the prices paid by urban 3 consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.” You may be thinking: what’s a “market basket”? It is a staple good or service group that economists, analysts, and policymakers (and investors) use to track pricing. For the purposes of the CPI, the BLS uses over 200 categories of goods and services dumped into eight market baskets.
Food and beverages
Housing Transportation Medical care Recreation Education and communication Other goods and services
One major difficulty in parsing any information is understanding the granularity involved. For instance, a researcher may be interested in the increase in the cost of craft beer from a particular year to the present, but the CPI table they are looking at lumps together “food and beverages” as one market basket. More detailed reports are available that break down these market baskets, but “beer, ale, and other malt beverages” is as far as the granularity goes. The CPI also makes a distinction between foods and beverages “at home” and “away from home”—which can provide an idea of the difference in pricing changes and markup for beer purchased at the supermarket versus at one’s local bar.
The BLS also collects data from retail establishments, surveying them on the prices of particular items. In this way, often unseen changes that can affect pricing and inflation can be measured—for instance, if an item that was previously sold in one quantity per package (e.g., eggs) had that base quantity decrease while the pricing per package stayed the same (ten eggs to a carton instead of twelve). Without consulting with retailers on details such as these, this type of inflation would remain hidden.
So what exactly is the Consumer Price Index used for? The most common answer is as a measure of inflation, but what does that mean in practical terms? The CPI is utilized when finding the purchasing power of a dollar, such as knowing how much could one get for that same dollar in 1982 as opposed to today. (There’s a reason for choosing 1982: most of the indexing done by the CPI is in comparison to the “average index level,” which was set by the BLS using data from 1982–1984.) An increase in prices (inflation) equals a decrease in the buying power of the dollar. One reason why this is important is that these are the types of measures used to determine “cost-of-living” raises for wages and for social programs (e.g., Social Security benefit recipients, eligibility for SNAP participation, etc.). It is a major driver of governmental economic policy. More information about the CPI and its use can be found in the “Practical Applications” section below.
One important concept to note when using the CPI is where the data is gathered from. You will notice in the definition from the BLS that the data comes from urban consumers. The population being surveyed for the CPI population, according to the BLS. Thus the spending habits and pricing related to rural consumers is not represented. The CPI indexes nationally, regionally, and certain metropolitan levels, but the data can vary significantly from what any particular individual may experience, especially in rural areas.
County Business Patterns | The United States Census Bureau collects a variety of statistics on U.S. businesses that can be parsed at different levels. County Business Patterns is an annual series that the Census Bureau releases which provides economic data by industry, available at the metropolitan level (e.g., metro area of Washington, DC) down to the county and even the ZIP code level (from 1994 onward). The data found in County Business Patterns is aggregated from a number of sources, including the Business Register (a current, comprehensive database of U.S. businesses and companies), the Economic Census, the Annual Survey of Manufactures, and Current Business Surveys. This information can be used by current and prospective businesspeople to gauge the potential market, and it is also used by federal, state, and local government for planning purposes. The data has been published annually since 1964; data of a similar nature is available back to 1946, although it was not collected on an annual cycle or with the same consistency. Downloadable datasets can be found online from the
only available sources of this data are the printed volumes, which can be found in many depository libraries. The information is also available in tabular form by congressional district, employment size class, metropolitan and micropolitan areas, and legal form of organization.
The businesses are arranged by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code, and the information provided includes the number of businesses in the selected area, how many paid employees the businesses have, their first quarter payroll, and annual payroll (NAICS and other codes are covered in detail in the “Practical Applications” section). All of this information is available through American FactFinder ( ; covered in greater detail in Chapter 6, “Census and Housing Data”), which also allows users to map the data and the downloadable tables and .csv files. What cannot be found in the County Business Patterns is information on specific businesses or companies. Though the government does collect this information through the Business Register and other sources, confidentiality is protected by statute, so it is not publicly available.
Patterns, which it uses as a source, though it aggregates and parses it in different ways (e.g., at the state level or by percent change of businesses that have gained or lost). SUSB can be used in conjunction with County Business Patterns and is especially helpful in tracking trends over time.
Small Business Administration | Created in 1953, the Small Business Administration (SBA) was formed to foster the establishment and growth of small businesses in the United States. To this end, the agency’s website is intended to be a one-stop shop to help both established and prospective small business owners. The agency oversees a number of loans, bonds, and venture capital programs for small businesses. It is a common misconception, however, that the SBA offers grants to those looking to start or grow small businesses. The SBA does provide grants to nonprofit and educational organizations for counseling and training programs, and it can help provide information on state and local grant programs. The SBA can also assist small businesses in securing government contracts. More information on this is provided in the “Practical Applications” section.
The SBA site offers a variety of online learning courses on everything from how to write a business plan to basic accounting to cybersecurity for small businesses. A major component of the site is its “business guide,” which divides the information into various phases: planning one’s business, actually launching the business, managing the business, and growing the business. A ten-step guide to starting a business, which breaks all the major concepts down into simple steps, is also included. One of the most helpful tools offered by the site is its SizeUp tool ( . This is a commercial tool that the SBA licenses to allow users to enter an industry or business (e.g., florists) and access the following information:
Compare your business to other similar businesses in the geographical area chosen View the competition, customers, and suppliers on a map Find the best venues to advertise for the industry or business you’re considering entering
The tool allows users to find the best geographical area for the particular business they are considering founding or expanding by offering the ZIP codes with the highest combined revenue in the industry chosen, in dollar amounts. SizeUp also provides snapshots of the community being analyzed—the quality of its labor force (e.g., blue versus white collar percentages, educational levels, commute times, etc.), household expenditures and incomes, and demographics. This information has been mined from governmental sources (e.g., from the Census Bureau), but SizeUp presents it in a user-friendly “community profile” format. Unlike the Statistics of U.S. Businesses, this site can offer businesses by name so a user can see who the competitors actually are. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission |
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) often appears in news stories in the context of the word “violation.” The responsibility of the SEC is to protect investors by facilitating the healthy formation of capital by ensuring that the market is fair and efficient. Thus the SEC is primarily a regulatory body; it enforces laws regarding securities, which can be violated by both companies and individuals through insider trading, accounting fraud, and providing false information.
If you are wondering what a security actually is, the concept has evolved over time. Originally, it was a paper certificate issued in return for one’s money—a tangible security of one’s investment. Currently, a security is used to refer to a variety of investments: stocks, bonds, mutual funds—anything intangible held in return for one’s money or investment of capital. The SEC monitors all this activity, and its powers are wide-ranging. It not only enforces and interprets federal securities laws but can both amend and issue its own rules and regulations.
Several datasets are available from the SEC, but the go-to tool it offers is the Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval system (EDGAR;
). With a few exceptions, any foreign or
domestic company offering securities in the United States is required to file certain information with the SEC through a variety of forms. The SEC makes this information publicly available so that current and potential investors have access to it for research purposes.
EDGAR can be searched in a number of ways, and it is not a particularly simple tool to use. For instance, when searching for companies, the name as reported on its SEC filings must be used (e.g., “International Business Machines” rather than IBM). What is retrieved is classified by form type, so users first have to know which forms contain the information they seek before they know which entry in EDGAR to choose. Some of the most commonly requested information and the forms on which it can be found are listed in the sidebar.
COMMONLY USED SEC FORMS Form 8-K: Current information and preliminary earnings announcements.
These forms also contain information about executive compensation and information on bankruptcy filings.
Form 10-K: Audited annual financial statements. Form 10-Q: Unaudited quarterly financial statements. Registration statements: Description of the company’s properties and
business, description of the security being offered for sale, information about the management of the company, and financial statements certified by The SEC has also created a site, , to provide the basics of investing for those new to the topic. A rundown of the different types of investment products (e.g., stocks, bonds, mutual funds, CDs, etc.) is included, along with financial planning tools and announcements, notifications, and information to help investors avoid fraud. There is also an investment adviser search, which allows users to search individual brokers and their background— the firms they’ve worked for, the exams passed and licenses held, and any disclosures (customer complaints, arbitration, regulatory actions, firings, bankruptcy, or civil or criminal proceedings against the broker).
The Consumer Complaint Database from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) compiles data on consumer complaints about financial products and services. The consumer submits a complaint, and the CFPB forwards that claim to the company named for response. The CFPB also shares this data with federal- and state-level agencies. The data is analyzed to help enforcement of current regulations and the drafting of new ones. The information available from the complaints includes the product (e.g., checking account), the issue, a narrative about the specifics of the problem, the company name, state, ZIP code, and the company’s response and whether or not the response was timely.
The information in the complaint has all personally identifying information about the complainant removed, and the CFPB will not publish complaints without the consent of the user submitting the complaint.
The CFPB compiles these reports monthly, sends annual reports to Congress, and also compiles reports by complaint topic, including: Credit reports and scores Mortgages Loans Money transfers Private students loans Banking Payday loans
Industry Statistics Portal | The Industry Statistics Portal (ISP) is another method to access economic data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. The ISP allows users to browse industries by selecting from a tiered tree structure, or users can search for a specific
ISP point back to American FactFinder, but using the ISP can help narrow and simplify searches before being dumped off into a tool as multifaceted as American FactFinder. The ISP also provides quick information on industry definitions to help users understand which codes or industry titles to use. Recognizing the limitations of the ISP is helpful: like many products that draw their data from the Economic Census, it will not cover certain industries (e.g., agriculture) because these sectors are not included in the Economic Census. For this type of information, other products (e.g., the Census of Agriculture and resources that pull from its datasets) should be consulted. Current Industrial Reports |
Current Industrial Reports offer data on production and shipments of certain products on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. The data was gathered for use in market analysis and forecasting and for guiding the formulation and implementation of economic policy. The reports are only available for selected products—about one-third of the total products manufactured in the United States. As of 2012, the Census Bureau, which began to pare down many of the products it offered due to funding problems, ceased collecting data for the Current Industrial Reports, so no data is available past this date; most of the historical data dates back to approximately 2009. The Annual Survey of Manufactures and datasets from the Economic Census can be consulted for similar, though less detailed, information.
Labor, Employment, and Occupation
The Decennial Census, American Community Survey, and Current Population Survey Many may think of population numbers when it comes to the census conducted every ten years by the U.S. government, but the Decennial Census is an instrument that also provides a great deal of information on employment and occupation. (For detailed examination of Census products outside of business and labor, see Chapter 6 on “Census and Housing Data.”) However, an instrument utilized only every decade offers information that becomes more and more dated as time passes. The American Community Survey ( ), conducted so that annual data is available, was developed to fill the gap by providing the same type of information in a more timely manner between decennial censuses. The Current Population Survey ( , a dataset gleaned through cooperation of both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau, provides monthly data that is compiled annually on employment and occupation. Information from all three sources is available through the Census Bureau’s massive American FactFinder tool
( . The American Community Survey offers a wide Employment status Employment characteristics of families Occupation, industry, and median earnings by sex Work commuting and transportation characteristics Income and earnings
Using a sample of approximately 60,000 households designed to reflect the population of the United States, the Current Population Survey is conducted monthly, compiling data on employment status, educational attainment, work experience, length of occupation, wages and income, health insurance coverage, and poverty status, all broken down by factors such as:
Age Race Sex Disability status Marital status Household characteristics
Taken as a whole, these Census Bureau products can help answer detailed questions regarding America’s labor force. Accessing the data for detailed numbers can be difficult when simply searching American FactFinder, due to the amount of data contained in the resource. It is often simpler to consult the tables of the specific survey instrument which returns the datasets in which one is interested. For instance, if you wish to know the reasons why unemployed individuals are not working or what type of health insurance (if any) covers segments of the population in a particular state, this information can be quickly found by browsing the tables in the Current Population Survey (available in Excel format for download). Without knowing specific terminology for which to search, browsing tabular data can be the quickest and easiest method to cull the information you seek and an excellent way to familiarize yourself with exactly what type of data is being compiled, the terminology used, and the subsets available. You can then have the terminology you need to conduct further searches. Customized tables can also be built using the Community Population Survey table creator. Employment & Earnings Online | /
Until 2007, the Bureau of Labor Statistics disseminated a monthly publication, Employment & Earnings. That publication pulled its data from a few different sources: the Current Population Survey (covered in greater detail above), the Current Employment Statistics Survey, and local area unemployment statistics.
The publication originally contained information on productivity, but such website, Labor Productivity and Costs ( . After 2007, Employment & Earnings was transitioned to a website version to offer more timely information; tables are usually issued by calendar month. The different types of data available which can be broken down by state and local areas includes employment (e.g., employees on payroll at the industry, national, state, and local levels) and average hours and earnings of employees in manufacturing. Employment & Earnings Online is also a source for information on:
Characteristics of the employed Characteristics of the unemployed Information on those not in the labor force Information on workers who hold multiple jobs Weekly earnings Union affiliations Minimum wage data Absence from work data Veteran data
The site contains data from 2007 to the present; for more historical data, the tangible collections of depository libraries should be consulted. Monthly Labor Review
The Monthly Labor Review has been around for some time; published since 1915, it is a scholarly journal which offers articles written by experts, such as economists and statisticians, on subjects including employment, the economy, the labor force, productivity, wages, and more. The journal is also available in an online version ( /) that can be searched or browsed by author, date, department (e.g., announcements, articles, book reviews, letters to the editor), or subject. While not as useful for systematic evaluation of labor statistics as other sources from the BLS, the Monthly Labor Review is an excellent source when seeking in-depth topical analyses on labor- and economy- related subjects.
Quarterly Workforce Indicators Quarterly Workforce Indicators (QWI) are gleaned from the Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics dataset, and they are unique in that this dataset is so complete (it is estimated to cover approximately 95 percent of private-sector employment in the United States), it provides linked job-level data (i.e., linking an individual to his or her employer at a selected time), and is made possible through a collaboration between the federal and state levels to share collected data. Labor market data from QWI is available by worker age, can be used to determine job flow: hiring, separations, turnover, particular industries with aging labor forces, or earnings averages at a point in time, etc.
As the name suggests, the data is available by quarter, and it is used to chart the workforce longitudinally. QWI allows users to compare the workforces of states or areas, or even industries. For instance, if one wanted to compare the average age of workers in two separate manufacturing industries in the state of Alabama, such a search can be done through the QWI and charted over time. The primary tool for running reports, filtering, and compiling this data is the QWI Explorer ( , which allows for manipulating, downloading, and sharing of data from sets dating back to 2001.
Occupational Outlook Handbook | Whether you’re a public librarian helping job seekers at the reference desk or an academic librarian wrestling with the question of what a student can actually accomplish in the realm of gainful employment with the degree he’s pursuing, the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) is the source. High school librarians would do well to introduce their schools’ guidance counselors to this goldmine. The OOH summarizes everything users need to know to understand, evaluate, and pursue a particular occupation. It answers questions such as:
What do workers in this profession actually do? What is the work environment like? What education, training, qualifications, experience, licenses, qualities, etc. are needed to pursue this occupation? What is a typical entry path into this occupation? What kind of salary can I expect for this job? What kind of other occupations are similar to this one? What is the job market like for this particular occupation in my state? In my local area? Is this profession growing or shrinking?
The OOH is easily searchable, and one of the most fantastic tools it offers is the ability to select occupations by limiters. Say you have a high school education, you went to college but didn’t finish, and now you’re considering what options might be open to you to make a living—a job making at least $35,000 a year. These variables can be plugged into the OOH and it will spit out a list: bookkeeping/accounting/auditing clerks, computer user support specialists, computer/automated teller/office machine repairers, and wind turbine service technicians. The projected growth rate and the number of new jobs is included —now you can rule out those with little or declining demand for new workers and focus on computer user support specialist, which is estimated to need over 50,000 new positions filled, growing at a rate of 19 percent, and with a job environment and duties that seem appealing. The “similar occupations” feature comparison used by BLS is not available, but when examined in detail, this feature’s limitations are obvious. For example, the “similar occupation” should have equivalent duties, skills, educational level, interests, and/or training (as defined by the OOH), yet the “similar occupations” to librarianship include kindergarten teachers. While job duties and the personality types that would enjoy them could certainly be similar between kindergarten teachers and a children’s librarian in a public library (and perhaps even the educational level), comparison to other types of librarianship (e.g., an academic library subject specialist with faculty status and multiple masters’ degrees required) is a nonstarter. This section is still useful, however, for those who may not possess the skills or educational background for a certain profession but are seeking a similar work environment for which they could qualify.
Another notable feature of the OOH is its geographic profile data by occupation. Each occupation industry includes a link to maps with state and metropolitan area data for number of people employed in a certain occupation, the annual mean wage, and more. If you are the owner of a freshly minted Master of Library and Information Studies degree and you wish to stay in the Southeast, just hover over the states on the map to learn that Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina will net you about the same salary, but librarians are better paid, on average, by about $5,000 per year in Georgia and Florida, so you may wish to start your job search there.
The BLS data the OOH uses to compile into this resource comes from a variety of locations. State and local area data is gathered from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, and projections regarding growth are gleaned from the Employment Projections program; other data comes from the Current Population Survey. More detailed datasets are available from all these sources if researchers wish to delve deeper.
Survey of Business Owners | The Survey of Business Owners (SBO) dataset, according to the Census Bureau which collects it, offers the only regularly collected source for information on businesses and business owners that can be parsed by such factors as gender, ethnicity, race, and veteran status. The information includes both economic and demographic characteristics and the types of businesses surveyed include nonfarm businesses filing IRS forms as individual proprietorships, partnerships, or any type of corporation. The other criterion is that the business must have receipts that total at least $1,000 annually. The business can have paid employees or not, and “ownership” is defined as having 51 percent or more of equity or stock in a specific business.
This is the source where a user can find information about annual payroll and employment data, sales and receipts, and more. Beginning in 1972, the SBO has collected this data as part of the Economic Census. The data can also be used to a way to collect information on minority-owned companies, and the Survey of Women-Owned Businesses was also later incorporated. The primary purpose of this survey is to allow both federal and local government entities to assess business assistance needs for certain populations they consider to be disadvantaged. It can also be used to track demographic and other shifts in business ownership by geographic area and provide a tool that allows business owners to compare their own businesses to similar ones. There are interesting statistics to be found here—for instance, small business owners may see that managing their own business requires a much higher outlay of time and effort than they had anticipated. The SBO calculates the average number of hours per week that business owners with different demographic characteristics, in different industries, spent managing or working in their business. One can also find information on how much prior experience owners in a particular category had in their chosen business, how they acquired the business, and their educational level.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) | The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created in 1970 with a clearly defined purpose: to enforce standards and provide training and education that would make American workplaces and conditions safer for workers. For employers and their workers, keeping up with OSHA regulations and finding further information on how to implement them can be a complicated process. The OSHA website provides a starting place, with a page on laws and regulations with links to all current OSHA standards and to further information (including the government portal for all regulatory information, the Federal Register, and the Code of Federal Regulations—all of these resources are examined in greater detail in the “Regulations” section in Chapter 12).
In addition to its enforcement duties, OSHA also collects a variety of information as part of its investigatory process, and much of this is made available through its website. Examples include:
Inspections (tools which allow users to find OSHA inspections within a particular establishment or type of industry group by NAICS code) Penalties (lists by state of enforcement penalties of $40,000 or more) Frequently cited standards (a tool to allow users to find out which OSHA and federal standards most often result in citations, by industry group) Establishment-specific injury and illness data Severe injury and fatality reports Fatality and catastrophe investigations
Unlike many data sources from the federal government which provide generalized statistics, OSHA reports are detailed, to the point of listing full identifying information for the businesses or workplaces in which the injury or fatality occurred. The tools offer keyword searching and a list of keywords from which to browse. Ever wondered how many injuries occurred in crawlspaces? On ladders? Involving lab workers? OSHA offers information on all that. The inspection reports themselves give a brief description of the incident and the degree of severity of the injury (up to and including fatality), along with any violations that occurred and the fines levied.
U.S. International Trade Commission Interactive Tariff and Trade DataWeb |
For those new to this type of data, it can be helpful to think of trade in two simplistic terms: measures of goods imported into the United States and measures of goods exported from the United States. Tools such as the U.S. International Trade Commission’s Interactive Tariff and Trade DataWeb rely primarily on trade data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau through a variety of surveys.
U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services: Summary statistics
from the most recent month and year on goods by various commodity classifications and by country of destination.
U.S. Merchandise Trade Selected Highlights: Data released monthly
on value, charges, insurance and freight, and shipping weight for imports by the district of entry, unlading, world area, country of origin, and method of transportation.
USA Trade Online: See full entry for detailed information on USA Trade Online. U.S. Exports/Imports of Merchandise Monthly: Monthly and annual
data beginning in 1989 for value and quantity of country and customs commodity data.
U.S. Export/Import History: Five-year historical data for value and quantity of commodities. U.S. Exports/Imports by State: Monthly, quarterly, and annual data on exports by the state of origin. U.S. Exports/Imports by Port: Monthly, quarterly, and annual data on exports by the port of export. Related Party Trade: An annual report of aggregated data about the trade between certain related parties. companies identified as exporters, including employment size, type of company, and their major foreign markets.
Steel Report: Detailed data on imports of steel by category and country.
DataWeb offers users the ability to calculate trade both ways—imports and exports—limited by a variety of factors. The site requires a login, though registration and usage of the site are free. It has a “quick query” feature, or users can build their own queries, limiting by type of trade (e.g., imports, exports, trade balance), codes which delineate specific types of commodities (e.g., NAICS, HTS, SIC—and if these are mystifying to you, see the “Practical Applications” section later in this chapter), countries, and year ranges. The data available through DataWeb includes two separate sets in which year ranges can be selected: historical (1989–1995) and current (1996–2017). TradeStats Express and Trade Policy Information System |and
TradeStats Express offers annual and some quarterly data on U.S. merchandise trade at the national and state levels, which can be displayed in tables or as charts, graphs, and maps. If one is searching for a visual representation of statistical trade data, this is a fantastic source since the maps and charts, complete with legends, can be printed or downloaded. Say a user is interested in a graphical representation of Alabama’s exports to Germany since Mercedes has built a plant in Alabama. A few quick selections and a pie chart is displayed with the top five exports from Alabama to Germany, with transportation equipment outstripping all other exports, which includes minerals and ores, computer and electronic products, and chemicals. These types of illustrations can be created for the entire United States or individual states or regions. The same is true of the trade partners—the illustrations can be individual countries, geographic regions, or trading and economic regions. This resource is better for a “big picture” as opposed to more detailed data; while products at the national level offer breakdown by four-digit NAICS, those at the state level are usually only available down to the two- or three-digit NAICS. Also, an Exporter Database is offered where users can view charts or maps of exporters by size and type, by location (ZIP code, metropolitan area, and state), and exporters to certain regions.
TradeStats Express is offered by the International Trade Administration (ITA), an administration under the purview of the Department of Commerce. The ITA also provides other resources to further its mission of promoting trade and investment, including the Trade Policy Information System (TPIS). TPIS allows for the generation of tables and charts, but it is different in focus from and it also offers more variety in the classification systems and levels that can be searched: NAICS (to six digits), HS (to ten digits), SITC (to five digits), End- Use Category (to five digits), or Hi-Tech (to two digits).
provides companies with a wealth of tools to help them successfully
export what they sell. This resource offers educational opportunities, export guides, industry information, and trade data and analysis. Users can search the site for a particular product to see where it might be most advantageous to focus on exporting, or countries can be searched individually through the “Doing Business in . . .” section. That section offers a rundown of relevant information: a market overview including challenges, opportunities, and strategies for entering said market; the political and economic environment in the country; leading sectors for U.S. exports and investments; customs and regulations; and even business travel info. Much of this information is gleaned through cooperation with the U.S. Department of State through its embassies located in particular countries. For instance, perhaps a user heard business was booming in Mozambique. However, a reading of the Investment Climate Statement for that country shows that while record investments were being seen as recently as 2014, factors such as drought, widespread corruption, bureaucracy, and legal uncertainty made the country increasingly difficult for foreign investors and trade has seen a marked downturn in the last three years.
The site offers information broken down by a number of industries, such as agribusiness or travel and tourism. For those looking for an overview of a particular country’s suitability as a trade partner, particular opportunities and challenges in that country, market research by country, or the best way to trade in their particular industry,is an excellent place to start. USA Trade Online | /
USA Trade Online from the U.S. Census Bureau is a tool that allows for parsing import and export data in a number of different ways. The site requires registration, but once an account is set up, usage is free, and it allows one to compile and save customized reports. The site contains much of the same information as the ITC Interactive Tariff and Trade DataWeb, but the interface is different since it is designed more for the creation of detailed, customized reports. It offers Harmonized System (HS) district-level data, port-level data, state import and export data, and NAICS district-level data. There is a high level of granularity to be found through USA Trade Online; commodity groups can be expanded down to the ten-digit HS level. The reports returned present data in tabular format and can then be sorted, rearranged, and downloaded as a .csv or .xml file. Reports definitions (the code necessary to regenerate the report) can also be emailed to oneself or other users so that complicated reports can be tab is especially helpful for parsing certain types of data—for instance, combining exports at different levels or separating out subsets of commodities and adding them together (e.g., meat and fish). For users looking to run detailed reports on import and export data at a variety of levels, USA Trade Online should be one of the first stops. United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database |
The United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database (Comtrade) is maintained by the United Nations, not the U.S. federal government, and the statistics it gathers are international in scope. Some of the information is hidden behind a subscription paywall, but some can be freely accessed. What is freely available is broad; essentially the imports and exports in U.S. dollars for most countries for a given year or range of years with the ability to filter through HS codes. The results can then be downloaded as .csv files. Not all data is available for all countries or various HS codes; before using the report builder, it may be helpful to check the data availability page to see if the statistics being sought are available. Otherwise, users may build reports which return no results.
Selected Commercial Tools
ProQuest’s Business Market Research The Business Market Research Collection from ProQuest is geared toward users looking to perform research at the company, industry, economy, and geopolitical levels. The coverage is from 1986 to the present and drawn primarily from the country and individual profiles by Oxford Analytics and the United States and worldwide industry and market reports compiled by Barnes Reports. Over 40,000 companies globally—both public and private—are also available as Hoover’s Company Profiles.
The database offers a “snapshot series” that can be browsed by location, industry, or document title (e.g., if a user is interested in the cheese industry in Norway). The company profiles offer an overview of key information and financials and the company’s rankings. They also provide a description of the company, information about the industry in which it does business, biographies of key figures, and lists of competitors. The Hoover’s Company Profiles are one of the stronger aspects of this database.
Much of the information in the country profiles can be gleaned from similar free government sources (e.g., and its links the U.S. Department of State’s Investment Climate Statements and the CIA World Factbook, which is covered in greater detail in the sections below and which ProQuest lists as a source). The ProQuest country profiles do have an advantage since they can be browsed not only by location but also by subject. They are at a distinct disadvantage in that many of them are fairly dated—the U.S. Department of country profile for the same country in Business Market Research gives information from 2011.
Gale Business Collection and Business Insights: Global These two products from Gale Cengage can be found in many academic and public libraries. Gale’s Business Collection focuses on accounting, economics, marketing, management, and strategy, and offers full-text access to approximately 4,000 business and trade-related publications. It is geared toward university students who are researching in these areas, but some useful economic and market information and statistics can be found in the articles it contains.
Gale’s Business Insights: Global, by contrast, is for those interested in actual commerce—business professionals. It features country profiles, investment and brokerage reports, case studies, market research reports, company histories and profiles, industry profiles, and other resources. One of its helpful features is a glossary of business terms that users may find unfamiliar or confusing. The database can be searched by company, country, industry, or keyword. Users can create charts and tables comparing companies by factors such as revenue, sales, and employees. Industry leaders are identified through the market share reports, and in general, this database is a useful one-stop shop for market research information.
Mergent Online and Investor Edge Mergent Online by FTSE Russell (a British company focusing on various indices and data related to the stock market) is a company search and abstract retrieval tool with links to a multitude of corporate data. Users can search by company name, symbol, DUNS number, SIC, NAICS, index, exchange, or country. The results offer a snapshot of company information, including:
Date of incorporation
IRS number Auditor Country Sector Industry Number of employees Number of shareholders Revenue Net income Key executives Key financials In addition to this at-a-glance information, reports and filings are included along Mergent Online also offers a reports wizard so users can combine certain datasets to build custom reports, including reports that compare companies. Both an executive search and an “economic research” search are included. This offers users the ability to search through a variety of economic topics, from commodities to employment outlook and more. These searches can be limited by a date range.
Another database offered by FTSE Russell, Mergent InvestorEdge, also provides access to business research information, including what is covered in Mergent Online: corporate documentation and reports, industry reports and profiles, etc. As its name would suggest, InvestorEdge is targeted at investors, and as such, provides an additional level of performance analysis for companies. Stock reports and other indicators of performance are offered for the companies found in InvestorEdge, with the goal of helping investors with choices in buying, selling, and holding stocks.
The information found in these databases is collected by government entities, which is available through U.S. federal government websites for free (e.g., EDGAR documents). However, whereas collecting this information from free government sources might require searching a variety of tools, Mergent aggregates the data all in one place with user-friendly search features and information that is presented in an easily utilized format.
Value Line Value Line is another commercial market analysis tool. It contains much of the information that can be found in sources such as Mergent Online and InvestorEdge, but Value Line attempts to set itself apart through its expert advice geared toward very specific investment strategies. For instance, whereas some tools offer a simple “buy, sell, hold” type of company or market analysis, Value Line offers reports on small cap stocks with above-average yields or the best conservative stocks for those who are more risk averse. It is particularly strong in helping investors make strategic decisions, with its experts providing strategy ideas which users can then follow out through their own market research. Value Line includes an investment education section which has featured educational articles (e.g., “A Discussion of the Gross Domestic Product”) and videos and training to help users get the most out of their Value Line subscription. Like other sources, Value Line also has a glossary of unfamiliar terms.
How Do I Figure Out All This Trade Data and Import/Export Stuff? Some of the more complicated questions government documents librarians encounter involves trade data. Reading about the resources listed above should are seeking more, the FDLP has some fantastic web-based training resources that can turn you into a trade data expert. The FDLP Academy ( has a “webinars” button to view a list of past webinars that you can watch at your leisure. Of particular interest is the six-part series titled “Librarian’s Guide to Trade Data.” Modules are currently available on import and export codes, advanced USA trade,
, the ITA, DataWeb, and USA Trade Online.
How Do I Learn to Speak Industry Code? One of the difficulties in navigating any new landscape is learning the language.
This is true of business and economic research, especially because it impacts how one searches and one’s understanding of what is returned by those searches. So let’s take a look at some key codes, acronyms, and terms that you will need to know.
Commodities, Goods, and Products When considering industry data, it is helpful to understand some basic definitions since they can make a big difference in understanding different types of data. Commodities are basic goods used as building blocks for products and services; they are essentially raw materials, and they are fungible—which means that each unit of a commodity is exactly like every other unit. Examples of commodities include items such as copper or corn. Commodities do not need to be considered in terms of who produces them; they will all be grouped together because every establishment is producing the same item (in theory, at least). This means that every single unit will have the same price on the market —for example, it is the reason why crude oil has a cost per barrel. It does not matter which company sucked it out of the ground; oil is fungible, so it all costs the same amount per unit, which in this case is by the barrel.
Products are usually, but not always, goods that are differentiated. This means that a product made by one establishment is different from a unit produced by another. Therefore, establishments can argue that their product is superior in some way and can attempt to sell it for a higher market price. Units from different producers are not the same (this is what the producer would have consumers believe), and thus their prices can also vary, so it’s important to know which establishment made a differentiated product. Products are usually classified either as a consumable good—something which will need frequent replacement, such as snacks—or a durable consumer good—something infrequently purchased, such as a washing machine. There are also industrial goods—such as machinery or manufacturing materials—which are used in the production or support of consumer goods. North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) was developed by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, with input from Canadian and Mexican governmental agencies, to allow for statistical compatibility between industries in North American countries. NAICS divides the economy into twenty designated sectors, and industries are grouped within those sectors based on their production criteria (i.e., industries with similar production processes are grouped together). A NAICS code or number corresponds to a particular industry, and the granularity increases as the number of NAICS digits increases; NAICS codes can have as many as six digits. The first two digits designate the general category of economic activity—the sector. The third is the subsector, the fourth the industry group, the fifth the NAICS industry, and the sixth the national designation (i.e., U.S. industry). This may sound confusing, but when one actually views a full NAICS code, its nesting makes sense, as shown in the sidebar.
A NAICS CODE, UNPACKED
The NAICS code for Apple Orchards is 111331: 11, the first two digits, represents the sector “Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting.” Adding a third digit takes it a step further, with 111 representing “Crop Production” within the sector of Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting.
1113 is “Fruit and Tree Nut Farming,” a type of Crop Production within the sector of Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting. Finally, 111331 breaks down to the individual type of Fruit and Tree Nut Farming: “Apple Orchards.”
In this way, data on large, generalized industries can be gathered or it can be further granulated to search for more specific data. It will also tell you if the search you are about to perform will return the granularity you need—if a search tool only allows for searching by a two-digit NAICS code, you already know your data is going to be broad. You may get the numbers for Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting, but if what you are seeking has to do with apple orchards, you won’t be able to separate it out using that particular tool.
It is important to understand that NAICS is a classification system for data collected by the establishment—by the business itself, which is classified by what it is producing. The “establishment” is usually the business’s primary States, but its NAICS will be based on the location of its flagship office). Obviously, an establishment can be engaged in producing and selling a great many things, so businesses are required to base their NAICS code on their primary activity. NAICS was first implemented in 1997, and it has undergone revision once every five years since. This further complicates matters, because industry classifications can be revised or changed or entirely new classifications created from one iteration of the NAICS manual to the next. As a result, there are concordances available (in .xlsx format) that cross-reference each new NAICS code to the edition before it (e.g., 2017 to 2012) to show any changes in NAICS codes or titles.
Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) The U.S. government established the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system in the 1930s, and it is the precursor to NAICS. Though NAICS was intended to supplant SIC—and has done so, to a great extent—there are still certain sources that classify or search by SIC rather than NAICS, even though SIC was last revised in 1987. SIC codes are four digits and are similar to NAICS in that they have a hierarchical structure; the first two digits represent the industry sector, and it breaks down into sub-classifications from there. Examples of federal sources that still utilize SIC include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and some other Department of Labor agencies.
Harmonized Tariff Schedule Numbers and Harmonized System Numbers To further complicate the process of classifying and collecting data, there are also Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) numbers and Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS) numbers which can come into play, especially when one is researching import/export data. NAICS and SIC classify industries by the establishment and are U.S. systems. However, when talking about trade—imports and exports—this type of data is often classified by commodity, namely, the raw material being sold, rather than the establishment selling it.
The HTS is the U.S. International Trade Commission’s system for classifying traded goods based on their composition or product name, and its primary function is to classify goods to apply the appropriate duty rate. HTS numbers can range up to ten digits. The HTS uses the same structure as the Harmonized System (HS), which is the international version of these codes administered by the World Customs Organization so that countries have a standardized way of classifying commodities for trade, determining tariffs, and for statistical purposes. HS categories are the same for every participating country down to the six-digit level—categories in the HTS and HS are the same to six digits; the HTS just breaks things down further to a ten-digit level for United States use. It is possible to crosswalk HS codes into NAICS and vice versa by using Census Bureau, but depending on the industry or commodity, the translation may not be exact.
Standard International Trade Classification Like the Harmonized System, the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) is used for classifying products that are traded, but the SITC is more dated than the HS and commonly used for analytical purposes rather than detailed classification for levying tariffs. SITC was developed by the United Nations to facilitate economic analysis on a global scale, and that is its primary usage. SITC numbers break down to the five-digit level and represent not only the products themselves but their economic functions and stages of development.
International Standard Industrial Classification The International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC) is a classification system developed by the United Nations. Like the SITC, its purpose is to offer categorization for productive activities so that statistics can be reported in a standardized way across multinational boundaries. It was adopted in 1948 and has undergone several revisions since. It has been used internationally to classify data in a variety of fields, such as economic statistics, production, income at national levels, employment, population, and more. ISIC employs a hierarchical structure down to the four-digit level, and like the NAICS, it is an establishment-based system; the statistical units usually classified are establishments or enterprises engaged in particular economic activities.
How Do I Conduct an Industry Analysis and Write a Business Plan? There are products in the previous section on selected commercial resources that have already done the major work of compiling an industry analysis for you —albeit often at the national level, which can be fantastic for investing but less than helpful if you are looking to start a small local business. For those wishing to perform a regional or local industry analysis for the purposes of starting or growing their own business, especially if they don’t have access to expensive commercial products, the Census Business Builder ( can help. Let’s say that your dream is to open a bar. We first need to choose the correct version of the Business Builder, the Small Business Edition. From there, we can browse or search by keyword, industry title, or even the NAICS, if we happen to know it.
When we select “bars (i.e., drinking places), alcoholic beverage (722410),” we learn that there are almost 41,000 establishments in the United States. However, what about our area? Using our state, county, city, or ZIP code, we can narrow that down to see more relevant information to the area where we are actually considering opening our bar. We enter Gadsden, Alabama, and customer pool, but we should probably narrow that further in other ways—for instance, using the filter that will show us what percentage is over the age of eighteen, since that is close to the legal drinking age of twenty-one, and no one under that age would be a potential customer. Almost 78 percent of the population is over eighteen, which is a respectable customer pool. We can also check on the income and employment of that percentage to see what we can expect in the way of disposable income to be spent on alcohol. However, what about the competition? Is the market already saturated? By choosing the “businesses” category, we learn that there are four bars in Gadsden, and their total reported yearly revenue was almost $1.5 million. We can also see how many employees these establishments have and what their payroll is, which allows us to get an idea of how much we would have to pay our employees to keep the place running. Then we will want to check our consumer spending— how much is spent per capita on beer and wine outside the home by the good citizens of Gadsden? We can delve deeper into all these categories in detail through other Census products, such as Statistics of U.S. Businesses, once we complete an initial snapshot of what the industry looks like in Gadsden. As mentioned earlier in the section on the Small Business Administration, we will also want to utilize the SizeUp tool ( ) to gather more information and perhaps even check other nearby ZIP codes to see if there is more revenue to be made if we make a shift in geography. We can use the suggestions on appropriate advertising venues and get more detailed information on our competitors as well.
Once we have gathered all the data we wish to, we can visit the Small Business Administration’s website and use their walkthrough on writing a business plan. Since we are detail-oriented, we will opt for a traditional business plan, and we learn from the SBA that such a plan needs to contain:
Executive summary Company description Market analysis Organization and management Service or product line Funding requests Financial projections Appendix for supporting documentation
The SBA will also give us descriptions of exactly what to include under these headings. If we like, we can compile all this information into a narrative document ourselves, or we can create an account with the SBA’s “Build Your Business Plan” tool. That tool offers a step-by-step guide where we can enter information (with the tool checking off each essential part of the plan as we go) Perhaps all this is too difficult for us, or we find ourselves in desperate need of advice. We can use the SBA site to offer a mapped list of offices and partners in our area that we can contact for in-person assistance with our small business needs.
How Can I Find a Salary Range for a Particular Job? A common question is “How much does [insert occupation here] make?” There are a couple of clarifications one should solicit in the reference interview before proceeding—geography, for one (“How much do physical therapists make in Birmingham, Alabama?” will yield a different answer than “How much do physical therapists make in San Francisco, California?”). Another factor that can come into play is the industry or type of facility in which the occupation is employed, especially in the medical field. For instance, the physical therapist example above has a median annual wage of $85,400. However, physical therapists who are employed in home healthcare services have a median annual wage of $93,200, and those who work in physician’s offices have a median annual wage of $82,630. For some occupations, the type of facility in which you work can have an impact on salary, even in the same geographical location.
So back to the question at hand. Where can you locate this type of information? The Occupational Outlook Handbook ( ) has it all. By searching for physical therapists and then using the “pay” tab, you will be able to quickly find all the median wage data by the top industries in which physical therapists are usually employed. The “state and area data” tab will link you to the Occupational Employment Statistics program, which contains information about the geographical differences in salaries and is easily accessed through interactive maps.
How Do I Find the Relative Cost of Shoes [or Anything] in 1950 [or Whenever]? Closely related to this type of question are those regarding the value of a dollar, commonly referred to as inflation. While one can look to historical sources—old advertisements are a goldmine—to find out that a decent pair of saddle oxfords would run you about $4 in 1950, the question remains as to how this relates to the $4 of today. There are a couple of different sources one can consult to answer questions such as these.
If we take a look at FRED’s economic data ( , specifically its presentation of the Consumer Price Index, we see that the index shows 29.800 for footwear in 1950, which we will round to 30 for simplicity. The question most users have at this point is “What the heck does that mean?” The Bureau of Labor Statistics has chosen to use as its baseline, or “reference period,” a thirty-six-month period in the 1980s (specifically 1982–1984). The year 1982 gets 100 index points, and everything else is measured against this baseline. If shoes in 1950 have 30 index points, that means they have had a 70 an index of about 136 points, so calculations between 1950 and today, or any temporal range, can be made—as long as one keeps in mind the reference point for the index.
Another way to look at the problem is through a simplistic inflation tool. Examining the Consumer Price Index itself is helpful (i.e., more precise) in charting changes because one can examine changes in individual categories— not all goods have the same rate of price inflation. However, for those looking for a general inflation calculator, the BLS offers one ( which will tabulate buying power for the user and take the math out of using the Consumer Price Index. It uses the CPI for all urban consumer goods and services, averaged together. If we input that same $4 from 1950 for the saddle oxfords and select 2017 as our reference, we see that it is about $41 at today’s prices. This does not necessarily reflect actual buying power change specific to footwear, but it is, as we say, close enough for government work—most users seeking this information will be happy with the buying power change in general terms. Those that are not will want to consult the specific CPI categories mentioned above.
How Do I Apply for a Government Job or Land a Government Contract? These are two separate questions, but they often appear together at the reference desk. There is more than one way to seek employment with the U.S. federal government. If a user knows the agency for which he or she wishes to work or even the particular type of position being sought, then individual agency sites can be consulted. A good place to start, however, is . This is a one-stop shop which is intended to allow users to search for particular jobs, match users up with jobs when they’re uncertain exactly what they’re seeking, and show the variety of hiring paths open to certain categories of applicants (e.g., veterans, Native Americans, students, the disabled, etc.).
USAjobs is a clearinghouse; agencies make their postings and users can find them, create a profile in USAjobs, submit applications, and deal with the agency representatives who review applications. USAjobs, in most cases, links directly into the specific agency’s application system where users can then complete additional steps which may be required, such as providing further documentation. Since procedures can vary by agency, users can receive various levels of notification throughout the process. For instance, some agencies will send email confirmations at different steps in the process while others may simply mark statuses that must be viewed through logging in to the user’s USAjobs account (e.g., that an application has been reviewed or that it was referred or not referred to a hiring official for consideration). Many government jobs are restricted to certain categories (e.g., current federal employees), so USAjobs is also good for quickly eliminating government jobs for which one may be highly qualified but not in the appropriate category. Each job posting includes it’s evident if the job is not open to all. Search results can also be filtered through these categories.
A USAjobs account allows users to save and automate their job searches; once they have set up the requisite criteria, the user can save the search and have resulting postings sent via email on a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule. The site offers a number of filters which allow precision in job searching. Users can search by keyword, location, hiring path, department, agency, salary, work schedule, security clearance, and even percentage of travel required. USAjobs also offers a resume builder tool and information on government benefits, including leave time.
Those interested in government contracts will want to familiarize themselves with the General Services Administration (GSA; ) and its GSA Schedules program. Known as Federal Supply Schedule contracts, there is currently no law that requires companies or businesses to hold a GSA Schedule contract in order to do business with the U.S. federal government. However, given that many government agencies choose to procure only through GSA Schedules because it simplifies their processes, it can be beneficial to look to the GSA. These contracts open up a variety of customers at once—instead of pursuing one federal agency, the contractor’s product or service will be available to hundreds of agencies and even intergovernmental organizations. Common types of contracts include:
Multiple Award Schedule (MAS): As opposed to a single award contract,
most GSA Schedule contracts are MAS. This means that the GSA awards contracts to a variety of companies or businesses who provide the same types of goods and services but at varying prices. Those granted these types of contracts must provide the government with information about what they charge their nongovernmental customers for the same goods and services; this is how the GSA determines if the business’s pricing meets a standard for being “fair and reasonable.” Obviously, if the business is overcharging commercial customers, they can use this as a basis for doing the same on a far grander scale to the federal government. Thus, MAS contracts can be lucrative since they do not meet the same type of pricing standards as some other government contracts which are more discerning in their negotiation criteria. Government agencies choose which vendor they wish from the GSA Schedules to procure the goods and services they need.
Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ): These are what they
sound like: when the GSA doesn’t know the precise quantities needed of goods or services, IDIQs are used for a fixed period of time and a specified minimum and maximum for what will be needed (expressed in the contract either in terms of units necessary for goods or dollar value for services).
Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs): Agencies evaluate contractors on GSA Schedule for particular categories of goods or services they will need on a already in place for the contractors’ GSA Schedule. There are BPAs that government agencies pursue outside the GSA Schedule system (known as “traditional” BPAs) that have different requirements.
Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs): These contracts are
usually focused on the information technology industry and are a type of IDIQ contract. They allow government agencies to purchase unspecified product units or service hours during a specific period of time and to share services across agencies. New contracts of this type require a good deal of justification from the agency soliciting them, so most government agencies simply address their procurement needs through GSA-managed GWACs, which are already in force, piggy-backing multiple agencies’ needs through one vendor’s contract.
This is a brief overview of GSA contracting; much more detailed information can be found from the GSA at its website and minute technical information about what agencies must do in their procurement activities can be found in the Federal Acquisition Regulation ( . Successful government contracting is a book in and of itself, so further sources should be consulted to take you beyond this overview (a quick Amazon search can be beneficial). It should be noted that GSA Schedules are a serious undertaking that benefits large companies. They can be pursued by small businesses, but they are not cost effective unless one can fully commit to selling to the government; the paperwork and the conditions required to get one’s products or services on the GSA Schedule and to keep them there can be prohibitive unless a business is selling in significant quantities. Getting on the GSA Schedule can also require marketing to particular government agencies to get them to choose your business over others also on GSA Schedule offering the same goods or services. Finally, there is the additional concern of adherence to rules and regulations that only come into play when dealing with the government; failure to comply can not only result in the loss of contracts but also lead to fines and other punitive conditions not encountered when dealing with commercial customers.
Other opportunities can be found through Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps; /), which allows users to pair their particular business or industry with identified government needs. Users should first register with the System for Award Management ( ; all entities wishing to do business with the government must register and have an active SAM account. This requires a nine-digit Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number, which can be requested from Dun & Bradstreet, a company that specializes in business and commercial data and analytics. The number is a unique identifier to delineate a particular business. To request a DUNS number, you will need the business’s:
Legal name Any other name by which the business is commonly known Physical address, city, state, and ZIP code Mailing address (the last two, if different from headquarters) Phone number Contact name and title Number of employees
A request can then be made through an online form to Dun & Bradstreet ( ).
FedBizOpps pulls profile information for a business based on its DUNS from the system, and users can update this profile. FedBizOpps can be used to search through over 40,000 postings from government agencies that detail what these agencies are looking to acquire, the type of contract, and the list of interested vendors, essentially the competition. Users can add themselves as interested vendors, and awarded contracts can also be found through this site, showing users which companies received the contract and for how much. Any procurement of $25,000 or over (not including GSA Schedules, which are not required to be listed on FedBizOpps) can be found on this website. For those in the small business realm, the SBA also offers a variety of informational sources, including online training modules, to help businesses offer their products and services to the government ( ).
Business and economics information is one of the most widely consulted subject areas when it comes to government information, and it can also be some of the most complicated. A grounding in basic terminology, industry codes, and so on is necessary. There are also certain topics within the subject field (e.g., trade) where government-collected statistics may be the only primary source available for detailed data since it must be collected at the macro level. Topics within this subject area include:
Banking and finance Business, industry, and economics Labor, employment, and occupation Trade
1. “About the Fed,” Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 2017, .
Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Data,” Federal Reserve Bulletin 102, no. 6 (2016): 1–26..
Census and Housing Data
Census datasets, American FactFinder, and other products Housing and urban development and other assorted tools Practical applications HE U.S. CENSUS BUREAU collects a vast amount of data on the U.S. population and economy. The economic data has been touched on in
Chapter 5, so this chapter will focus on population, demographic, and housing data. While the Census Bureau is one of the primary data collection
agencies within the U.S. federal government, it is certainly not the only one. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is another governmental entity that gathers large amounts of data. The U.S. Census Bureau often serves as a middleman; other federal agencies will use the Census Bureau to collect data for them, outside the Census Bureau’s primary survey products, which are statutory. This chapter focuses primarily on Census Bureau data products for one reason: though the data and statistics may be found in a variety of sources, parsed different ways, and presented differently on a multitude of websites both governmental and otherwise—it is essentially all the same data collected by the Census Bureau.
Census Datasets, American FactFinder, and Other Products
Decennial Census and American Community Survey Of all the datasets compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, the most recognizable to general users is the Decennial Census of Population and Housing. It is integral to everything from apportioning our government representation to furthering the work of genealogists. The Decennial Census is almost as old as the country itself; the Constitution requires it, and it was first conducted in 1790. Users are often surprised to learn that detailed, personally identifiable data (names, addresses, etc.) is not available for the most current censuses. records themselves, which contain the personal information, are kept confidential for seventy-two years with the intention of protecting the privacy of those still living. There have even been calls for that period to be extended given Americans’ increasing longevity. The last census-detailed data released was from the 1940 census and was made available to the public in 2012. There are ways to access detailed data from censuses that have not yet been released —you can request a search from the Census Bureau Age Search Service ( . Unfortunately, this search carries a cost (currently $65), one can only request the information for a single named person per search, and it is still only an option for specified individuals, namely, the person whose record is being sought, his or her heirs, or his or her legal representatives. The records cannot be released to anyone else.
So what kind of information does the Decennial Census collect and how? The short answer is that it depends on the individual census. The 1790 census gathered the name of the head of the family in each household and the number of persons in each household, in five different categories. By 2000, the census was conducted by distributing a “short” form to most addresses in the United States. This form asked seven questions and collected basic information: age, race, sex, relationship, and home ownership or tenure. One in every six households would get a “long” form, which solicited everything on the short form plus more detailed information: citizenship, educational attainment, employment status, income, disability status, housing costs, and more. The data collected from the long form was used as a sample to statistically extrapolate the entire population. This highlights a common misperception about the census —that its demographics represent an attempt to measure each individual in the United States. When it comes to long form data, this is not true; a best attempt is made in geographical distribution to produce an accurate sample, but it is still that—just a sample. More information on how that data is collected can be found later in this chapter.
In the 1990s, the Census Bureau pursued the idea of collecting the same types of data as could be found on the long form but doing so continuously, which would make the data timelier. By 2005, this had grown into the American Community Survey (ACS), which offers data on a periodic basis: one-year estimates for areas with populations of 65,000+, three-year estimates for areas with populations of 20,000+, and five-year estimates for all areas. Data for the ACS is acquired by sending forms not to specific individuals but to specific addresses. These addresses have a 1 in 480 chance of being selected during any given month, and no address will be selected more than once during any five-year period. The Census Bureau sends questionnaires to almost 300,000 addresses every month. Questionnaires can be completed online or in paper
Name Birth date and place of birth Citizenship Educational attainment (including majors for bachelor’s degrees) Languages spoken Sex Race Ancestry/ethnic origin Health insurance coverage Disability status Marital status Parental status Military status Employment status (including hours worked per week, type of organization, type of business or industry, duties) Income (including from what sources, such as Social Security) Type of dwelling When dwelling was built Period of residency Land (in acres) that the property encompasses Sales of agricultural products from the property Rooms in the residence Number of bedrooms Amenities (hot and cold running water, bathtub/shower, sink, stove, refrigerator, telephone, desktop or laptop, smartphone, tablet, Internet access by type) Number of automobiles Type of fuel used to heat residence (gas, wood, electricity, etc.) Monthly cost of electricity/gas Monthly cost of water and sewer Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation by household members Condominium fees Home ownership/renter Cost of rent/mortgage Cost of insurance and taxes on property A look at the sidebar will give you an idea of the data you can expect to find through use of the Decennial Census and American Community Survey. The Census Bureau aggregates it into different datasets and subsets, and there are a variety of ways to access this data. A great many sources repackage it; the Census Bureau itself promotes this through use of its Decennial Census application programming interface (API), which allows developers to use publicly available census datasets to create custom apps. The Bureau will also create custom data for a user—what it calls “special tabulations”—for a price. The Census Bureau often presents datasets as a series of tables (e.g., “Metropolitan and Micropolitan Population Change: 2000 to 2010”) and also gives access to them through different tools:
QuickFacts—Frequently requested data at the national, state, county, and city level. This can be sorted by topics such as age and sex, housing, education, etc. Apportionment and Redistricting Data Population Finder—This tool allows for quick display of demographic data (population, housing status, sex, age, ethnicity, and race) at the state and city level. It also provides a tool that allows for direct linking to this data. State Facts for Students—This interactive map presents demographic data in a student-friendly format, and it displays statistics that might be interesting to children (e.g., the total number of eight-year-old boys in Alabama). It also includes some factoids for each state, such as the state nickname, flower, date of statehood, state capital, etc.
As previously mentioned, the information collected by the Decennial Census and the American Community Survey is repackaged in a number of sources and presented through various tools. One of the primary tools for accessing census demographic and housing data is American FactFinder ( . Since it’s a complex tool providing access to a wealth of information, see the “Practical Applications” section later in this chapter for in-depth information and tips on how to use it. Historical Census Data
Some of the most persistent questioners at the reference desk are often genealogists looking for historical census data. There are a variety of books available on researching family history; it is beyond the scope of this work to examine them in detail. However, there is some information that is helpful to know regarding the census in a historical context, which can save time and
Since census questionnaires and the methods employed in collecting should review a publication entitled Measuring America: The Decennial 2 Censuses from 1790 to 2000. Available in print and a PDF version, this publication features information about each Decennial Census dating back to the very first. It includes information and examples of the questionnaires along with the instructions given to census takers. Another useful feature added is an index of census microfilm publication and roll numbers. It can save time for users to look at a table and determine, for instance, that no census was taken in Minnesota in 1840, or that a census was taken in Alabama in 1810 but no microfilm of it is known to exist, or that much of the 1890 census records were destroyed in a fire before they could be microfilmed. The publication also contains an index of mortality schedules for different years and where a user can find them, a chart of the demographic characteristics surveyed on each census, a history of each census, and even how much each census cost to execute.Figure 6.1. Map of Virginia from 1796 included in the front matter of the 1790 Census, published in 1908.Figure 6.2. Census table showing Heads of Household for Amelia County, Virginia, 1792, from the 1790 Census, published in 1908.
A seminal publication you will also want to know about is 1790 Census: Heads 3 This multivolume work contains the schedules for the 1790 Census in printed format and it is also now available in its entirety online, along with information about this first census. When the 1790 Census was taken, the schedules for every state—at the time Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia—were filed with the State Department. However, during the War of 1812 the record groups for Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia were destroyed when the British burned the U.S.
Capitol. These federally collected records can never be recovered, but the 1790 Census includes lists of state enumerations made in the 1780s and 1790s for Virginia, an attempt to supplement some of what was lost. The volumes contain not only a historical background of the United States in 1790 and information about the first census but also the summary tables of the population (by counties and towns), the names of the state’s assistant marshals, and tables of the heads of families (by counties and towns).
There is little consistency in the types of publications that have historically been released regarding census data. For instance, there is no equivalent printed publication for the 1800 census like the one above for 1790. However, a little browsing of the publications section of the U.S. Census Bureau’s website
years and view historical
census publications. Examples from the nineteenth century provide an idea of the types of publications available regarding more historic data: 1800 Census: Return of the Whole Number of Persons Census for 1820—Population numbers by different categories, including sex, age, race, civil and naturalization status, and participation in different economic areas. 1830 Census: Abstract of the Returns of the Fifth Census—population numbers by different categories, including sex, age, race, civil and naturalization status, and selected economic statistics by state, county, and territory. 1840 Census: A Census of Pensioners for Military Service and 1840 Census: Compendium of the Enumeration of Inhabitants 1850 Census: Abstract of the Seventh Census and 1850 Census: The Seventh Census of the United States (in addition to population data, data on schools, colleges, agriculture, libraries, churches, and more), 1850 Census: Compendium of the Seventh Census, and 1850 Census: Mortality Statistics of the United States 1860 Census: Population of the United States and 1860 Census:
Statistics of the United States Statistical Atlas of the United States, and 1870 Census—three volumes on the statistics of the population, vital statistics of the United States, and statistics of wealth and industry 1880 Census: Compendium of the Tenth Census and 1880 Census— volumes on statistics of the population; reports on manufactures, the production of agriculture, the agencies of transportation, cotton production, petroleum, coke, and building stones; mortality, and vital statistics 1890 Census—volumes on the population of the United States; insane, feeble-minded, deaf, and dumb; crime; pauperism and benevolence; statistics of agriculture and manufacturing industries; population; and resources of Alaska
You’ll notice that, in addition to demographics information, many of these historical publications also contain information on manufacturing, agriculture, and other topics which, in more current censuses, have been separated out into their own surveys and products.
Individual records from censuses that have been publicly released (currently 1790–1940) are available on microfilm at the National Archives in Washington, DC, and the thirteen regional archives, as well as many public libraries, which have purchased the rolls from the National Archives. Alphabetical indexes have been created for the majority of these. In addition, Soundex—an index of census rolls by the sound of the surname rather than its spelling—is also available for certain censuses (primarily 1880–1930); this can be invaluable given the lack of uniformity in spelling in early census schedules.
American Housing Survey The American Housing Survey (AHS), like many census products, is made possible through surveys conducted by the Census Bureau but sponsored by another governmental agency that needs the data—in this case the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The survey, originally called the Annual Housing Survey, dates back to 1973 and is currently conducted biennially. The data is usually released about a year after its collection. Like the more detailed data from the American Community Survey, this is based upon a sample of the population. The survey asks questions about the type of homes in which the respondents live, the characteristics of these homes, and how much it costs to run and maintain them. Though the AHS is ostensibly a housing unit survey, over the years various “topical supplements of special interest to HUD” have been added to the surveys that have little to do with housing units themselves, such as information on the presence of arts and cultural opportunities nearby, food insecurity, and so on. In this way, the Census Bureau and HUD have been building a more complete picture not just of the housing influence why they live where they do. As politicians run on platforms that include social engineering of various degrees, the AHS and the data it collects has evolved to further government policies. For example, the AHS survey for 2015 included a completely redesigned questionnaire, and the samples used for the survey were redrawn for the first time since 1985. It is important to understand survey redesigns such as this because they affect comparison data. Depending on the changes made, they can turn comparison data from apples to oranges. This is especially true when attempting comparisons of data from 2015 onward with anything that came before. By the same token, it can also be frustrating for users—the topical supplements are not static, so just because the AHS collected data on food insecurity in 2015 doesn’t mean that the 2019 survey will do the same.
So who gets surveyed? Two separate groups provide the survey data—those living in the homes and, for homes which are vacant, the landlord, real estate agent, and so on. The methodology differs depending on the survey year, but the sample usually includes two parts: a national survey and a metropolitan survey including large cities such as Philadelphia, Seattle, New York, Chicago, and Detroit. For instance, using the latest AHS, approximately 115,000 housing units were surveyed total—35,000 of which were meant to represent the United States as a whole and 80,000 for metropolitan areas.
The data from the AHS is incredibly detailed—for example, this is the resource to check if a user is interested in knowing not only how many U.S. homes have hot water but how that water is heated (electricity, gas, solar, etc.). Compared to some of the other datasets collected by the Census Bureau, the AHS will seem lacking in granularity—results can be parsed at the national level and for whichever metropolitan areas were surveyed in a particular survey cycle, but due to the sample size and how it is constructed, one cannot find the local- or state-level data many might seek. When one keeps in mind that this data is collected for HUD—Housing and Urban Development—it is unsurprising that the focus is on urban areas.
Housing and Urban Development and Other Assorted Tools
HUD User | HUD User is a website created in the mid-1990s by HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research to disseminate information on housing and community development. The information includes both housing data and housing research—research publications by the Office of Policy Development and Research’s analysts. There are also case studies that focus on different housing policies and initiatives, their application, and the results. One should know that with the research publications, but especially the case studies, a perceives as successful—the case studies read as “how-tos” rather than “how- not-tos,” which might portray an administration or HUD’s initiatives in a nonpositive way.
The datasets offered through HUD User repackage content from the American Housing Survey (some of the access points are links back to the census website), along with other housing survey data such as Components of Inventory Change reports (housing stock), homelessness data, rental housing finance, and residential finance. A great deal of the data found through HUD User is HUD planning and operations data. This includes data such as Fair Market Rents—which is how HUD determines fair market rent and uses that as a basis for its Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program—various rent/mortgage/income limits, tax subsidies, data on subsidized housing, and mapping tools.
One dataset of particular interest is the Assisted Housing: National and Local due to the level of detail in this data. This dataset offers information on subsidized housing provided by HUD to low-income renters. It can be parsed by year, level (national, state, city, county, congressional district, etc.), program (Section 8, public housing, etc.), and more. The type of information this dataset provides includes the number of units available, the percent that are occupied, how much those renters pay versus how much HUD subsidizes them, the household’s income average, average number of people in a household, disability status, race, how long they had to wait for housing, characteristics of that housing (number of bedrooms), and even those where wages are a major source of income versus welfare versus additional sources of income.
The HUD User site is broken down by the following topical taxonomies, which are helpful to know for searching: Affordable housing Fair housing Housing production and technology Community and economic development Housing finance Housing market characteristics Homeownership Housing and supportive services for the homeless and people with special needs
In addition, HUD User offers access to a bibliographic database which serves as a portal. Users can search and return citations with full abstracts for research reports, articles, books, monographs, and other sources related to housing, urban planning, and economic development. There are links in the records for these resources to full-text versions if they are government publications and therefore must be purchased or sought in a library. Enterprise Geographic Information System |
HUD User links to the Enterprise Geographic Information System portal (eGIS) which aggregates a variety of HUD data into geospatial datasets, since location is important to using and interpreting many aspects of housing data. The site offers a variety of applications:
Community Assessment Reporting Tool—Can be used to display HUDs
projects and investments
HUD Resource Locator—Essentially a “contact us” to help users find HUD
representatives and others near them who can help answer their housing questions
Community Planning and Development Maps—From HUD’s Office of
Community Planning and Development, this tool shows the housing market at the local level, including current and grant planning data
Tribal Directory Assessment Tool—A database of information on federally
recognized Native American tribes and related geographies, down to the county level
Qualified Census Tract Locator—This tool allows users to enter addresses
and see if they fall under the census tracts that qualify for the low-income housing tax credit
Choice Neighborhoods—The Choice Neighborhoods is a HUD grant program
focused on improving distressed neighborhoods; the Choice Neighborhood mapping tool allows users to identify a neighborhood where residents might use HUD grant funds, generate a PDF report with data relevant to the types of programs Choice Neighborhoods funds, and electronically submit all information to HUD during the grant planning process.
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Data and Mapping Tool—The
rule was promulgated by the Obama administration with the goal of forcing desegregation of certain urban areas and communities through federal regulation; it requires communities that receive HUD funding to abide by certain rules for housing and community practices, including setting priorities and goals (e.g., distributing Section 8 vouchers for more affluent neighborhoods with better schools to encourage low-income participants to move there); part of compliance involves collecting vast amounts of information about communities and their housing to drive this policy planning, and the tool is an outgrowth of this. It contains data on race and ethnicity, housing problems, school efficiency, disability, poverty, the labor market, transportation issues, and more.
Most of these applications are geared toward official use—for planning and policymaking by community, local, and metropolitan government officials. Yet they are open to the public and contain data that can assist in answering Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Home Mortgage Disclosure Act |
Like the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Home Mortgage Disclosure Act is geared toward nondiscrimination and resulted in a number of government regulations that cannot be addressed without large amounts of data—in this case, data collected, maintained, and reported by financial institutions about mortgages and those applying for them. This mortgage data can be filtered by location (state, metropolitan area, county, or census tract), the type of property (family dwellings, manufactured housing, etc.), the type of loan (conventional, FHA, VA, etc.) and what it is used for (purchase of a home, home improvement, or refinancing), the lending agency, and demographic information about the applicant (sex, race, ethnicity, and income). All this data can be parsed in a variety of ways by creating custom tables, which can then be shared via a link to the search or by downloading the resulting files as .csv format. For example, users can combine the “applicant race” field with the “applicant income average” one to create a table of the average income of applicants for mortgages in that particular racial demographic. This data can be combined and compared with other housing data to see demographic, economic, and geographical trends.
, covered in Chapter 4 with the general resources, provides a portal to
housing information on a variety of topics. The site is geared towards the average American and the issues he or she might encounter attempting to find, buy, or maintain a home. Topics include:
Affordable rental housing Foreclosure Mortgages and buying a home Housing scams and housing-related complaints Moving Property insurance Home improvement and repair
The topics offer a brief overview and a variety of links to other government sites with relevant information—affordable rental housing, for instance, includes links out to information about HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program.
What Is American FactFinder, and How Do I Use It? The Census Bureau’s American FactFinder ( is an amazing tool due to the amount of data it provides for access, but it is also a complex one. It bears mentioning that the Census Bureau provides another tool outside of FactFinder called Census QuickFacts ( . Essentially, QuickFacts is an aggregator of the most frequently requested statistics from the Census Bureau. As such, it doesn’t contain everything, but profiles are offered at the national, state, and county level and also at city level for areas with a population of 5,000 or more.
The initial view is a simplistic table that can be emailed, printed, or downloaded and the results can also be viewed on a map or as a chart. Before diving headfirst into American FactFinder, you may want to check QuickFacts to see if the data you seek can be more easily accessed there. If not, then read on.Figure 6.3. The home page for the U.S. Census Bureau’s American FactFinder tool.
First things first: What can you find in FactFinder? The Census Bureau has many surveys it conducts on a regular basis—almost 100 of them every year. The data from several of these surveys is aggregated into FactFinder; some of the most popular can be found in the sidebar. FactFinder allows users to search and display this data, usually in tabular form, and the tables can then be downloaded. FactFinder offers a few different paths into this data, and the type of data you are looking for and your familiarity with census products will determine which path is the simplest to find it.
American Community Survey American Housing Survey Annual Survey of Manufacturers Business Patterns Nonemployer Statistics Annual Survey of Governments Census of Governments Commodity Flow Survey Decennial Census Economic Census Survey of Business Owners Equal Employment Opportunity Tabulation Population Estimates Puerto Rico Community Survey
The best approach for quick numbers that will satisfy many reference requests is the Community Facts search. From the FactFinder home page, enter a state, county, city, town, or ZIP code for the geographical area for which you want to return numbers. This will return a tabbed display which can be used to quickly access numbers for population, age, business and industry, education, governments, housing, income, origins and language, poverty, race and Hispanic origin, and veterans. Each tab offers the number you are probably looking for under that particular topic (e.g., “29.4% of individuals below the poverty level” under the poverty tab) and the source from which this number came (e.g., “2011–2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates”). One helpful feature of the Community Facts search is that, for each tab, it will also give you a list of popular tables for the topic, which provides more in-depth information. This list is hyperlinked; for instance, if you want to know how many individuals employed full-time in a geographical area are below the poverty level, one click gets you to that table. The Community Facts search is a good place to start if you know the geographical area for which you want to find data and the major topic but you are not sure exactly how to research further.
The “Guided Search” and the “Advanced Search” features of American FactFinder are not as quick to use as the Community Facts, but they can help you narrow your searches using very specific criteria. The Guided Search employs a step-by-step method, geared toward users who have little familiarity with FactFinder or census data. It is an excellent choice for first-time users; it walks the user through radial button selections such as “I’m looking for information on people . . .” and then provides a brief explanation of the types of topics (several can be combined at once), the geographical area, and hints along the way. The end result is a list of tables, files, and documents that the search thinks will contain the information the user seeks, with the most relevant files marked with a star. These are hyperlinked, to take the user directly to the data.
By contrast, the Advanced Search function is for those who have an idea of what they are searching for. It builds first by topic, race/ancestry, industry, occupation, or table name, which are then combined with geographies. If, for instance, you type “age” into the topics box, it will give suggestions for census terminology to take you to specific tables or you can use the generic search term. This can be combined with the geography on the initial search page or can be narrowed once the results are displayed. The table result display looks similar to what comes back from a Guided Search—a list of tables, files, and document titles with the most relevant data starred. Like the Guided Search, which dataset a particular table came from is also listed. This is important to note, since it is how you can determine how timely the information is (e.g., if it came from the ACS five-year estimates dataset versus the Decennial Census). You can add and remove topics, geographies, race and ethnic groups, and industry and occupation codes from these searches by using the navigation at left, building and refining searches in a way that is not possible with the Guided Search.
All of these searches can be bookmarked or downloaded, and many of them can be overlaid with a map to provide a geographical representation of the data. One feature users may find frustrating if they are unaware of it is that FactFinder saves previous search preferences. So if you used the Guided Search to look for population by age in a particular geography, those limiters still show up when you try to start a new search or even select the Advanced Search. To remove them, you’ll need to pay attention to the “Your Selections” box in the left navigation—if there are limiters in that box, you will need to clear them to start a fresh search. Simply selecting a different type of search, returning to the main page, or even reloading the site won’t be enough to remove them.
The last path FactFinder provides for data access is its “Download Center.” Using the Download Center will automatically clear any search limiters or selections, so you are starting fresh. If you know the specific dataset or table name, you can search for it. If you don’t know it, you can select prepackaged data where you will be given a list of survey programs and datasets from which to choose. This will return a hyperlinked list like the other searches mentioned above of tables, files, or documents. As with other searches, results lists can be limited by year or by program.
A variety of options are available for downloading the information you find using American FactFinder. Up to ten tables from advanced search results can be downloaded as .csv files or tables can be downloaded from table view as want to be able to sort and parse it as an Excel file, or are you trying to display it for a presentation?) will help determine the best selection for how to download it.
This overview should get you started searching FactFinder with a minimum of fuss, but there are a variety of tutorials available from the FactFinder site. For further training in specific areas, check them out, as well as the virtual tour of the site’s features.
How Can I Find Information about People Who Don’t Live in Traditional Housing— Homeless, Nursing-Home Residents, Incarcerated Individuals?
This type of question comes up a good deal, and it can be difficult to accurately answer, especially if one doesn’t understand how certain data is collected or how it is labeled. The population in nursing homes and prisons is enumerated; the terminology the Census Bureau uses is “group quarters.” For prisoners, census enumerators distribute forms to prison administrators, and those incarcerated are counted as if they reside at the address of the prison rather than their permanent “home” address. The Bureau also does this for other populations (e.g., college students living at their university or those in long-term care) because of the concept of the “usual residence” rule. Regardless of where an individual may be registered to vote or the location they have as their documented legal residence, where they live and sleep the majority of the time is the location given as their “usual residence”—the location used for census purposes.
If a user is searching for a count of prisoners, those in nursing homes, or those living in college dorms, viewing the “group quarters” tables in American FactFinder will get the statistics needed (specifically, the “Characteristics of the Group Quarters Population by Group Quarters Type” from the ACS five-year estimates, if you’re interested in parsing by factors such as age, race, marital status, educational attainment, etc.).
Addressing the homeless population is more complicated. First, there is no hard-and-fast definition or standard that the government uses for “homelessness”—this makes it difficult to even define the sample being sought. Therefore, the Census Bureau makes no claim to have an enumeration of “the homeless” in America. These members of the population are counted, in a supplemental way, by group quarters. The method the Census Bureau has used to approach this for the last two censuses is to choose a certain period of time (in the case of 2010, three separate days) and survey people in emergency or transitional shelters on that date, as well as selected outdoor locations where the homeless are known to congregate. Along with the population data, the Bureau has produced a special report on the subject for the last census, known 4 as The Emergency and Transitional Shelter Population: 2010.
The Census Bureau is not the only source of government information releases an annual report, The Annual Homeless Assessment Report (see
the 2016 report), that collects data to provide a snapshot of America’s homeless population. This data is gleaned from two separate datasets. The first is aggregated from HUD’s Homeless Management Information System, which represents any individual who has resided in transitional housing or emergency shelters in the past year. For the second dataset, neither HUD itself nor the Census Bureau conducts this enumeration—the counts are provided by entities (nonprofits, state and local government programs, etc.) that participate in HUD’s Continuum of Care program, which funds efforts to end homelessness. This is done by collecting counts, usually in January, of the individuals in shelters and the unsheltered homeless.
While many other governmental entities collect data (e.g., the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s housing data), the U.S. Census Bureau, located under the Department of Commerce, is one of the primary data collection agencies of the U.S. federal government for population, economic, demographic, and housing data. The Census Bureau also collects data for other government agencies upon request so that it often originates with the Bureau, even when data appears under the auspices of other governmental departments, agencies, or even within commercial products.
Key census data products include the Decennial Census, American Community Survey, and the American Housing Survey. These and a vast array of data from other survey products can be accessed through the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder tool.
Notes 1. U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey Information Guide (Washington, DC: U.S.
Government Printing Office, 2013).
Government Printing Office, 2002).
3. U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor, 1790 Census: Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1908),
4. Amy Symens Smith, Charles Holmberg, and Marcella Jones-Puthoff, The Emergency and Transitional Shelter Population: 2010 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2012),
Department of Education resources Educational datasets from the U.S. Census Bureau Selected commercial resources Practical applications
HE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM in the United States is unique in that it is
the purview of the individual state governments to set their own standards. One might expect to look for educational information from state and local governments, and both are sources for this type of information.
Yet the U.S. federal government is increasingly influencing every aspect of public education through mandates from the ever-expanding U.S. Department of Education. The Department of Education accomplishes this primarily through a carrot rather than stick approach—states and schools that wish to receive or rely upon federal monies must comply with federal policies. Those institutions that do not comply may have their federal funding pulled, which can prove devastating, especially in the realm of higher education since many states choose to fund these institutions at lower and lower percentages from state budgets. Institutions can also find themselves dragged into federal court.
Due to these factors, the Department of Education has developed a regulatory function, and regulatory agencies collect a great deal of information. To document its educational initiatives and to aid with planning for future policies, the U.S. federal government sponsors and fosters research about the educational system and creates a large volume of information. This information is used for assessment, to formulate policy, and to allocate funding, and the majority of the data is publicly accessible.
Department of Education Resources
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has over 4,000 employees and one of information on schools and subjects related to teaching and to provide this information to state governments to aid them in developing effective educational systems. Over time, especially in the past sixty years, the reach of the ED has grown exponentially, until there are now few areas of education, from K–12 to postsecondary, where it has not insinuated itself.
is the Department’s portal, and it contains a vast amount of
information categorized roughly under the areas of student loans, grants and programs, laws and guidance, and data and research. Because so much legislation and regulation has been handed down, which affects education, a primary feature of the site is information in that area. The laws and guidance section of the site covers the major legislation and regulation upon which the Department focuses, such as:
Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (and its outgrowths, such as No Child Left Behind Act and Every Student Succeeds Act) Civil Rights (Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) Higher Education Opportunity Act Family Education Rights and Privacy Act Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Since a large number of college students help finance their education through federal loans, another major part of the site is its information on the Federal Student Aid program and Pell Grants. Discretionary grants are another large part of how the ED disburses funding to educational institutions, so information on these grants can also be found on the site.
The Data and Research section of the portal offers a suite of informational products, including a listing of every dataset title that is publicly available ( . This listing can be searched, a description of each dataset is provided, and there are instructions on downloading the information and who to contact for further information. There are links to data and statistics by topic (e.g., college cost, early childhood education, English-language learners, etc.) as well as a “Fast Facts” section with numbers on a variety of topics, including high school dropout rates, graduation rates, etc. Many of these products were created by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and are examined further in the next section.
National Center for Education Statistics | The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is a sub-agency of the
Department of Education—in actuality, it is a sub-sub-agency since its direct siblings the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, the National Center for Education Research, and the National Center for Special Education Research. NCES is responsible for collecting and analyzing information related primarily to education in the United States, but NCES also collects some data on the educational systems of other countries to use for international comparisons. The surveys, programs, and information collected by NCES can be seen in the sidebar.
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP; see the Nation’s Report Card later in this chapter) National Assessments of Adult Literacy (NAAL) Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) National Household Education Survey (NHES) Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study (BTLS) Career and Technical Education (CTE) Statistics Common Core of Data (CCD) Crime and Safety Surveys (CSS) ED School Climate Surveys (EDSCLS) Education Demographic and Geographic Estimates (EDGE) Education Finance Statistics Center (EDFIN) National Public Education Financial Survey (NPEFS) High School and Beyond (HS&B) Longitudinal Study High School Longitudinal Study (HSLS) High School Transcript Studies (HSTS) National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS) National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) Private School Survey (PSS) Education in America (urban and rural) Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) State Education Reforms (SER) International Activities Program Library Statistics Program Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (BB:93) Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS) National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF) Postsecondary Education Descriptive Analysis Reports
Postsecondary Education Quick Information System (PEQIS) Local Education Agency (School District) Universe Survey
This list is not exhaustive, but it offers an idea of the types of information NCES collects. We will take a look at some of these products in detail later in this chapter, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Education Demographic and Geographic Estimates system, and the Local Education Agency Universe. Unlike the Census Bureau, which does have publications but chooses to release the majority of its data in tabular format, the NCES takes the data it has collected and releases it as discrete publications (in print and/or as PDFs), rather than providing searchable, tabular access to the raw numbers. These publications usually include the data tables along with commentary, analysis, and statistical methodologies. For this reason, the publications and products search on the NCES site should be on your radar. It can be searched by title, description, subject, author, publication number, or release date. Limiters are available for the type of product (e.g., “handbook”) and the survey or program area from which the data comes. Searches through this tool return a list of records, most of which link to a full PDF version when available.
The Condition of Education | The Condition of Education is an annual report to Congress, and it is congressionally mandated. Its purpose is to provide a yearly snapshot of the state of the educational system in the United States and also chart its progress over time. It is a compendium of statistics and other information compiled by the NCES and uses indicators (the number has varied over the years; current years use approximately fifty indicators) to show comparative change in the educational system. Indicators fall into different categories, such as attainment (e.g., Educational Attainment of Young Adults), economic outcomes (e.g., Employment Outcomes of Bachelor’s Degree Recipients), demographics (e.g., Children’s Access to and Use of the Internet), participation in education (enrollment numbers), school characteristics, teachers and staff, finance, assessments (e.g., International Comparisons: Reading Literacy at Grade 4), and more. The Condition of Education is presented in narrative form, with charts and other illustrations to help analyze and interpret the raw data. The tables from which this data has been drawn are usually indicated and linked in online versions. A recent trend for online versions of the publication has been to pull out selected indicators on topics of current policy interest and offer them as “spotlights” (e.g., Post-Bachelor’s Employment Outcomes by Sex and
Race/Ethnicity). The majority of the raw data used to compile The Condition of Digest of Education Statistics | /
The Digest of Education Statistics is a compendium of data that spans the entirety of the U.S. educational spectrum—from pre-kindergarten through graduate level. Many of the statistics and data available through the Digest are also available in other publications and sources from the NCES, since it is primarily an aggregation of information drawn from NCES surveys and other information-gathering activities. Information from Census Bureau surveys is another source. The Digest is valuable because it pulls out this subject-specific education data and also offers access to some non-governmental data sources. The information is presented in a few different formats. The original, printed version of the Digest was a narrative document that also included tables. The report is still produced in narrative form, but users can now, if they so choose, view only the tables, which can be downloaded as Excel files. The Digest is available in PDF format back to 1990, and printed versions in depository libraries can be found back to the 1960s. As it is currently formatted, the Digest offers statistics for:
All levels of education (enrollment, teachers, schools, attainment, computer and internet use, finances, etc.) Elementary and secondary education Postsecondary education Federal programs for education and related activities Outcomes of education International comparisons of education Libraries and adult education
It is unfortunate that the Institute of Education Sciences and the NCES have not yet created a quickly searchable version of the Digest. As it is currently structured, one must choose from the categories above and drill down to the lists of tables to scan them for the statistics being sought. The tables in the Digest give their statistical sources (e.g., “U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Current Population Reports”), which can be helpful in seeking further information. Since educational attainment and other information regarding educational topics is included in some Census Bureau products, using American FactFinder (see the section on FactFinder and census materials in
Chapter 6) to search for educational statistics can be beneficial, especially given that the Digest does not currently support searching, only browsing. The Nation’s Report Card | The Nation’s Report Card, the vernacular for the National Assessment of
Educational Progress (NAEP), is essentially a measure of what U.S. students specifically the knowledge they have attained in different subjects by the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades. Since the 1960s, the NAEP has assessed U.S. students, and the subjects in which they are currently assessed are:
Mathematics Reading Science Writing The arts Civics Economics Geography U.S. history Technology and engineering literacy
Both public and private schools are included in the assessment samples at the national level, but at the state level, only public schools are included. Results can be viewed nationally, by state, or by certain districts based around urban areas (e.g., Atlanta). The proficiencies are given as percentages of 100 and can be parsed by those students who are at or above basic, at or above proficient, or at advanced level. Students can be parsed by certain groups, such as gender, race/ethnicity, parental education, disability, and English-language learners. These surveys are longitudinal, so the results can also be compared to base years to see the changes that have occurred over time.
Education Demographic and Geographic Estimates and MapED |
Education Demographic and Geographic Estimates (EDGE) is a database created by the NCES to mine data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey in order to show social, economic, and housing conditions for school-age children and their families and to display the information geographically. Because factors that heavily influence the public education system in the United States are strongly related to geography (e.g., local property tax rates that pay for local schools), viewing this type of data in a geographical context can provide a more detailed picture. It is also essential for accurate sampling (i.e., for the Nation’s Report Card and other surveys). Thus EDGE offers geographic data on school district boundaries and so on.Figure 7.1. A MapED “Story Map” showing levels of educational attainment.
This information is closely related to MapED, an NCES tool that allows for the creation of customized maps overlaying educational data. Most of the data is pulled from Census Bureau products such as the American Community Survey, and users can apply filters to an interactive map. They can also view “story maps” already created by NCES to showcase particular topics (e.g., “Enrollment in Public/Private School by Race” or “School Bullying”) or a list of topics from which data maps can be created (e.g., assessments in math and reading, demographics, income and poverty, etc.) is also provided.
Local Education Agency (School District) Universe Survey |
The Local Education Agency (School District) Universe Survey aims to “provide a complete listing of every education agency in the United States responsible for providing free public elementary/secondary instruction or education support services and to provide basic information about all education agencies and the students for whose education these agencies are responsible,” according to its website. This is a tall order. The directories (offered by school year back to 1986) give the data as zipped files that are somewhat difficult to manipulate (they unpack as ASCII text with little or no formatting) but contain general information on the educational agencies (names, addresses, phone numbers, type of institution) along with student information (enrollment counts) and guidance counselors). Education Resources Information Center |
The Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) is an index of literature on the topic of education, and it is an enormous one that is now available for searching online. ERIC dates back to the 1960s and houses over 1.5 million records—in the past, many depository libraries found themselves drowning under the deluge of ERIC microfiche. These records include books, dissertations and theses, journal articles, reports, teaching guides, conference papers, a variety of gray literature, and more. The materials in ERIC are not limited to those produced by government entities—the publications of scholarly and professional organizations, research centers, university presses, and more can all be found in the database. ERIC chooses to index the journal information in its database in three ways:
Comprehensive: If a journal’s content is made up of at least 80 percent
education-related articles, ERIC will include a record for each article in every issue.
Selective: If a journal’s content is 50 to 79 percent education related, then
ERIC will manually select the articles from each issue that it feels should be indexed, based on its selection policy (the full policy is available from the ERIC website).
Occasional: Journals that contain an average of 25 to 49 percent education-
related content are reviewed by ERIC, and certain issues will have articles manually selected for indexing.
A journal title list is offered, as well as listings of nonjournal content. All of this can be searched, with limiters for peer reviewed only or those with full text available, of which there are many.
The content of ERIC has been repackaged for sale by a handful of vendors (e.g., ProQuest), with the only additional benefit being an easier-to-use interface. The free version of ERIC is supported by the National Library of Education, which resides under the Department of Education. For more on the National Library of Education, see the next entry.
National Library of Education and Library of Congress: Teachers |
The National Library of Education (NLE) has been around in its current form since the mid-1990s, but its collection dates back to the late 1800s. Its collection is devoted primarily to education information resources, but it also touches on related fields such as public policy, history, and information science. Like any library, the NLE has a catalog of its collections ( ), and it offers reference services. It is also a member of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), libraries, it is open by appointment only, so reference sessions are arranged by calling the phone number on the website (toll free) or using the online contact form.
The Library of Congress (LC) has an enormous presence—both physical and virtual—so its resources will appear in the different subject sections of this book. The resources the LC offers in the realm of education are particularly noteworthy; it provides an entire sub-site for teachers. This site features materials designed for use with students in the classroom and professional development resources, lesson plans, and more. The primary goal is to showcase parts of the LC collections through classroom use. Classroom materials include:
Primary source sets Lesson plans Presentations and activities Themed resources Collection connections (ideas for teaching using LC collections)
One of the particularly helpful aspects of LC teacher resources is the ability to search classroom materials by certain standards (e.g., Common Core, State Content, Organizations). For instance, if you are interested in finding materials that meet the standards for Language Arts for a first grade class in the state of Alabama, you can easily apply a filter for such a search.
The professional development section of the site features downloadable modules for different development activities along with videos, webinars, and information on workshops and institutes. The LC even offers updates (via email or a RSS feed) directed specifically at teachers.
What Works Clearinghouse | The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) is an attempt to sort through the massive amount of information available in the realm of educational program theory and research. It offers selected studies on programs, products, policies, and practices that are evidence based—research that proves “what works.” The WWC is essentially a curated collection; staff at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) oversees several firms contracted to conduct study reviews and they vet the programs and research. Results are then arranged by topic, including:
Literacy Mathematics Science
Behavior English Learners Teacher Excellence Charter Schools Early Childhood (Pre-K) K–12 Path to Graduation Postsecondary
They can be filtered by grade, class type, school type, delivery method, program type, and outcomes. Reviews of individual studies can also be searched and filtered by study design (randomized controlled trial, single case, etc.). Results are displayed with badges that note that studies meet WWC standards without reservation, that they contain at least one statistically significant finding, and so on. The protocols and standards utilized are mentioned along with the findings, the characteristics of the sample used, and details about the study. ED Data Inventory | /
Still in beta as of this writing, the ED Data Inventory is intended to provide descriptive information on the types of data that are reported to the Department of Education and the datasets that it assembles from what it collects. This includes not only administrative and statistical data that ED compiles but also information that is required to be submitted to the Department as part of grant activities. The inventory is parsed into two separate categories: series and studies. Studies are surveys; in this case those conducted by ED. Series are longitudinal surveys; they are surveys conducted repeatedly over a period of time. Searches can be performed using the Data Inventory, which then directs users to a bibliographic record that offers information on the scope of the study or series, access notes (whether or not the results are open to the public and whom to contact), methodology, study variables, and links to the study files themselves. The study files are presented in a variety of formats depending on what the files contain—everything from web pages to Excel spreadsheets of data.
Educational Datasets from the U.S. Census Bureau
Census Educational Data Census Bureau products are covered in greater detail in Chapter 6, but given this section’s focus on education, a subset of the data available through some census products bears mentioning. Though they are not the only surveys or programs that contain education data, the main census products users will want to consult are:
American Community Survey Annual Survey of School System Finances
The American Community Survey (ACS) includes information on educational attainment which can be broken down by a number of factors, including age, sex, race, and so on. The level of specificity is impressive, ranging from no schooling to nursery school to each grade separated out for all of K–12. Numbers for high school diplomas versus GEDs and some college versus graduating with specific degrees (associate, bachelor’s, master’s, professional school, and doctoral) are also included. The Current Population Survey offers similar data on educational attainment, though the ACS should be consulted for the most detailed data.
The Annual Survey of School System Finances is compiled into a report (recent titles include Public Education Finances) and is offered in print and PDF, but some of the data is also available in tabular format for download. It contains national- and state-level data on both public and charter schools, K–12. The types of data that can be found through this survey include:
Total revenues and expenditures by type for the different levels (e.g., elementary, secondary) Per pupil spending Financial summaries Capital outlays Indebtedness Population, enrollment, and personal income by state
The survey includes aggregated data to provide a picture of national- and state- level educational finances, as well as data for the 100 largest school systems in the United States (based on enrollment numbers).
Selected Commercial Resources
Education Index Retrospective: 1929–1983 There are many databases from a variety of vendors that offer full text of education journals and other sources—EBSCO’s Education Full Text, Gale’s Educator’s Reference Complete, ProQuest’s Education Database, to name a few. The H.W. Wilson Education Index Retrospective: 1929–1983 (now offered by aggregator EBSCO) bears mentioning due to its retrospective coverage. Many of the government sources cited in this section are relatively recent in what they cover, and this works well for most users—they’re interested in the latest research, trends, studies, and programs in the realm of education. But for historical perspective, the Education Index Retrospective is a database worth consulting. It indexes over 800 journals from 1929 to 1983, with many of them being peer reviewed. The database is searchable by subject, title, author,
How Can I Compare Colleges? Higher education is an increasingly more expensive proposition, and many potential students (and their parents) find themselves lost when considering which school might be the best fit. The Department of Education has attempted to address this through its College Scorecard website ( /). Let’s say I want to pursue a bachelor of arts in History; I can use the College Scorecard to select a bachelor’s degree and then choose History as my preferred program of study. Perhaps I want to stay in the Southeast, in a particular state, or within a certain mile radius of a ZIP code —the Scorecard offers all these limiters. I’m from a small town and want something bigger but not too large, which intimidates me. I choose a medium institution (2,000–15,000 undergraduate students). I can also limit by the type of school (public, private nonprofit, private for-profit), the school’s mission (Historically Black Colleges and Universities, women-only, etc.), or its religious affiliation. I put all these factors into the Scorecard, and I’m given a list of schools that meet my parameters. The at-a-glance information for these Scorecards shows me where a school is located, its undergraduate enrollment, the average annual cost of attendance, its graduation rate, and, perhaps most saliently, the average salary after attending. But what do these numbers really mean?
The average annual cost is based on the numbers ED pulls from federal financial student aid statistics—the net cost for these recipients after aid from the school, state, or federal government. What this means is that you could be paying significantly higher than the average annual cost if you don’t qualify for aid. Average annual cost is also based on in-state tuition; out-of-state tuition is considerably more expensive for most institutions. The graduation rate is pretty self-explanatory: a certain percentage of first-time students who enrolled at this school graduated within a specified period of time, typically six years for four- year institutions. The salary after attending is based on the median earnings of former students (also based on federal financial aid recipient data) at the ten- year mark after graduation. This is a median for all programs.
Delving deeper, additional information about each school is offered that students and parents will find helpful for financial planning purposes—the percentage of students at the institution which receive federal student loans, the typical debt load they carry after graduating, and how much that monthly loan payment will cost them. Other information, such as the racial makeup of the student body, test scores, and most popular academic programs, is also included. The test scores are helpful—if your child scored a 20 on his or her ACT, then the Georgia Institute of Technology, where at least 50 percent of students comparison with a single click, showing graphs of all the factors mentioned illustrated side-by-side—up to ten schools can be compared in this way. The Scorecard is not a substitute for checking an individual school’s website for admission standards, full tuition and fees disclosures—but it can certainly offer a starting place when narrowing that list. It also provides information about how much federal aid a student at the school might expect to receive based on income and links out to GI Bill information and how to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The Scorecard isn’t the only tool available from ED for this type of comparison —College Navigator /) is less visually appealing but provides an even greater depth of information. The entries also make it easier to seek further information—links to admissions for the institution, financial aid, online application, and more are available along with quick stats about the number of faculty, tuition and other student expenses (books, room and board, etc.), athletic programs, and more. One notable feature is the Navigator’s percent change for the cost of attendance—it shows users how much tuition and other fees at that institution have increased over a relatively recent period of time. Information such as this can indicate that one school is constantly raising prices while others try to focus on affordability for their students. Overall, where the Scorecard is a graphical overview intended not to overwhelm, College Navigator is the place to go for detailed information. Results can be saved or exported, and favorites lists can be created to keep track of selected schools for comparison.
Another factor to consider in choosing a school is whether or not the institution as a whole or the particular program in which one is interested is accredited. ED’s Office of Postsecondary Education offers a database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs ( , which can be searched by institution, address, city, or state. One can also search by accrediting agency to see what accreditation the school possesses, the accrediting agencies, and the date of accreditation, along with the next review date. This data can be downloaded as Excel files. Accreditation data is also to be found in the detailed view for records in College Navigator.
And lastly, the College Affordability and Transparency Center ( is worth a mention. This tool allows users to generate reports to determine which colleges have the highest or lowest tuition and net prices. It is particularly useful for those interested in the cost of attending career or vocational programs, since this information is often not available in tools focused on two- and four-year institutions. For instance, the College Affordability and Transparency Center allows users to search for cosmetology programs to generate a list which will show how many hours the program requires, the average number of months it takes to complete it, the institutions with the highest jumps in cost by percent increase.
Educational information can be found from state and local government sources, but the U.S. Department of Education’s increasing influence in every aspect of public education at all levels and its regulatory functions ensures that it collects a great deal of information. The federal government:
Sponsors and fosters research about every level of education (K–12 to post-doctoral) in the United States. Collects comparison data to assess U.S. student performance in relation to international peers. Uses the information it collects to formulate policy, allocate funding, and further federal education initiatives.
Energy Environment Selected commercial resources Practical applications
INCE THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT produces policy that regulates
industry and a variety of other factors that can affect the environment, government agencies collect information on the topic. The areas where information is collected (sources of energy, weather, etc.) can be influenced by
the agendas of a particular administration. For instance, if the current occupant of the Oval Office ran on a platform of helping to slow climate change, detailed studies might be commissioned on the environmental effects of different methods of generating power (e.g., coal). By the same token, if his or her successor ran on a platform of restoring jobs to those devastated by regulating the coal industry, these same studies might be abandoned or their parameters modified since some programs are mandated by statute.
There are two primary agencies responsible for the majority of the information generated regarding the environment: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DoE). Both of these agencies are relatively new, as they were founded in 1970 and 1977, respectively. This is not to say that historical information on environmental topics produced by the government is not available before this time. The DoE, for instance, has its origins in the 1940s with the advent of atomic energy. There are also many other, older agencies that intersect with the missions of the EPA and DoE, such as several entities under the Department of the Interior. It is simply that agencies which have within their remit to systematically produce environmental and energy information on the scale of the DoE and the EPA are limited to the last forty years.
The two agencies have different missions. The EPA is primarily a regulatory agency, but it does produce research intended to further strategies that reduce gathering and research agency that is meant to investigate different methods of developing and managing energy production, their effects, and use that information to drive policy. There are other government entities which produce information in these areas (e.g., the aforementioned Department of the Interior) which will also be touched on in this section.
Department of Energy | The DoE website is a portal to an array of resources on energy production under four broad headings: science and innovation, energy economy, security and safety, and energy conservation. Let’s take a look at each.
Science and Innovation: The DoE bills itself as a science agency that funds
research projects on a number of levels. One way it does this is through its
attempting to innovate and find new ways to generate energy—primarily funding research too early in development to garner private-sector investment. When projects are further along, they can seek funding through the DoE Loan Programs Office, which focuses on funding clean energy initiatives, with an eye to speeding their deployment. The DoE also furthers research through its National Laboratories, of which there are currently seventeen. They are:
Ames Argonne Brookhaven Fermi Idaho Lawrence Berkeley Lawrence Livermore Los Alamos National Energy Technology Laboratory National Renewable Energy Laboratory Oak Ridge Pacific Northwest Princeton Plasma Physics Sandia Savannah River SLAC National Accelerator Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator represent a vast array of resources, some of which can be utilized by any facilities.” From accelerators and colliders to nanoscale technologies, these facilities offer external researchers access to world-class tools they can use to perform their own research at no cost for nonproprietary work. Each of these labs has its own web presence which provides more information.
Energy Economy: This section of the portal offers links out to energy
resources for small businesses, data related to energy and its production (covered in detail in the section on the Energy Information Administration), and training modules (webinars, etc.) aimed at different sectors and populations, such as manufacturing or Native American tribes.
Security and Safety: Given that nuclear energy also has other applications,
the DoE plays an integral role not only in promoting nonproliferation of nuclear weapons but also in safeguarding the United States’ own nuclear stockpile. The energy infrastructure of the United States is another area of vulnerability, so the DoE researches and invests in methods to protect against attacks—both physical and in the realm of cybersecurity—on the U.S. energy infrastructure. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve falls under this category—the DoE stockpiles crude oil and other petroleum products as a safeguard against supply interruptions.
Energy Conservation: This section of the portal is geared toward
consumers, and it details different ways consumers, especially homeowners, can make their homes more energy efficient and incorporate cleaner energy alternatives. Energy Information Administration | /
A sub-agency of the DoE, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) is the principal aggregator of information about all aspects of energy production, consumption, and management in the United States, and its statistical datasets are many. The publications from the EIA number in the thousands and cover forms of energy such as petroleum, natural gas, electricity, coal, and nuclear energy. For all of these energies, the EIA produces price, status, and other reports on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.Figure 8.1. The Annual Energy Outlook, published since the 1970s, offers long-term projections regarding energy issues.
In addition to gathering energy data, the EIA also analyzes and makes these projection-type publications is the Annual Energy Outlook. The EIA makes short-term projections (e.g., those available month to month for the upcoming year in the Short-Term Energy Outlook), but the Annual Energy Outlook looks at these projections long term—currently through 2050. The projections in this publication are statistical models of probable energy scenarios based on a variety of assumptions with regard to economics, oil prices, technological advancement, and particular energy policies. The Outlook has been published since the 1970s, and current versions are available digitally with their statistical data offered in tables which can be manipulated and downloaded. Hand in hand with the Annual Energy Outlook is the International Energy Outlook, which employs the same type of modeling for the energy markets of the entire world.
Another popular EIA publication is the Monthly Energy Review, which includes statistics on energy production, consumption, trade, and energy prices. Specific energy sources that are overviewed include petroleum, natural gas, coal, electricity, nuclear power, and renewable energy.
The data from all these publications is funneled into “data browsers,” and EIA offers a total energy data browser. These tools allow users to manipulate the data from different tables, viewing and downloading graphical representations and the numbers themselves. Are you curious about fossil fuel production? Renewable energy consumption? You can download an Excel file that will show this data from 1973 to the present. The browsers include:
Alternative fuel vehicle data Short-Term Energy Outlook data U.S. electronic system operating data Natural gas company-level data Electricity data Annual Energy Outlook data Status of U.S. nuclear outages data International portal International energy statistics International Energy Outlook data Coal data
The site also has mapping features (e.g., coal, petroleum, natural gas, electricity, and renewable energy infrastructure maps).
One of the more useful features on the site for general users is its “Energy Explained” sub-site. It attempts to promote energy literacy through overviews of all the major areas, along with quick facts on consumption, production, imports, exports, and other data and statistics. The language is geared toward the non- expert, there are a number of graphical elements, and browsing is made easy through expandable navigation. National Renewable Energy Laboratory |
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) grew out of the energy crisis of the 1970s when it became apparent that reliance on nonrenewable energy sources was an increasingly thorny proposition. One of the DoE’s seventeen National Laboratories, NREL focuses on a few key areas: sustainable transportation, energy productivity, renewable electricity, and systems integration. NREL partners with many entities to further these enterprises— private industry, nonprofits, state and local governments, and other federal agencies. With these partners, NREL performs research and development with an end goal of increasing energy efficiency and deploying new or optimized renewable energy technologies. NREL publishes information for both the general user (e.g., “Cooling Your Home with Fans and Ventilation”) as well as technical information on manufacturing, bioenergy, building efficiency, chemistry and nanoscience, computational science, solar power, geothermal energy, hydrogen and fuel cells, wind and water power, photovoltaics, and more. These publications can be accessed through the NREL website or through using SciTech Connect, covered in the next section. SciTech Connect |
A product of the DoE’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information, SciTech Connect includes technical reports, citations, journal articles, conference papers, books, patents, and more—basically, the documentation of any research or program sponsored through DoE grants or contracts. The database currently contains close to three million citations, nearly half a million of which include links to full text. The materials these citations represent date from the 1940s to the present, with the majority of the full-text offerings being from after 1991.
SciTech Connect incorporates two now-defunct products, the Office of Scientific and Technical Information Bridge and the Energy Citations Database. The database can be searched or browsed by subject.
Environmental Protection Agency | The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) looks to ensure that Americans’ health and the environment in which they live and work is safe and protected.
From this relatively simple mission statement has grown an immense regulatory presence that encompasses twelve headquarters based around specific concerns (e.g., the EPA Office of Air and Radiation) and ten more regional offices to serve as geographical bases. Most associate EPA regulations with clean air and water, but the EPA oversees a host of issues, from asbestos to bed bugs. Yet certain issues one might assume the EPA would regulate fall outside its jurisdiction
(e.g., nuclear waste, which is the purview of the DoE Office of Environmental state and local government.
In order to formulate its regulations and policies, the EPA oversees designated programs and laboratories for research and development, much like the DoE. These result in a number of publications which are accessed by searching the National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP;
. When using this tool, publications that are
available digitally appear with a PDF icon in the results list. Those publications can then be viewed through the site’s viewer or downloaded and saved. Those that appear with only a U.S. Postal Service symbol are available solely in print but can be ordered and shipped to the user. Searches can be limited by online or tangible publications, or users can also choose to browse publications by title or publication number. Print-only EPA publications can also be located by searching the catalogs of local Federal Depository Libraries.
One available EPA tool that the average American user may have the most interest in is the MyEnvironment application ( ).Figure 8.2. The MyEnvironment tool from the Environmental Protection Agency.
This application cross-references environmental information with geography, allowing users to search for information on specific areas and map them. These maps can be printed, downloaded, or their code copied for integration into websites. The MyEnvironment tool contains information on: Air Water Energy Health Climate Land Communities
The tool can be searched by address, ZIP code, city, county, and even bodies of water and park names.
If the desire is to search through datasets, the EPA provides the Environmental Dataset Gateway tool (EDG; ). There are a large number of EPA datasets accessible through this tool, from regional data to geospatial data to facilities data. Different search options are provided, or the data can be browsed by its owner (the EPA office or entity that created it), the content type (e.g., map files, documents, or downloadable data), or by category:
Agriculture Air Boundaries and basemaps Climate change Ecological Emergency response Energy Enforcement Environmental justice Grants Health and risk Land and cleanup Pesticide, chemicals, and toxins Regulated facilities Waste Water
Any of these datasets can be limited geographically or by one or several combined of the ten EPA regions. Many of these datasets are also available through covered in greater detail later in Chapter 13.
If it is the EPA’s regulations you are after, there are a few different ways to approach the problem, depending on exactly what you are seeking and the information you have. (For more information about regulations, see the section Law and Judicial Interpretation in Chapter 12.) The EPA site offers some browsing options by topic and business sector. The EPA’s regulations are regulations are a done deal. If you are interested in proposed regulations, the Federal Register is updated daily and contains this type of information— proposed rules and regulations. Both the CFR and the Federal Register are available from the Federal Digital System/govinfo. Before starting any search, it’s important to understand the phases that regulations go through before they are official:
Phase 1: Pre-proposal (also called Pre-rule) Phase 2: Proposal Phase 3: Final Rule
For proposed regulations and their progress through the phases, the Regulatory Development and Retrospective Review Tracker (Reg DaRRT;
) is the source to consult. This
database can be searched for information on rulemakings that have not yet been proposed, those that are currently open for public comment, those in EPA’s final rule stage, and rules that have been finalized. Reg DaRRT is also a source to consult for previously finalized rules that are being considered for modification or repeal—retrospective reviews of these rules can be found on the site. (covered in detail in Chapter 12) is another source for EPA rules in different phases of the process with a variety of search options and filters. Unlike Reg DaRRT, contains proposed rules for the spectrum of government agencies, not just the EPA, so sorting through this federal haystack for one EPA needle can be time consuming.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has roots that date back to the early 1800s with federally promoted surveys of the U.S. coast to produce nautical charts. Later in the 1800s, other bureaus and commissions were founded with missions related to atmospheric and oceanic science. All of these entities and their missions would later be combined in the 1970s into NOAA, which is overseen by the Department of Commerce. NOAA collects data on weather, climate, oceans, and coasts, and it disseminates that information; it also uses the data it collects to attempt to predict changes in weather and climate and use these in the interests of conservation. NOAA oversees several sub-agencies, each with its own particular focus:
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) National Ocean Service (NOS) Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS)
National Weather Service (NWS) Each of these offices and services produces information on their specific area of focus, and designated sub-sites provide access to much of the data from each.
The National Weather Service (NWS; /) site is a one- stop shop for almost every imaginable permutation of weather for the United States and other areas. From forecasting to natural disasters to temperature, precipitation, and other historical weather records, is one source that collects them all.
is another NOAA sub-site maintained with the goal of providing
timely information related to climate science. This is a particularly robust sub- site with a “global climate dashboard” to give at-a-glance information on temperature, carbon dioxide, snow cover, sea level, Arctic sea ice, ocean heat, sun energy, glaciers, and heat-trapping gases, to name a few—in essence, all of the main indicators scientists use to track climate change. Maps are also available for a variety of climate-related data, including average temperatures over time down to the state level.Figure 8.3. A section from one of National Ocean Service’s “booklet” format nautical navigation charts.
NOAA’s origins trace back to the geodetic surveys of the 1800s, and its the same information for the same purposes—creating nautical charts and documenting coastal information to further navigation and conservation of America’s coastal and oceanic ecosystems. NOS performs ecological forecasting —it notes ocean “dead zones” (areas of low oxygen that can be fatal to ocean life), algal blooms, coral bleaching, and so on. It produces many charts and other tools (navigation charts, tide and current bulletins, etc.) that are used by those in both recreational and commercial boating or shipping. Many of these products are available in electronic format or can be printed on demand; NOS also offers electronic mapping tools (e.g., NowCOAST). One of NOS’s unique offerings from the Office of Coast Survey is its Historical Maps and Charts Collection ), which features over 35,000 digitized images of nautical maps and charts, city plans, and even Civil War battlefield maps. Some of the articles in this collection represent the earliest charts and maps of what would eventually become the United States. The items can be searched geographically or by place names with several different limiters.Figure 8.4. A postal route map dated circa 1746, from the National Ocean Service Historical Map and Chart Collection.
NOAA also has a Central Library ( ) located in Maryland. It is mainly for use by NOAA employees, affiliates, and those contracted with the government to work with NOAA, but provision is made for the use of its materials by other researchers and the general public by appointment only. The library’s historical collection is particularly notable—it houses works dating back to the seventeenth century. It also contains a large amount of foreign meteorological data and historical meteorological and climate data at the state level for as far back as the nineteenth century. It is the hub of a network of NOAA libraries located in seventeen different states.
Lastly, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI;
) provides public access to the most substantial
collection of environmental information available from the U.S. federal government. NCEI is a recent addition to the federal bureaucracy, having been created by statute in 2015. It subsumed three separate data centers that previously functioned somewhat independently: National Climatic Data Center, NCEI aggregates the datasets of all three. Access to the data is parsed roughly by category:
Bathymetry and global relief Climate monitoring and extremes Coastal and regional Geomagnetism Interactive maps Land-based stations Marine geophysics Marine surface Models Natural hazards Ocean climatologies Ocean data Paleoclimatology Radar Satellite Space weather
It is difficult to stress the size of NOAA’s datasets (over 65,000 and counting), so different methods of access can make navigating them easier. For instance, if browsing by category is inefficient, another method of access for NOAA datasets can be found in the NOAA Dataset Catalog ( ). This tool allows users to search the large number of datasets available from NOAA. Each record offers a brief description of the types of data to be found in the set, along with links out. These links usually include one that points to the dataset landing page on the NCEI sub-site. Other links are also included that contain additional information on the dataset. For users who prefer to navigate the sets geographically, the Global Data Explorer ( ) may prove easier to manage. The tool allows users to first add data (a variety of different options under the broad categories of ocean, atmosphere, land, cryosphere, climate, and weather models) and then visualize that on a global map. Users can then highlight certain parts of the map for capture to save, download, or share. These images can also be run for date ranges. By clicking on the “information” link in the map’s legend, the dataset or sets from which the maps were created are displayed and linked. U.S. Global Change Research Program |
The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is an interagency program which conducts research on all factors which interact to affect global change
(atmosphere, ocean, lands, ecosystems, people, etc.). The seminal product of the NCA and report the findings every four years. The last NCA was published in 2014 and is available, with its datasets, for download from the USGCRP site. The Assessment examines climate first via sectors (e.g., forests, human health, biogeochemical cycles, etc.) and then via region (Northeast, Southeast, the Caribbean, etc.). After presenting all this data, risk analysis is performed, scenarios are modeled, and mitigation strategies are proposed.
While the Assessment is the USGCRP’s most comprehensive publication, it is not the only one. The majority of the USGCRP’s reports (e.g., The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health) from 1998 to the present are available in PDF format from its website. The reports can be filtered by topic, region, or publication year.
Finally, the USGCRP site offers access to the datasets used to construct the NCA and additional federal climate datasets. These can also be filtered by topic or year. The site has a multimedia gallery with graphics and visualizations included in USGCRP reports and graphical representations of climate change indicators (e.g., Annual Greenhouse Gas Index).Figure 8.5. An infographic from the Bureau of Land Management with statistics and information on its Wild Horse and Burro Program.
Department of the Interior Environmental Information The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is sometimes referred to as the department of “everything else” because of the spectrum of its responsibilities, purview of any other government agency. As it currently exists, the DOI oversees a variety of bureaus and offices, several of which are related to environmental matters. These include:
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) National Park Service (NPS) Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSMRE) United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) United States Geological Survey (USGS; covered in detail in Chapter 9, “Geographical Information Systems, Maps, and Other Cartographic Materials”)
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees the land in the United States that is owned by the federal government, which is substantial—the BLM states on its website ( ) that one in every ten acres of land in the United States is public land overseen by the BLM, which is over 245 million acres. It is the BLM which decides and manages the usage of public lands for livestock grazing, energy development, resource harvesting (timber, minerals, etc.), and recreation. BLM has its own library that, like the NOAA library, is geared toward serving BLM employees but also offers assistance to members of the general public. It has digitized and archived over 6,500 BLM publications ( ). Data and records about how land is used and the results of that usage are integral to the stewardship of BLM duties, and they can be found in:
Public Land Statistics: Published annually, these reports contain
information on land acquisition and disposition, commercial uses (e.g., grazing, mining, etc.) and the revenue generated from those uses, and improvements made to the land. Digital versions of these reports dating back to 2001 can be found on the BLM website; earlier reports are available from federal depository libraries.
Program Data: Statistics from some of the most recognizable BLM programs
involving energy and minerals (e.g., oil and gas, coal lease, and renewable energy), National Conservation Lands, and the Wild Horse and Burro Program.
General Land Office Records: The General Land Office (GLO) was an
independent agency responsible for surveying, platting, and selling public lands in the western United States during the country’s great expansion starting in the 1800s. The office was later subsumed by BLM, and many of its records are now available online ). Data includes land patents, survey plats and field notes, and land status records. centralized portal to access BLM geospatial data at the project, state, and national level. There are over 20,000 datasets accessible through the Navigator, from hunting and recreation maps to polygons of grazing pastures. Filters are available for date, location, and more.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is a regulatory agency that deals with leasing rights, mineral activities performed on the continental shelf, and managing energy, primarily oil and gas. BOEM produces fact sheets and other data in those areas of oil and gas, minerals, and renewable energy resources. Because the Bureau is charged with making sure these resources are utilized in an environmentally responsible way, BOEM also produces data, studies, and assessments on its activities with regard to environmental stewardship. These studies can be accessed by searching the Environmental Studies Program Information System (ESPIS;
). Records in the system show project dates,
the region in which the study was conducted, discipline, and the reports that resulted from the study, with PDF links to the full text. Related publications (often journal articles) are also cited in these records. Links to geospatial data and applications are available through the Bureau’s website.
The United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) manages water and hydroelectric power in the western United States. It is a wholesale water supplier to many western states, and it also oversees a number of hydroelectric plants that supply power to these states. Its engineering, research, and development activities produce scientific and technical information as it relates to water resources and hydroelectric power. Examples of the types of publications that result include the Desalination and Water Purification Research Program reports, as well as a variety of environmental assessment reports. USBR has its own library system, which consists of a union catalog of print publications that can be found in its handful of branches.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is another regulatory agency concerned with protecting the environment and conserving offshore resources. One of its most recognizable areas of concern involves deepwater oil drilling. BSEE has a Data Center /) where users can search for raw data, reports, and other information on leasing, pipelines, wells, platform/rigs, production, and more. This information is available as downloadable ASCII files and PDFs of born-digital and scanned documents. An interesting statistical set BSEE collects is of offshore “incidents”—fatalities, injuries, loss of well control, fires, evacuations, etc. BSEE also produces spill summaries of incidents that result in oil spills, with data from the 1960s to the present.
Of all the Department of Interior agencies, the National Park Service (NPS) is perhaps the most familiar to the general public, because it is one of the most visible. The NPS manages not only national parks and monuments but also a conservation—managing and preserving the natural and cultural resources of the United States so that they may be utilized and enjoyed by the public in perpetuity. The NPS has within its purview nearly 85 million acres of public land that include national parks, monuments, battlefields, historical parks, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, and more. Even the White House is a part of the NPS system. The NPS keeps statistics on visitors to the parks and other entities in its system, including how visitors use the parks (tent camping, etc.), the automobile traffic they generate, and other public use statistics. NPS oversees several grant programs related to conservation, education, and historic preservation. Its Historic Structure Reports offer some of the greatest detail on historic structures—they document, in text and with copious images and illustrations, information about a structure’s existing condition and the property’s history. These reports are prepared before any preservation activities begin on historic properties and are one of forty-nine different publications in the Preservation Briefs series, which includes publications with educational and technical information on preserving historic buildings. Also, the NPS publishes a journal on research and resource management entitled Park Science.Figure 8.6. A mackinaw boat at Grand Portage National Monument in Grand Portage, Minnesota, from the National Park Service’s multimedia collections.
The NPS also excels in offering multimedia—its multimedia search ( offers access to over 70,000 photos, videos, and audio files. In addition, NPS offers:
Centennial Media-Quality Photo Gallery—Approximately 500 high-
other national spaces.
Historic Photos Collection—The NPS Historic Photos Collection contains
more than two million images, with about 2,000 of them currently available online ( ).
NPGallery—The NPGallery ( /) is a digital asset
management system containing images, video, audio, maps, presentations, and more. It can be searched by keyword, state, or park, and there are also curated “highlighted” collections, such as Civil War Markers and Monuments.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is a conservation agency that focuses on animal management as a form of natural resource management. It publishes information related to hunting, fishing, recreation, stewardship, and more. It oversees the Endangered Species List, and in collaboration with a variety of different partners, FWS attempts to conserve and restore these species. FWS maintains a database of endangered animals ( which can be searched by species, state, or even county. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the FWS also attempts to manage invasive species, with a variety of programs to further this goal. FWS
available online; others are print volumes held by the Conservation Library. The image collection is especially notable for its access to searchable, high- resolution, and public-domain images of wildlife. To promote conservation education, the National Conservation Training Center ( /) offers online training modules and a full curriculum. Courses, which range in duration from one day to three weeks, carry a tuition fee for non-FWS employees. However, the site also offers a variety of webinars, podcasts, tutorials, and other training videos that can be accessed for free.
Selected Commercial Resources
Gale GREENR The Global Reference on the Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources (GREENR) from Gale/Cengage offers information on many topics covered in this section. The database can be browsed by such topics as:
Agriculture and food systems Pollution Energy Resource management Environment and ecology specific sets within GREENR, such as case studies. The database also includes a GREENR combines freely available government information sources with academic journals, news items, and video. The government information content of the database is most obvious in the resources regarding legislation and regulation. One of the advanced search limiters includes statistics, and many of these are drawn directly from freely available government sources (e.g., the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s State Energy Data System). The search interface is easy to use, and the combination of government information and peer-reviewed academic research (often based on that same government- produced data) with news items helps make for a holistic view of many of these topics.
Practical Applications How Can I Find Out about the Environmental Conditions—Air Quality, Water Quality, Etc
—In My Area? The EPA’s MyEnvironment tool ( ) is designed to make locating this type of information simple. One of the quickest methods for searching is to simply enter your ZIP code. This will bring up a dashboard that charts every environmental condition of note for your area. We will take a look at each condition in detail.
The MyMap section shows your geographic location, with options for air, water, land, and “other”—toxic substances, including those regulated by the EPA, such as PCBs, asbestos, radon, and lead-based paint. You can then expand any of these topics to show checkboxes which, when checked, will display that information on the map. What will be displayed are facilities and sites that are regulated by the EPA for those topics in your area. For instance, if you are interested in seeing facilities the EPA regulates for toxic releases into the air, you check that option and those facilities appear on the map. This is how you see that the chicken feed mill one mile down the road is being monitored by the EPA for releasing toxins into the air or that an alloy manufacturing business close by is monitored for discharging toxins into the water. If you click on the facility, you are linked out to the EPA Facility Information on that business, with all of its pollutant codes and its compliance status with EPA regulations to ensure the environment stays safe.
The MyAir section offers the Air Quality Index (AQI) for your area and charts percentages for a variety of common pollutants, such as ozone. The AQI represents how clean or polluted the air is. It is based on a scale from 0 to 500 and is also color coded so that users can quickly see when conditions give cause for concern about human health.Table 8.1. Air Quality Index
0–50 Good (green) Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air quality poses little or no risk. 51–100 Moderate Air quality is acceptable; however, some pollutants may be a moderate (yellow) health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution. 101– Unhealthy for Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The 150 sensitive groups general public is not likely to be affected.
(orange) 151– Unhealthy (red) Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of 200 sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects. 201– Very unhealthy Health alert: everyone may experience more serious health effects. 300 (purple) 301– Hazardous Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is 500 (maroon) more likely to be affected.
The MyWater section charts information reported to the EPA by the states about water quality, as required biennially by the Clean Water Act. To understand the numbers for water quality, it should be understood that assessment begins with the standards that states and jurisdictions set; these are then approved by the EPA. States and jurisdictions set these standards based on the body of water’s designated use. For instance, water designated for drinking will have different standards than water designated for swimming, and depending on the body of water, designated uses can and often do overlap. To learn more about standards, how they’re set, and how they’re assessed, a stop
ways to support its designated use. These ratings are:
Good—the water fully supports all its designated uses Threatened—the water currently fully supports all its designated uses, but
one or all of its uses can become impaired if pollution controls are not initiated
Impaired—the water cannot support one or more of its designated uses
States will usually list the causes and the sources of impairment (e.g., the pollutants). When it comes to the topic of water quality, people are most often interested in the quality of drinking water, and the EPA has an entirely separate tool, the Safe Drinking Water Information System ( ) to help with locating this information. This tool offers information on water systems, the population served, and the source of the water (e.g., purchased groundwater). Clicking on the link to the system will show if it has any violations, including those that can affect human health.
The MyLand section notes if there are any Proposed, Final, or Deleted places are, they are locations with known or threatened releases of hazardous substances, contaminants, or pollutants—essentially Superfund sites. The EPA Superfund program is responsible for cleaning up polluted and hazardous sites to ensure the environment is safe for public health. Examples of common contaminants include lead, asbestos, and radiation.
Other aspects of how the environment interacts with human health, such as cancer risk assessment, can also be accessed from MyEnvironment along with information about greenhouse gases and energy production, consumption, and prices.
How Can I See How Much I Can Save with Energy Efficient Appliances? We have all seen those yellow EnergyGuide labels on appliances, and most of us probably know that the ones with the little ENERGY STAR logo are supposed to be better somehow. If you are confused about how this system works and how you can use it to save on energy, the Department of Energy provides some tools to help. First, the ENERGY STAR logo simply means that the appliance, window, or other item on which it appears meets certain standards for energy efficiency.
Exact standards can be found through the ENERGY STAR website ( ), along with a variety of tips for saving energy around your home—whether you’re the homeowner or a building contractor. It bears noting that some home upgrades for energy efficiency are also tax deductible.Figure 8.7. An example of the parts included on the ENERGY STAR label, from the Federal Trade Commission.
The EnergyGuide label is now a federal requirement for all new appliances, and it contains some specific criteria: Manufacturer, model number, and size The estimated yearly operating costs, shown on a range that displays operating costs for similar models The ENERGY STAR logo, where applicable Estimated yearly energy consumption, in kilowatts Any key features that make up the cost comparison range for this particular model and those similar to it
How can you use this information to determine if replacing an appliance or other energy-related aspects of your home will save you money and, if so, how much? The DoE provides an energy usage calculator to help with these kinds of
clothes dryers, and prepopulates the wattage value with sample averages that can also be changed if your appliance is older and you know it uses more wattage, for instance. EnergyGuide ratings are based on the U.S. national average utility rate ($0.12 per kilowatt, at the time of this writing), but the Energy Calculator also allows users to adjust for state rates, which can vary. Simply select the appliance, wattage, your state’s utility rate, and then enter the estimated number of hours used per day, and the number of days used per year. The tool calculates how many kilowatts per year the appliance uses, and how much that costs you. You can compare that to the numbers on the EnergyGuide label of the appliance you’re considering, and voila—you can see what buying a new dryer might save you over the period of a year.
How Can I See Past Weather Patterns for My Area? Generally, weather lives in the present and the future. When you look at a weather app or your local weather blog or television station, it is all about what’s going on right now or about forecasting—predicting what will happen in the interests of preparing for it. Occasionally people are interested in learning about what has happened—weather from the past. NOAA offers historical weather data through its datasets, and some of these sets can be
gallery—it contains sets that chart record temperatures and other information of note. To see the weather for a particular location in the past, one way to access this information is to use the Climate Data Online Search
( . Choose “Daily Summaries,” then There are datasets back to 1763, but since we are interested in the weather for a particular ZIP code, we will choose a range in the 1990s. A variety of options for limiting are available (county, city, weather station, etc.), but since we’re interested in the most granular data, we will select ZIP code and enter ours. The area we have selected will appear on a map, and we can add the data to our “Cart” and then select output options, which include PDF and .csv. We can then “Order” our data—input an email address and the National Centers for Environmental Information will send us an email confirmation that they’re processing the request. Once the data is ready (this usually doesn’t take much longer than a few seconds), another email will be received with a link to download it. The reports from this particular dataset will include the high and low temperatures for the day or days selected, the amounts of participation (rain, snow, ice, etc.), wind speed, and even soil temperature.
The federal government regulates a number of factors that affect the environment, so it collects information on the topic. Two primary agencies are responsible for the majority of information produced regarding the environment: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DoE). Other agencies, such as several under the Department of the Interior, also figure heavily in environmental information. Environmental information is collected by the government for the purposes of:
Regulating industry and any other factors that have potentially negative impacts, with an eye to protecting the environment Producing research to calculate environmental impacts Investigating methods of developing and managing energy, natural resources, and so on to drive policy
Geographical Information Systems, Maps, and Other Cartographic Materials
United States Geological Survey Library of Congress Geography and Map Division National Archives and Records Administration Cartographic and Architectural Section U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Geospatial resources Central Intelligence Agency maps Practical applications
EOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION HAS always been an integral part of
U.S. federal government information, so much so that the Instructions to Depository Libraries contained an entire appendix on “Maps Available for 1 Selection.” It can be difficult to extract geographical government information to
consider it separately because so many government agencies and entities include a geographical component to the data they produce—geospatial visualizations of data offer perspective and relatability between datasets. Agencies that vary from the Centers for Disease Control to the Fish and Wildlife Service offer geographical representations of their information and datasets, though cartography and geographical information systems (GIS) are not their primary focus. Thus the geospatial data for these types of government information sources is covered under the subject sections for those resources. This chapter will center on those government sources which are heavily focused on geography—maps, charts, and geospatial systems, primarily the United States Geological Survey and a few other select resources. For information on geographical components of specific subject-based goverment, see those subject sections in other chapters.
United States Geological Survey |
The United States Geological Survey (USGS), a sub-agency of the Department of the Interior, was created by legislation enacted in 1879, and it is the largest mapping agency of the federal government. This mapping initially focused on public lands, geological structures, and mineral resources. Later, the USGS expanded its mission to also include water, biological, and energy resources. The USGS is organized into regional offices for Alaska, Northwest, Pacific, Midwest, Southwest, Northeast, and Southeast, with its headquarters in Reston, Virginia. The USGS also supports a number of science centers, field stations, and laboratories. In the sections that follow, we will take a look at the types of maps and geographical data produced by the USGS.Figure 9.1. Topographic quadrangle map of East Austin, Texas, from the United States Geological Survey’s 7.5-minute map series.
Topographic Maps These maps are probably the most recognizable products of the USGS; they are general use maps presented at a scale of medium to large, and they show elevations using contour lines, hydrography (bodies of water), place names, and cultural features. The current USGS Topographic Maps are created digitally from the GIS databases of USGS. Older maps (those from 1884 to 2006) are available as scanned images of printed maps from the USGS Historical Topographic Maps Collection /). It is important to note how the “same” maps from these two different production methods vary. The new, GIS database maps (known as “US Topo”) are quadrangle topographic maps modeled on USGS’s 7.5-minute, 1:24,000-scale map series (see the “Practical Applications” section for a crash course in these concepts), but they are produced on a repeating cycle (currently every three years) by culling the information from the National Geospatial Program’s GIS database. They essentially repackage GIS data into an easily readable map form. Due to this fact, they do incorporate some GIS functionality—they are available as PDFs but ground coordinates can be displayed, and these PDFs are also layered so that users can turn certain data layers on or off. These layers include shaded relief and aerial photo images. With all this added functionality, you may be wondering: Why would anyone ever prefer the original, traditional topographic maps (known as “US Topographic Maps”)? The newer maps, unfortunately, have some fairly significant omissions, especially in the area of what the USGS terms “feature classes.” These include:
Pipelines Power lines Survey markers Different boundary types Buildings Railroads Recreational trails
This information on the earlier, non-GIS created maps was gleaned from actual surveying—from collecting primary data and doing field verification, which was conducted by USGS personnel. By contrast, GIS maps can only provide a visual representation of the data contained in their systems—if they do not have access to data, they cannot plot it on the map. For many of these features, datasets are not yet available, though USGS is working toward this goal. Railroads, for instance, are now selectively available on some US Topo maps.
Historical topographic maps can be searched, viewed, and downloaded in a variety of formats (GeoTIFF, JPEG, etc.) using the TopoView tool ( /). The new US Topo maps can be easily printed from the PDFs, and the USGS still offers printed maps for selection to depository libraries or printed versions can be purchased through the USGS cartographic materials can be difficult to use in digital format. Geologic Maps
Another well-known product from the USGS is its series of geologic maps. These maps are geared toward providing visual representations of geological features —stratigraphy (i.e., different types of rock layers and their geological timescale), fault lines, and so on. These elements are usually overlaid on a base map. The National Geologic Map Database ( is a USGS tool that allows users to search these maps and filter by such categories as scale, publication date, or format. Searches can be performed by location (using a map or state/territory/county selections), keywords, or author. The maps can also be searched by theme, an extremely helpful addition—this includes information such as geology (bedrock, surficial, etc.), geophysics (magnets, radiometrics, etc.), resources (metals, coal, etc.), hazards (earthquakes, volcanoes, etc.), and more. The USGS uses the National Cooperative Mapping Program to create and maintain this database. This program represents a cooperative data-sharing enterprise between federal and state entities, as well as university partners. The maps in the database are published by a variety of entities: the USGS, state geological surveys, other government agencies, societies, universities, and even the private sector. Some of these maps are available for download; others (printed maps that have not been digitized) are simply cataloged, with information on whom to contact to acquire a copy.
The National Geologic Map Database also offers the MapView tool, a Flash- based way to view geologic maps. Other features of note include the U.S. Geologic Names Lexicon (Geolex), a compilation of the names of geologic units along with descriptions. What this tool provides is a way to search for specific formations with cross-references. For example, what was originally known as Alabama White Limestone has been reallocated to the geologic unit for the Vicksburg Group, and using this cross-reference, users can see the usage (where this geology is found in Alabama), its sub-units (e.g., Bumpnose Limestone), its geological age (i.e., the Tertiary period), the origin of its name, and more.
The USGS has also partnered with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to take its geologic mapping beyond our planet. The Planetary Geologic Mapping Program ( is currently engaged in a variety of projects to produce geologic maps of the planets in our solar system and various moons.
Other USGS Resources The National Map ( ) is a portal that provides access for searching, viewing, and downloading of many different USGS resources, including:
US Topo maps National Hydrography Dataset (maps of surface water)
3D Elevation Program (three-dimensional representations of both natural and constructed features) Orthoimagery (aerial photos that have been corrected for lens distortion, etc.) Transportation maps Elevation maps Structure maps Boundary maps Land cover maps (from the National Land Cover Database;
The National Map also offers access to the Geographic Names Information System ( ). This system is the official nomenclature for geographic names—the names of both physical and cultural features such as bays, cities/towns, mountains, among others. This is important to note for searching purposes since the geographical nomenclature in this system is what the federal government applies to all its geospatial data.
In addition to all this GIS data and mapping, the USGS also produces discrete publications on multiple topics that may include maps or other data but are primarily narratives. These include journal articles, book chapters, and other publications, and the majority are available online, for PDF download, or through the USGS Publications Warehouse .
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division |
It should come as no surprise that the Library of Congress has an impressive collection of cartographic materials and maps—over five million of them. These materials include globes and relief models, geospatial datasets, atlases, nautical and aeronautical charts, geologic/soil/mineral maps, and much more. The date ranges of the collection begin in the fourteenth century and continue through the present; the Library of Congress is always adding to its acquisitions. The Geography and Map Division specialists can help with some specific requests, and the Library has made a portion of its collection available online ( /).
This digital collection, which currently contains over 20,000 maps, can be searched by keyword and limited by a number of factors: date, location, subject, language, and more. The Library has also grouped many of these maps into collections, with such titles as:
Railroad Maps, 1828–1900 the West Indies, 1750–1789 Civil War Maps World War II Military Situation Maps Cities and Towns Discovery and Exploration Panoramic Maps
The maps can be viewed online through the website, which allows for detailed zooming, or the items can also be downloaded in GIF, JPEG, or TIFF formats.
National Archives and Records Administration Cartographic and Architectural Section |
The National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) Cartographic and Architectural Section is home to over fifteen million maps, charts, aerial photographs, architectural drawings, and more. Examples include:
Exploration and scientific surveys Public land surveys Bureau of Indian Affairs maps Hydrography and navigation maps Topography and natural resource maps Census Urban areas Foreign country maps Military campaigns Architectural and engineering drawings and plans Aerial photography
The majority of these resources are not digitized, but users can request reference help from the Section. NARA does offer access to digital versions of some of these materials through its catalog ( . One of the simplest ways to view what cartographic materials are available online is to utilize the advanced search and then limit search results to archival materials online and select “maps and charts” from the type of archival materials selections. Images of the items can then be viewed and downloaded as JPEGs. The catalog currently offers online access to approximately 35,000 maps and charts.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Geospatial Resources |
For decades, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has built infrastructure with projects such as dredging waterways and cleaning up hazardous waste sites. As a corollary of its engineering duties, the Corps also produces a large number of cartographic materials and GIS systems. The Corps Geospatial Platform ( offers a few different map and geospatial information viewers that allow for a real-time display of such features as watershed data and atmospheric data, to name just two. Links can also be found here to current Corps projects, which inevitably include cartographic materials. One of the most widely used series of publications from the Corps is the navigation charts for rivers and other bodies of water in the United States. Many of these charts are available online through the Corps of Engineers sub- sites for individual districts, or printed versions can be found in depository libraries or purchased directly from the government through the Government Publishing Office Bookstore ( .
Central Intelligence Agency Maps |
In the course of its duties, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has produced and offered to the public a variety of maps. Its primary public-use publication, the CIA World Factbook, has been unclassified and made available to the public since the 1970s. The Factbook is a compendium of country and region information that includes history, people, government, economy, communications, transportation, military, and geography. Due to this last inclusion, the Factbook is replete with world, regional, and country maps.Figure 9.2. Central Intelligence Agency physiography map of Austria, 2000.
These maps fall into one of two categories: political or physical. The CIA usually produces both for each country or region being considered, and they are updated on a regular basis. The political maps are brightly colored to show country borders and capitals whereas the physical maps are shown in natural tones. The physical maps still show country borders and capitals but also contours and relief to highlight landforms, such as mountains, and hydrographies, such as major rivers and lakes. Transportation and other features of note are also sometimes mapped. For the online version of the
or region. Area comparison maps are also included in this section, which overlay the country over the map of the United States to give an idea of relative scale. ( ). This section offers links to the maps which can be downloaded as high- resolution JPEGs or PDFs. All these CIA maps are public domain, and they can be downloaded, printed, and freely used. The maps can also be found in many depository libraries.
How Do I Understand All of This USGS Map Terminology? A variety of textbooks are available on the field of geography, including map reading; it is beyond the scope of this work to cover the subject in detail.
However, there are some quick basics that will help you decipher what you are looking at when it comes to government information cartographic products, the first of these being scale. We have all seen the disclaimers: “not to scale.” This means that what you are looking at is not the actual size of whatever that image is meant to represent, whether it is a LEGO model of the Eiffel Tower or a drawing of a triceratops. In terms of cartography, scale is the ratio of distance world usually equates this to the metric system, many U.S. maps use inches. If a map is like most of the 7.5-minute series of USGS maps and shown at a 1:24,000 scale, the first number is your unit of measurement on the map (an inch), and the second is the equivalent of that same measurement in the real world that the map represents. Thus, one inch on the map represents 24,000 inches (2,000 feet) in the real world. With this information, you now know how to calculate real-world distances using measurements on your map. The corollary here is that the smaller that second number is, the more detailed the map will be. (What often blows beginning geography students’ minds is that the smaller the second number, the larger the scale—it’s an inverse correlation.) Maps are usually broken into one of three categories: large scale, intermediate or medium scale, and small scale. USGS topographic maps generally run from 1:20,000 to 1:1,000,000.Table 9.1. Map Scales
Large scale 1:50,000 or greater Intermediate 1:50,000 to 1:250,000 Small scale Smaller than 1:250,000
That brings us to minutes. When a USGS map is labeled as a 7.5-minute map, what does that actually mean? This relates to latitude and longitude. There are 360 degrees of longitude (the distance from the meridian of the earth, at Greenwich, England), and there are 180 degrees of latitude (the distance north or south from the earth’s equator). Each degree can be broken down into 60 minutes. Therefore, when a USGS map is designated as a 7.5-minute map that simply means the map shows 7.5 minutes of latitude by 7.5 minutes of longitude. If it were a 15-minute map, then it would be showing 15 minutes of latitude by 15 minutes of longitude.
And finally, a note on symbols: Many of the features represented on topographic maps (boundaries, buildings, etc.) are marked with symbols. For instance, the type of dashing on a boundary line will tell you whether that boundary is national, state, represents a city, or so on. Other symbols denote if the area you are heading into is a bog or a forest. The USGS offers publications 2 that list and describe all these symbols, such as US Topo Map Symbols.
It can be difficult to consider geographical information separately when it comes to government information, because many government agencies include are some governmental entities whose primary mission is geographical, most notably the U.S. Geological Survey. These governmental entities produce:
Maps (topographical, political, etc.) Charts Geospatial systemsFigure 9.3. A key for topographic map symbols from the U.S. Geological Survey.
1. U.S. Government Printing Office, Instructions to Depository Libraries (Washington, DC: Library Programs Service, Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 2000).
2. U.S. Geological Survey, US Topo Map Symbols (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior,
Health, Medical, and Consumer Information
Health and medical information Consumer information Practical applications
HOUGH PERHAPS THE BANE OF general practitioners, Americans now
often seek health and medical information through the internet before and after consultation with medical professionals. The volume of information available is staggering, as is the spectrum of authority from which it
is issued (on the order of “good” to “absolutely abysmal”). It can be difficult to sort through this information or to know where to look for authoritative sources, especially those that are freely available. Luckily, the federal government is interested in promoting the health of its citizens and providing information for them on various topics, and we will take a look at some of the more useful sources for this information in this chapter.
Another major function the federal government has taken upon itself is the protection of its citizens from threats to their health—whether it is physical or mental. Some of this information was covered in detail in Chapter 8, so this chapter will focus more on the realm of consumer information, though there is some overlap. The government offers information it hopes citizens will use to educate themselves so that they can be safer, wiser consumers, and we will also take a look at some helpful resources in that realm.
Health and Medical Information Department of Health and Human Services |
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is tasked with protecting department that has within its organizational chart many of the most readily recognizable health-related government agencies: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and more. In the sections that follow, some of these sub-agencies will be examined to provide elucidation on the plethora of resources they offer related to health and medicine.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention |
With the advent of quick and relatively easy global travel, the threat of pandemic disease outbreaks has skyrocketed, as evidenced by recent virus scares from particularly virulent strains of influenza to Ebola. Connectivity in the social media realm has also resulted in an unprecedented spread of misinformation about a variety of health topics (e.g., vaccinations). Thus, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has become increasingly visible in its struggle to protect Americans from foreign and domestic diseases—and occasionally themselves.
The CDC is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, and also has ten more facilities located throughout the United States. It is staffed by epidemiologists, doctors, nurses, and a variety of other specializations focusing on public health, and it also liaises with state and local health departments. One of the main components of the CDC’s strategy is to provide publicly available information so that not only government policymakers, but also the average American, can make informed decisions about his or her health.
The main website for the CDC offers a variety of resources about: Specific diseases (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc.) Healthy living (smoking, obesity, food safety, etc.) Travelers’ health issues (travel notices, finding medical care in foreign countries, etc.) Emergency preparedness
The amount of information available through this portal is staggering, so resorting to the A to Z index can be helpful when looking for something specific. The site is well-indexed, even including “see also” references.
The CDC oversees a number of sub-agencies that provide medical and health data and resources, so the following sections will look at some of these agencies in detail. National Center for Health Statistics | / The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) is the principal statistical the NCHS conducts a number of surveys and employs various methods of data collection, including:
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)—Since
1999 and conducted continuously using a representative sample of about 5,000 people each year, this survey examines lifestyle factors, heredity, and environment and collects data on chronic health conditions (e.g., anemia, cardiovascular disease) and other health indicators, such as nutrition, physical fitness and function, and reproductive history and sexual behavior.
National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)—This survey dates back to the
1950s, and its data is collected for NCHS by the Census Bureau. It melds the collection of demographic data with health conditions, access to health care, behaviors, and more. It is used to monitor trends in illness, disabilities, and the effectiveness of health programs.
National Survey of Family Growth (NFSG)—Used for statistical modeling
of family life—marriage, divorce, pregnancy, infertility, contraceptive use, and reproductive health.
National Vital Statistics System (NVSS)—By working with partners at the
state and local level, NCHS gathers vital statistics: births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and fetal deaths. This data is published in the National Vital Statistics Reports.
National Death Index (NDI)—This is a centralized database of information to be found in death records gleaned from state and local vital statistics offices. Vital Statistics Rapid Release—This program offers quarterly estimates of
birth and death rates, as well as information on special surveillance activities (e.g., drug overdose deaths). These are estimates of data intended to provide the timeliest access to vital statistics.
National Health Care Surveys—These are provider-based surveys of
different types of healthcare facilities and providers, including adult day centers, community health centers, hospitals, nursing homes, prison health facilities, and more.
While some of the information is restricted, the majority collected through these surveys and programs is made publicly available as datasets. It also provides the basis for a multitude of publications—both government and private- sector—which analyze and provide narrative frameworks for this data. One such publication is the Health, United States report, an annual publication that compiles many of these statistics and analyzes them to pinpoint national health trends; the report is available online or in print format and includes a chart book and trend tables available for download from the digital version.
The data from NCHS surveys is used to determine national standards (e.g., the growth charts that pediatricians use to evaluate children’s growth) and also to drive policy. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration often uses statistics from NCHS surveys to tweak vitamin and mineral fortification awareness programs put forth by the government—from campaigns to fight the obesity epidemic to those attempting to increase awareness of undiagnosed diabetes. CDC Databases and Access Tools
The surveys and data programs mentioned collect the data, and the CDC offers a variety of methods for accessing it. The CDC Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiological Research (WONDER) ( ) is one such tool. It allows users to construct queries for specific data (e.g., deaths, HIV and AIDS, cancer, and much more), formulate tables and download the statistics, and even create maps and charts using the data. The WONDER system compiles its data from several databases and offers data on topics including:
Chronic conditions Communicable diseases Environmental health (e.g., exposure to lead) Health practice and prevention (e.g., immunization) Injury prevention
For any health-related statistic, WONDER provides a good starting point, especially if the user is uncertain exactly which survey or dataset would contain the desired information. It is also a phenomenal tool for comparison data (for instance, the rates of a certain type of cancer by state or region compared with obesity rates for those same regions).
When it comes to injury statistics, the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS; ) is a good source for accessing this type of data. This database offers access to statistics on fatal and nonfatal injuries, violent deaths, and the cost of injuries. It features mapping capabilities and charts which offer at-a-glance information. For instance, WISQARS provides charts on the ten leading causes of death by age group, so one can easily see that for ages fifteen to thirty-four, unintentional injury is the leading cause of death, followed by suicide and homicide.Figure 10.1. Top ten leading causes of death in the United States, by age group, from the Web- based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System.
The Sortable Risk Factors and Health Indicators ( offers online access to datasets comprised of health indicators that can be combined with behavioral risk factors. In this way, users can see how behaviors affect health outcomes. Thirty-three health indicators are categorized into four groups:
Death rates (heart disease, poisoning, etc.) Health burden (adult obesity, high cholesterol, etc.) Risk factors (smoking, nutrition, seat belt usage, etc.) Preventative services (flu vaccination, cancer screening, etc.)
These factors can be viewed in a number of ways—by state or region, gender, race/ethnicity, and so on. Results can also be viewed on a map, charts and graphs are available, and the information can be exported as .csv files.
In addition to these tools, the CDC offers the site, which incorporates most of the statistics from the NCHS survey programs along with other CDC statistical information, such as U.S. Cancer Statistics and data from the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. This source contains everything from datasets arranged in tabular form to maps and calendars. It is essentially a catalog of datasets, with descriptive information about what they contain and also links to related content that uses the data in that particular formats, including .csv and .xml.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality |
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) provides several databases that cover topics such as health care (systems and costs), health insurance coverage, hospital care trends, and patient satisfaction. One of the major datasets collected is the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP). It includes information on:
In-patient stays Ambulatory surgery visits Emergency department visits
The data collected by the Project is parsed into a variety of databases that can be searched for specific information on demographic subsets (e.g., children) or by region, state, or county. These databases can be accessed through HCPUNet ( ), which consolidates all this information and allows users to build tables and graphs and print or download the data as .xls or .csv. State Snapshots ( is one such database geared toward showing disparities in health care by state.
Another dataset gathered by AHRQ is the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). This survey collects data on how U.S. citizens use and pay for their medical care—health insurance data and out-of-pocket spending on health care.
It is conducted annually and has several different respondent components to create its overall picture: household (information from families and individuals), provider (medical care providers), and insurer (health insurance companies). The data from this survey is available through the MEPS website ( , where the data itself can be downloaded or publications which feature the data can be accessed.
Health Resources and Services Administration Data Warehouse | https://datawarehouse.hrsa.gov /
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) focuses on providing healthcare resources and services to isolated, underprivileged, or otherwise disadvantaged populations, and its Data Warehouse offers a few resources users will wish to consult. Its Fact Sheets are available for the nation, region, state, county, or congressional district and show expenditures on particular programs (e.g., rural health funding) as well as demographic information. The data can be browsed by topic or viewed as charts and on maps.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration | https://www.samhsa.gov /
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is an agency that attempts to mitigate the negative impacts of substance abuse and mental illness on public health. It publishes a number of reports and other publications which can be found in depository libraries and are available through the publications ordering section of the SAMHSA website ( . These publications include topics that vary from addiction counseling to anger management to teen suicide prevention, and they are free to order, though shipping charges apply. Publications can also be downloaded directly from the site in PDF format. It also provides raw data gleaned from emergency services, substance abuse facilities, mental health facilities, and more. The reports and data can be parsed geographically.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry |
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), like the CDC with which it often works closely, is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. It also has certain elements in common with the EPA in that it responds to environmental factors that are harmful to human health. Whether the substances are natural or man-made, ATSDR investigates these hazards and implements mitigation efforts. It provides a variety of informational resources on toxic substances. Users can browse the site by particular substances (e.g., chromium, DDT, lead) or read public health assessments of specific sites of concern. Of particular interest is the Toxic Substances Portal ( , which offers access to information about toxic substances—by chemical classification, by the effects on different organs and systems, by the audience (for community members, emergency responders, health professionals), and more. The portal even offers a map feature which shows toxic substances known to be present by state.
National Institutes of Health | https://www.nih.gov
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is primarily a research agency that produces a wealth of information about human health conditions in an effort to lengthen Americans’ lifespans and improve their health. NIH is made up of twenty-seven separate institutes and centers; in the case of the institutes, most are geared toward a particular system or disease:
National Cancer Institute National Eye Institute National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
National Human Genome Research Institute National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering National Institute of Child Health and Human Development National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases National Institute on Drug Abuse National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences National Institute of General Medical Sciences National Institute of Mental Health National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke National Institute of Nursing Research National Library of Medicine
Some resources offered by these different institutes are covered below. Most of these institutes offer links to data, statistics, and publications through their individual websites, and many are interconnected. Thus, when searching for data on a particular condition or population segment (e.g., minorities or the elderly), check the list of institutes, and if the topic is a specialty of one of these institutes, its website is a good place to start for access to information, publications, statistics, and interactive tools that allow for deeper research. MEDLINE/PubMed |
MEDLINE is a database available from the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) that contains close to thirty million citations and abstracts for international biomedical literature. PubMed is the public access component, which also links out to the full text of articles where available. Searching in PubMed includes all the usual functionality one would expect from aggregator databases, such as author and journal title searches, but there are also some added search capabilities, such as by grant number. The National Library of Medicine uses medical subject headings, which can also be searched in the database.
PubMed itself is divided into a few different versions: PubMed Central, which is a subset that contains full-text articles (currently over four million), and PubMed Health. PubMed Health is geared more toward both general consumers and clinicians, offering evidence-based information on effective treatments for health conditions. There are technical reports for clinicians but also simplistic summaries for general users about prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions. Drug Information Portal |
The Drug Information Portal is maintained by the National Library of Medicine, and it’s a one-stop shop for finding all kinds of information on over 70,000 medications. The database offers a simple search by the name of the drug or by drug category. The results returned will give a description of the drug, the category into which it falls (e.g., ACE inhibitor), and what that means, followed by a variety of links to information including:
Summary of drug information in MEDLINEPlus Summary of consumer health information in MEDLINEPlus Summary of drug-induced liver injury in LiverTox Summary of drug information and clinical research in PubMed Health Manufacturer drug label from DailyMed Clinical trials from Drug identification and pill display from Pillbox Additional links are offered to journal articles, chemical resources, and more.
The portal gleans the majority of this information from different sources within the National Institutes of Health, but it offers all of it in a convenient and easily searchable format, saving the user from having to perform multiple searches on several sites to locate the same information.
The National Library of Medicine maintains the website, which is a resource for patients, healthcare professionals and researchers, and the general public to provide information on clinical trials, both publicly and privately supported. The information on the site is provided by the sponsors or principal investigators of the studies. Only clinical studies in the United States that are required by law to be registered are included in the database, so certain types of studies (e.g., observational studies that do not revolve around a drug or device) will not be found in this resource.
There are currently over 250,000 studies from 201 countries registered in the database. They can be searched by the condition or disease intended to be treated or by the drug name, investigator name, or country. There is also a search for those looking to participate in certain studies. Users can put in a condition from which they suffer, and a list of studies will show up which are recruiting for participants along with information about the study and whom to contact. If a study has been completed, links to study results are included. These are the description of the sample treated and the treatment given, outcome measures, and serious and other adverse effects. National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program | The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) is a major source for cancer-related statistics in the United States. It offers a number of tools for accessing the data it produces. The home page provides access to quick stats; users can choose a type of cancer from a drop-down menu and are provided with current statistics on new cases, deaths, survival rates, and more. It is all parsed in easy-to-understand terms (“How common is this cancer? Who gets this cancer? Who dies from this cancer?”), complete with charts and graphs. The datasets themselves can be accessed through designated software, and SEER offers interactive tools for mapping. One tool users will want to consult for constructing queries is SEER Explorer ( . This tool offers searching by type of cancer with a range of filters (age, sex, race, etc.), long-term trends, survival rates, and so on. SEER produces narrative reports based on the data it collects and journal articles and monographs, many of which can be accessed through the site along with their statistical tables.
is a portal that offers access to the data and information that
result from the research of the National Institutes of Health and a variety of other agencies, including state and local governments. Datasets are available for searching or browsing by topics, by format, or publisher. The data can then be downloaded.
Whereasis a portal from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion that is directed at general users. It is divided into broad categories that include food and nutrition, physical activity, health literacy, and health care. This is the type of source one would consult to find guidelines on physical activity. also has two significant sub-sites: .
features information on preventative medicine and general
wellness, aimed at healthcare providers (for them to use with their patients) and the public. The information is arranged topically, from doctor visits to parenting. There is the “myhealthfinder” tool, which allows users to input their information and receive personalized recommendations for preventative health services. There are also links to help users find local service providers.
Finally, is the web-based version of a publication that has formerly been available in print. The Healthy People reports began in the 1970s from the Surgeon General’s office and have evolved into a collection of health objectives and indicators for the nation that are regularly updated to determine how well health objectives are being met. Though there are over 1,200 separate objectives, they have been broken down into a few leading health indicators: Access to health services Clinical preventative services Environmental quality Injury and violence Maternal, infant, and child health Mental health Nutrition, physical activity, and obesity Oral health Reproductive and sexual health Social determinants Substance abuse Tobacco
Data is available for all of these indicators. For instance, by selecting the “access to health services” indicator, links are provided to such data as “persons with health insurance by educational attainment.” The DATA2020 tool on the site allows for searching by topic, at the national and state level, and by disparities. One can also use this tool to see the vast number of datasets from which this information is culled by using the “data source” filters. Also, the site features evidence-based resources to help healthcare providers and the general public achieve health outcomes.
National Library of Medicine Digital Collections | The majority of the resources examined already have focused on more current health and medical information. However, the National Library of Medicine has digitized some historical collections that offer insight into the history of medicine. They include:
Images from the history of medicine (approximately 70,000 to date) Medicine in the Americas, 1610–1920 World War I and World War II Cholera, 1817–1900 Unique English imprints, pre-1800
CIA World Factbook Health Information |
T he World Factbook from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), covered in other chapters, may seem like an odd source for health information, but it is a fantastic resource that contains international health information difficult to find in any other single source. For instance, if one wishes to look at figures for life information for all the countries within its dataset, and it is easily downloadable and usable for comparison purposes. The Factbook also offers information on a per country basis on topics such as health expenditures, birth and death rates, infant and maternal mortality rates, fertility rates, obesity, and HIV/AIDS prevalence. The easiest way to view this information in the online version is through the country comparisons—seeing what information can be accessed and downloaded from these can be done by selecting the “References” tab and then “Guide to Country Comparisons.”
Consumer Information Food and Drug Administration Tools |
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a regulatory agency that is tasked with protecting the public by ensuring that the drugs they take, the cosmetics and other bodily products they use, and the foods they ingest are safe. It may seem counterintuitive, but there are certain food products that are outside the purview of the FDA. This includes meat from livestock and poultry and egg products—the responsibility for ensuring the safety of these products falls within the responsibilities of the Department of Agriculture.
The FDA offers resources to help consumers educate themselves about the items it regulates, which include: Food Drugs Medical devices Radiation-emitting products Vaccines, blood, and biologics Animal and veterinary products Cosmetics Tobacco products
One such resource is the Educational Resource Library, which is a compilation of printable educational materials on food safety, cosmetics, and nutrition. The FDA produces different publications in the “What You Need to Know” series that are intended to educate consumers to help them prevent food-borne illnesses and to understand the risks inherent in consuming certain types of food and beverages.Figure 10.2. A Food and Drug Administration “Food Facts” sheet providing information on carbonated beverages.
When it comes to drugs, the FDA offers DailyMed ( ) in partnership with the National Library of Medicine. This database can be searched by medication name, category, and more, and it is not limited specifically to drugs prescribed for humans—it can also be searched for animal drugs. Just about everything a consumer might need to know about a particular drug can be found through DailyMed, including all the information on the drug label and pictures of the medication. Links out to related information in PubMed, , and more are also provided.
Much of this information is duplicated in other sources (such as NLM’s drug information portal), but DailyMed offers an aesthetically pleasing interface and different versions for consumers and medical practitioners.
The FDA provides mechanisms for consumer complaints on everything from pet food to cosmetics. Consumers can use the MedWatch Online Reporting system ( to report adverse effects, quality issues, and therapeutic failures for medications, biologics, medical devices, nutritional products (e.g., infant formula), cosmetics, and food and beverages. The FDA is also the source to consult for recalls of products due to health and safety issues. The FDA keeps a running list of recalls ( ), which includes the date, name/description of the product, the brand name under which it was produced, the company that produced it, and why it was recalled.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Tools |
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is another massive department with a variety of responsibilities under its purview, some of which include offices that are important in the area of consumer safety, especially in regard to food. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is tasked with inspecting meat, poultry, and eggs to make sure that they are safe for human consumption and that they are properly labeled. While the FSIS does occasionally issue recalls and public alerts, since 2012 it has focused on a policy that requires companies to hold products until test results come back, ensuring that unsafe products are not released to the public in the first place. Lists of public safety alerts are available from FSIS’s website ( ).
The FSIS makes some of its datasets publicly available, while others require procuring a login for an approved account from the agency. Those datasets that are available publicly can be found through and include meat and poultry sampling data, progress reports on salmonella and other testing, and summaries of recall data.
The FSIS is also the primary agency behind in partnership provides a centralized portal for information on recalls and allows users to sign up for automatic alerts. It offers a variety of consumer information on how to store certain foods and beverages and health information on the symptoms of food poisoning and food-borne illnesses. One of the site’s unique features is a section for specific populations that may be at risk (e.g., those with cancer or women who are pregnant) and the categories of food and beverages that may be dangerous for these populations.
TOXNET, from the National Library of Medicine, is a network of different databases on a number of different topics including chemicals, drugs, diseases and the environment, poisoning, toxicology, and more. This is the resource to consult when seeking information about chemicals or drugs that may be associated with risks for particular diseases, or when seeking to learn if a chemical or substance is toxic. TOXNET is interconnected to other NLM resources, such as PubMed, to which it provides links. Table 10.1 delineates the databases included in the network.Table 10.1. TOXNET Databases
DATABASES IN THE TOXNET NETWORK DESCRIPTION ChemIDplus Records on chemical structures, molecular formulas, physical properties, etc.
Chemical Carcinogenesis Research Information System (CCRIS) Records on chemicals which include carcinogenicity (cancer-causality), mutagenicity, tumor promotion/inhibition, etc.
Carcinogenic Potency Database (CPDB) Provides historical information from tests conducted since the 1950s on long-term animal cancer testing.
Comparative Toxicogenomics Database (CTD) Provides information about the mechanisms that underlie environmentally influenced diseases.
Genetic Toxicology Data Bank (GENE-TOX) Created by the EPA, this provides genetic toxicology results on chemicals.
Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB) Provides information on potentially hazardous chemicals, including emergency handling procedures, exposure, detection methods, etc.
Haz-Map An occupational health database about the health effects of exposure to chemicals and biological agents.
Household Products Database Contains information on the health effects of chemicals found in common householdproducts. Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS)
An EPA-created resource that evaluates information on health effects of environmental contaminants.
International Toxicity Estimates Charts health risks and cancer classifications for chemicals of environmental concernfor Risk (ITER) worldwide.
Drugs and Lactation Database A database of drugs and chemicals to which lactating mothers might be exposed and(LactMed) the possible adverse effects to nursing infants.
Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Contains data, starting in 1987, on air, water, land, and underground releases of toxins that have been reported to the EPA.
TOXMAP A GIS that uses maps of the United States to show the amount and location of toxicchemicals released into the environment. TOXLINE Bibliographic information from the 1840s to the present on the biochemical, pharmacological, physiological, and toxicological effects of drugs and other chemicals. Developmental and Reproductive A search profile run against PubMed to create a subset of literature related to Toxicology Database (DART) reproductive and developmental toxicology.
How Can I Find Statistics on Causes of Death in the United States? First of all, when it comes to health and medical statistics, if you are completely lost about what is out there, how this data is collected, and so forth, the National Library of Medicine has a free online course you can take: “Finding and Using Health Statistics” .
This course can be invaluable in providing an overview of the types of sources available and effective search and utilization strategies.
Cause of death is what is known as a “vital” statistic; this category includes births, deaths, and marriages. The statistics used by most sources on cause of death are gleaned from death certificates, which are not only used by those in the health field to track mortality of certain diseases or within certain populations but also for administrative purposes—insurance companies use death certificates to determine payouts, and law enforcement officials use them to determine if a criminal investigation into a death is warranted.
Compiling statistics on cause of death can be accomplished using the mortality data available from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS;
). The NVSS’s mortality
tables in PDF format offer tabulations of deaths by five-year age groups, race, and sex up until 2006, and statistics after that can be searched through CDC Wonder (which also includes links to the archived versions of historical statistics). There is some overlap; 1999 to the present can be searched by a variety of limiters (state/county/city/region, age, gender, and race, etc.). CDC Wonder ( makes it easy to see the top fifteen leading causes of death. CDC Wonder includes features for mapping this data and creating charts. One can even select the day of the week of the death, the place (e.g., home, hospice, ER, etc.), and whether or not an autopsy was performed. All of these results can be exported. One especially useful feature is the
“underlying cause of death”—factors that caused the events which led to death. cause may be something like a heart attack, but death occurred because of drug abuse. There are codes for different underlying causes, and the database even allows limiters, such as injury mechanisms (firearm, machinery, etc.) and the intent of the injury (suicide, homicide, unintentional, etc.).
How Can I Locate Authoritative Information about Vaccines? Due to a growing number of Americans’ refusal to have their children vaccinated, diseases which were once thought eradicated in this country are seeing a resurgence, much to the chagrin of health professionals and the federal government. There is a great deal of misinformation floating around the internet, and it can be difficult to find authoritative sources which address issues related to vaccines or provide a place to report problems that will be scientifically investigated. That is where the Department of Health and Human Services’ Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS;
) can come in handy. This program has been around since
the 1990s, and it is designed to detect any health-related issues in U.S.-licensed vaccines. It is a product of cooperation between the CDC and the FDA, and it allows for reporting of adverse effects encountered when using vaccines by filling out an online form. The data from this reporting is available for download from the VAERS site, or it can be accessed through CDC Wonder. The data can be searched for symptoms, vaccine characteristics (name, manufacturer, dose, lot, etc.), and more and limited by age, gender, and location. The degree of granularity is impressive—users can find out whether the adverse reaction was life threatening, required hospitalization, the amount of time from vaccination to onset, and more. The CDC and the FDA investigate all serious adverse events, though their subsequent investigations are not used to update the records in the
VAERS system (e.g., if they determine that a reported effect was unrelated to vaccination). Thus it’s important to remember that anecdotal information is just that, and correlation does not equal causality—an adverse occurrence may happen sometime after a vaccine was given, but that does not mean the vaccine caused that reaction. Underlying conditions, other medications, environmental factors, and even chance can account for certain reactions consumers may attribute to a vaccine. VAERS statistics are often used in the media and by certain groups to imply causality, and this is a misuse of the data since this surveillance program uses unverified reports from consumers.
This is where the CDC’s vaccine information statements ( ) can provide elucidation. These documents are legally mandated to be provided to either the recipient of a vaccine or his or her legal guardian, and they contain information on:
Why you should get vaccinated, how certain diseases are spread, and how they affect those who contract them Who should not be given the vaccine due to certain factors (e.g., allergies to vaccine components) Risks of certain reactions What to look for in the event of an adverse reaction
The CDC’s landing page on vaccination and immunizations is a fantastic resource in general for information about vaccinations, from making sure children are up-to-date with their vaccination scheduling to information on vaccination coverage and exemption rates. This site also parses information for specific groups of people who may have conditions that could affect vaccination and immunity. One of the particularly helpful aspects of the site is its information for travelers. You can select the country to which you will be traveling, and the CDC will provide you with recommended vaccinations, tips on how to eat and drink safely, health travel packing tips, and travel health notices.
The federal government has a vested interest in promoting the health of its citizens, and there are a number of government agencies which focus on health and medical information. The government sponsors a vast array of health- related research and shoulders the responsibility for mitigating threats to public health. Key agencies that further these goals include:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Institutes of Health U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Drug Administration
Patents and trademarks Copyright Selected commercial resources Practical applications
HERE ARE U.S. GOVERNMENTAL ENTITIES, specifically the United
States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which create a large amount of information regarding intellectual property and are repositories for the patents and trademarks themselves. This chapter will take a look at the
government information products produced in this realm. There is also no shame in admitting that one doesn’t speak patent and trademark law—it is a shadowy landscape of differentiation where lawyers are often necessary and the average person can find the whole process confusing and, more likely, terrifying.
It may also seem odd to cover a topic such as copyright in a work on government information, since the majority of government information falls within the public domain. Yet the federal government, through the U.S. Copyright Office, is responsible for administering the complex statutory framework that is U.S. copyright law and registering said copyrights. Thus it generates a substantial amount of information on copyright, and this chapter will touch on some of those resources as well.
Government information librarians on the front lines often encounter intellectual property questions, but the good news is that it is generally not within the librarian’s purview to offer more than basic information to guide the user. The resources in this chapter will help librarians to set users on the right path, without wading into murky waters best left to attorneys or professional firms. If you find you aren’t in possession of a working knowledge of terminology and the basics of intellectual property, no worries—this information is covered in the Practical Applications for this chapter. If you would like more confidence on the basic concepts, you may find it helpful to read over that section before examining the resources themselves.
Patents and Trademarks
Official Gazette for Patents and the Trademark Official Gazette |
The USPTO is a sub-agency of the Department of Commerce, and its job is to grant patents (protection for inventors) and to register trademarks (which represent the products of businesses/corporations). It then makes this information available to the public through its official records. In the past, USTPO Gazettes (formerly known as the Official Gazette of the Patent and Trademark Office: Patents and the Official Gazette of the Patent and Trademark Office: Trademarks) generated a large amount of microfiche which depository libraries had to find a way to house. Thankfully, the Gazettes are now available in digital format. Published each Tuesday, the patents Gazette contains representative drawings for each patent that was issued that week, along with bibliographic information that links out to full versions of patents in the USPTO Full-Text Database. The Gazettes are available for the fifty-two weeks of the past year, and they allow browsing by a variety of factors:
Classification or type of patent Utility Design Plant Class/sub-class Patentee name State or territory of the inventor
The full-text information on these patents includes an abstract describing the invention, various dates (when the patent application was filed, etc.), related patents, claims, and description (which includes the field of invention, background, summary, description of included drawings, and detailed description of the invention).
Generally speaking, the Gazettes include patents that have been newly granted, but there is other information to be found here in the Patent and Trademark Notices section. These Notices offer information on:
Expired patents Reinstated patents Reissue applications Summaries of final decisions of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Miscellaneous information (e.g., notices to the public regarding changes in patent rules and regulations) Like the Official Gazette for Patents, the Trademark Official Gazette is also (representative drawings and bibliographic information), just less of it since trademarks are fundamentally more simplistic than patents. Trademark information from the Gazette includes:
Reason for publication Application specifics Information about the mark itself (descriptions, colors, design codes, etc.) Goods and services information Owner information Attorney information
USPTO PatFT, AppFT, and Other Patent Resources |and
The Gazettes offer access to the most recently granted patents, and they are a good way to keep abreast of what is being patented in specific areas of interest, but for those looking to search retrospectively, the USPTO Patent Full-text and Image Database (PatFT) and the USPTO Patent Application Full-text and Image Database (AppFT) need to be on the radar. PatFT can be searched for patents from 1976 to the present by a variety of elements (dates, patent numbers, inventors, locations, etc.). Amazingly, the patents in this database actually date back to 1790, but the pre-1975 patents are in PDF format and can only be searched by issue date, patent number, or classification.
PatFT contains granted patents, but in the world of patents and trademarks, it can also be important to know what is in the pipeline—patents that have been applied for. This is where AppFT comes in. The AppFT database contains information from 2001 to the present and has similar search functionality to PatFT, just with patents that have been applied for but not yet granted.
These two resources are not the only way to access this type of patent information, though they do offer some of the most diverse search options. Another resource for this type of information is the Patent Application Information Retrieval tool (PAIR). There are two separate methods of access to this database—Public PAIR and Private PAIR. Public PAIR ( is open to all users and contains documents and other information on publicly available patents and applications; it can be searched by application number, control number, patent number, and more. By contrast, Private PAIR is a secure site geared toward those who have patents pending, patent attorneys, and so on. To access Private PAIR, users must register through the Patent Electronic Business Center to obtain a digital certificate and customer number. The Electronic Business Center is not digital friendly; forms must be filled out in PDF, printed, and faxed or, in some cases, notarized and mailed. Trademark Electronic Search System, Assignments on the Web, and Other Trademark Resources |
The Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) provides access to records, both active and inactive, of trademark registrations and applications. It should be understood that this is not an exhaustive database of every possible trademark that could interfere with a new mark an individual or company wishes to register—some trademarks used in the United States are not registered with the USPTO, but there could be other rights attached that have legal ramifications. TESS offers access to text and images of registered marks but also marks that are pending registration approval and marks from abandoned applications. TESS has a variety of search options which can be applied to search for word marks, design marks, or both.
Assignments on the Web (AOTW) is a database that contains all trademark assignment information from 1955 to the present. (If you are curious about the difference between trademark registration and trademark assignment, see the Practical Applications section at the end of this chapter.) AOTW can be searched by such fields as serial and registration numbers, assignor/assignee name, registrant name, and more. Users seeking trademark assignments pre-1955 must look to the National Archives and Records Administration ( ), which is responsible for maintaining these records, most of which are not available in digital format.
Another trademark search tool is the Trademark Status Document Retrieval database (TSDR;. It offers access to the metadata of U.S. trademark applications and registrations, ancillary documentation, and also contains any information on file with the USPTO for international registrations and applications. To search TSDR, users need either a U.S. registration, serial, or reference number or an international registration number for non-U.S. trademark information.
What these searches return is information on trademarks that includes status, descriptive information about the mark, goods and services which it represents, information about the owner of the mark (including corresponding attorneys), prosecution history, and proceedings history. Those wishing to submit their own application for a trademark can do so using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS;.
Patent and Trademark Resource Centers To say that the patent and, to a lesser extent, trademark search and application process is complicated and intimidating to general users is an understatement.
To help ease the process, some libraries have joined a network, agreeing to be designated as Patent and Trademark Resource Centers (PTRC). To be designated a PTRC, a library must meet some specific requirements:
Public accessibility Provide specialized patent and trademark reference assistance and outreach
Thus, unlike most of the rest of us, the librarians who staff these centers are experts extensively trained in the effective use of search tools for patent and trademark information. They offer access to some resources most libraries do not have (e.g., PubEAST and PubWEST), and they are comfortable explaining technical aspects of the process, demonstrating a variety of resources, and offering training. They are not attorneys, so they do not provide legal advice. However, they can and do offer users directories of local legal professionals who are licensed to practice before the USPTO. A list of PTRC locations by each state is available from the USPTO website.
U.S. Copyright Office | Copyright differs from patents and trademarks (which is explained further in the Practical Applications section at the end of this chapter), and it is administered by an entirely different agency from the USPTO—the U.S. Copyright Office, under the umbrella of the Library of Congress—though this office does work with the USPTO and other governmental entities (e.g., the Department of Justice and the State Department). The Copyright Office is a small agency, with roughly 400 employees who work underneath the Register of Copyrights. Their primary function is to examine claims, which number in the hundreds of thousands, made for copyright each year in the way of books, journals, movies, music, software, artistic endeavors, and more. What follows are some of the resources on offer from the Copyright Office.Figure 11.1. The Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, which can serve as a guide for understanding how the U.S. Copyright Office works through its processes.
It may be helpful to start off with the bible of U.S. copyright, the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices ). Now in its third edition, this resource is written like a technical manual for Copyright Office staff, but it also serves as a guide for authors, copyright licensees, researchers, courts, and anyone interested in copyright. It offers information on processes and also on statutes and regulations and has links to resources on the Copyright Office site. It should be the first stop for anyone looking to understand what the Copyright Office does and how the process works. Another helpful tool provided by the Copyright Office is its circulars four pages) and are geared toward the general public to help them understand basic copyright concepts. Those wishing to investigate copyright law will also want to consult Title 17 of the US Code, which codifies copyright law, and Title 37, Chapter 2, of the Code of Federal Regulations, which enumerates the regulations of the Copyright Office (Title 37 also covers patents and trademarks). And finally, the Copyright Office issues its announcements, rules, and proposed rules in the Federal Register. It also makes these notices available on its website ( . For the most current information, these notices are the first place to start.
The Copyright Catalog ( offers online searching for copyrights registered from 1978 to the present. Search options include title, name, keyword, and registration or document number. The results returned will give users the type of work (e.g., visual material, motion picture, etc.), the registration number and date of registration, title, description, the copyright claimant, date of creation, and any variant titles. Those seeking to search copyrighted works registered before 1978 are in for a trip down memory lane— the records from 1870 to 1977 are found only in card catalog form (of which there are 45 million cards) from the Copyright Public Records Reading Room 1 located in the Library of Congress’s James Madison Memorial Building. While on the topic of historical copyright information, users may want to consult the historical section of the Copyright Office’s website
( ). It offers past versions of copyright law, annual and other reports and publications, and testimony to Congress regarding copyright issues.
Many of the issues and questions that arise for librarians regarding copyright, especially academic librarians, have to do with the concept of fair use (covered in greater detail in the Practical Applications section for this chapter). To help make the concept and principles of fair use easier for the general public to understand, the Copyright Office has created a Fair Use Index ( ). This index is a searchable database of court opinions relating to fair use. One can check the database and see what uses the courts have ruled are “fair” (or not fair, as the case may be), comparing the use one wishes to make of a particular category of copyrighted work, and seeing if the courts have weighed in on whether this fits under the rubric of fair use. Users can limit by jurisdiction (Supreme Court, Federal Circuit, etc.) or by category (parody, textual work, etc.). Each result returned contains:
Year Court Key case facts The issue
Holding (the court’s decision) The Index does not include every single court opinion that has been held on fair use, but the summaries offer users easy-to-understand interpretations of copyright law. Each entry also includes the full citation, so if users wish to pursue the case further (read the full text of the actual decisions through other resources, such as PACER or a commercial database such as Westlaw), they can easily look the cases up.
Selected Commercial Resources
Google Patent Search | Google’s Patent Search is free, and much of what it repackages is USPTO information, but it also includes patent records from sixteen other entities from countries such as Canada and Japan to the World Intellectual Property Organization. The database currently indexes nearly 90 million patent publications. Users may find the Google search less intimidating than many of the USPTO products since it features a familiar single search box. Yet to search this effectively, users will still need basic knowledge of the patents system: patent numbers, CPC codes, and so on. This will need to be combined with prefixes for metadata restrictions (e.g., cpc:A01B or assignee: “Google Inc”) to search specific fields. The advanced search offers a few more options through search boxes and limiters, such as the date, assignee, inventor, patent office, language, status (grant or application), and type (patent or design). Searching by keyword often yields the appropriate CPC code, which also links out to Espacenet (covered in the next section) for the classification description.
The format in which the results are returned can be easier to navigate than some of the governmental products. A box to the right aggregates all the summary information: patent number, type, inventor, current assignee, original assignee, dates, and more. Much of this is hyperlinked. Images and all descriptive information and figures are also included, and the information can be downloaded as a PDF. Hyperlinked patent citations are included at the bottom of the entry. The hyperlinking here and the summary box make for easy searching; clicking on the inventor’s hyperlinked name, for instance, instantly performs a search that will turn up any other patents by that inventor in the database. These features along with the familiar layout may make the Google Patent Search more palatable for general users than some of the governmental products. It should be noted, especially with older patents, that searching and display may not be as accurate as one would wish. These patents are available from the USPTO as PDFs, and it is clear from looking at them that the optical character recognition Google has run in order to provide the HTML display (and the full-text searching) has not been corrected. This can result not only in inaccurate search results but also in entries with a great deal of nonsense or Espacenet | /
Espacenet is available from the European Patent Office and offers access to 100 million international patent documents. Espacenet’s default is the “Smart Search,” which, like Google’s search, allows users to enter search terms with or without identifiers. The advanced search offers fields for title, abstract, publication/application/priority number, date, inventor, or classification number. A classification search by CPC is also available. One of the more annoying issues with this site is constant pop-ups requiring the user to verify that he or she is a human, apparently due to the number of automated requests the site gets. There is the same tool known as Open Patent Services which alleviates this problem, but it requires registration, and if a certain volume of data is exceeded, subscription fees begin to apply. Patentscope |
Patentscope is a database provided by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) that offers searching and access to international patent applications as soon as they are published. It can be searched using keywords, applicant information, classifications, and more. One of the unique features of the database is the ability to browse patents by week—much like the USPTO Gazettes, only more international in scope. The information can be downloaded as .xls files, and permanent links are also included in the individual patent records. The layout of these records is easy to use—there are tabs for the bibliographic data, description, claims, notices, drawings, documents, and more.
LexisNexis TotalPatent and Derwent World Patents Index LexisNexis’s TotalPatent product bills itself as the most comprehensive and up- to-date research tool for patents available. It indexes 100 different patent authorities, thirty-two of which are full-text. The product’s searching is fairly intuitive; it offers a guided search, advanced search, semantic searching, and options to search by the usual—publication numbers, assignees and inventors, and more. The publication number search is notable in that it allows for import of up to 500 numbers that can be searched and displayed; few other tools offer this kind of batching. Tick boxes offer easy limiting to different patent sources; boxes for searching subsidiary companies are also included. The records can be searched in English (which is machine translated) or in the language in which the patent was originally filed. The database offers options for removing duplicate family member results, and results can be downloaded in Excel or exported to PDF. As with most vendor databases, searches can be saved and preferences can be customized.
The Derwent World Patents Index uses as its claim to uniqueness that the patent data included has been reviewed by industry experts to correct for errors, Index search have abstracts structured to showcase the patent’s novelty, use, and advantage, so the invention is easier to understand at a glance. Derwent stresses its consistency in indexing and the use of industry-specific terms to make for easier cross-referencing.
These tools provide some superior search functionalities to those freely available, and they also make it easier to download large amounts of data. The information they contain, while perhaps “corrected” in the case of Derwent’s product, is pulled primarily from sources that are publicly available, so libraries that cannot justify the cost of these products do have other options—they just may not be as easy to effectively use.
How Do I Become Conversational in the Language of Patents, Trademarks, and Copyright?
We are not aiming for fluency here but rather a brief introduction, the basic knowledge necessary to search effectively and point patrons in the right direction. It’s important for librarians not to confuse their role—when manning the reference desk in the spring, librarians often don buttons that state “Tax Forms, Not Advice,” because we are librarians, not certified public accountants. It’s the same with patents, trademarks, and copyright law. Librarians can point users to resources and show them the ropes of how to use a few of the major tools covered above, but anything further is the purview of specialized search firms and attorneys.
First, the basics. At its most simplistic: Patent—A right granted by the USPTO that protects an invention (e.g., cotton gin) Trademark—A mark (brand) registered with the USPTO to be used with goods and services to distinguish them from similar goods and services by other providers (e.g., the Adidas logo) Copyright—A legal agreement that protects original artistic and literary works (books, music, movies, etc.)
Now we will take a look at each of these in detail.
Patents: Patents are intended to give the owner of the patent the “right to
exclude” (as it is known in statutory language) others from manufacturing, selling, or using what the patent owner has invented. Patents in the United States are issued (also known as “granted” or simply “patent grants”) by the USPTO. Those seeking patents must have created something original or a substantial improvement on an existing invention, and they must also provide is constructed, including diagrams, schematics, and so on. Inventors and those because they must ascertain if the invention or idea they wish to pursue is original or if it’s something that has already been patented. Users also conduct patent searches (or have legal firms that periodically pursue this for them) in order to isolate later patents which may be infringing their own patent rights, with the intention of pursuing legal action.
There are three different patent types: utility, design, and plant. The primary ways in which these three types differ from each other involve the type of intellectual property protected and the length of time for which it is protected. Utility patents are the most common patents issued, and they include things like machines, new manufacturing processes, or improvements on these types of inventions. A utility patent protects the way an invention works. Length of a patent for utility patents is up to twenty years, but renewal fees must be paid periodically during this time, or the patent will lapse. By contrast, design patents focus not on how something works, but on its aesthetic appearance— how it looks. For instance, in the case of a mobile phone, the industrial design features would have a design patent, while the processor that runs it would have a utility patent. Design patents currently have a fifteen-year patent period, with no maintenance fees. The last type of patent, the plant patent, is just what it sounds like: it covers new varieties of plants. It has a twenty-year term length, with no maintenance fees. Table 11.1 shows how these different types of patents are enumerated for USPTO searching purposes.Table 11.1. Patent Types and Identification Numbers
Utility Patent numbers are 6 or 7 digits, often with leading zeros that should be omitted when searching (9586321); international searches may include a two-letter country prefix
and/or a document type suffix (e.g., US0009998A1). Reissues will have an “RE” prefix,and leading zeros should not be omitted when searching (RE000123).
Design Design patents will have a “D” prefix; leading zeros must be included to create 7 digits (D0000856). Plant Plant patents have a “PP” prefix; leading zeros must be entered to create 6 digits (PP000185).
Another concept you will need to know is the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC). Like Dewey or Library of Congress, the CPC is a classification system that attempts to group like things (in this case, patents) together and to harmonize how patents are classified between the United States and the European Patent Office. To effectively search for patents, one often needs to know what CPC category it falls under. The main classifications include such categories as engineering, and more. These major classifications are then broken down in further detail. Knowing the CPC category to be searched is integral to the effective use of resources such as AppFT and PatFT. You will note that this section has not included the step-by-step process necessary to pursue a patent application; that type of information is beyond the scope of this work. However, it should be noted that the USPTO offers online video tutorials on preliminary patent searching, and the PTRCs offer a seven-step search strategy guide, available from the USPTO site or from your local PTRC.
Trademarks: Where patents offer protection for an invention, a trademark
offers protection for a brand name. It needs to be understood that trademarks and service marks are actually two different categories, the former representing a brand for goods and the latter for services, but in common parlance, they are often grouped together under the general umbrella of trademarks. The mark itself can be a word, name, symbol, or combination of all three—anything used to differentiate the goods or services of one provider from others in that same category, to let consumers know that the goods or services come only from a specific source. Just as a patent application must begin with a patent search, so must a trademark application begin with a trademark search. This is used to determine if what is called a “likelihood of confusion”—if your mark could be confused by consumers with another trademark—exists. The criteria used for this determination are not only whether or not a mark that is the same or similar to yours has been registered or applied for but also if that mark is used on products or services that are related to yours. Unlike patents, where originality is key, some trademarks that are similar to those already registered or applied for are allowable if the product or service categories are unrelated— your mark may look similar to mine, but if you are in the aerospace industry and I am marketing handmade soaps, there is little likelihood that our two products might be confused by consumers as being the same thing produced by the same source.
There are a few different types of trademarks and search criteria can differ depending on the type of mark, so it’s helpful to understand the difference. There are word marks (also referred to as standard character marks) and design marks (also known as special form marks). Word marks register the words, letters, and/or numbers themselves but not the particular style—no fonts, size, color, or other design elements. Marks that contain stylistic elements—letters with a stylized appearance or graphic elements such as images, are known as design marks. Design marks can be more complicated to search than simple word marks since design marks are assigned a numerical design search code that represents the graphical elements (any element that is not a word). There is a Design Search Code Manual available from the USPTO ( that delineates the categories, assigning six-digit numerical codes for figurative elements. For instance, if your code of 01.11.01. In this way, when a particular code is searched, every mark with that design element can be found. Since many marks incorporate multiple design elements, they may have multiple design codes, all of which can be searched in TESS.
When it comes to searching trademarks, there are active and inactive trademark registrations and applications, as well as trademark assignments. Trademark registration lasts for ten years, with ten-year renewal terms; at the halfway mark (between years five and six), the USPTO requires an affidavit to be filed that the trademark is still in use. If this is not done, or the registration is not renewed when the ten years is up, the registration can become inactive (also referred to as “dead”). Trademark applications can also be “abandoned” at 2 various phases during the process for different reasons. Trademark assignments refer to who owns the trademark registration. Trademark ownership can change; the original applicant may transfer the ownership of his or her mark to another owner, and this is known as an assignment.
Finally, a note on what is known as the Madrid Protocol. The Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks is one of two treaties which, together, make up the Madrid System—the international system for registering trademarks. It is an agreement that offers a way for owners of trademarks to register their marks in multiple countries through an International Registration, without having to re-submit applications in all of those countries. The World Intellectual Property Organization’s International Bureau administers this system.
Copyright: Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that allows for the
protection of original works of authorship. This protection includes the rights of reproduction, adaptation, publication, performance, and display. The types of works that are protected by these rights include literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works (e.g., books, movies, songs, computer software, architecture, etc.). Ideas, discoveries, and inventions are not protected by copyright—those are the purview of patent grants. While many think that a work must be registered to be protected by copyright, this is not the case. From the moment the work is, as the Copyright Office calls it, “fixed in a tangible form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device,” it is 3 protected. However, to actually bring a suit for copyright infringement, the work must be registered. It’s also important to note that a work does not have to have been published in order to be protected; unpublished works are also protected by copyright.
Copyright terms depend on a number of factors and the time frame—different standards apply to works created or published before January 1, 1978. This is due to the implementation of the Copyright Act of 1976, which took effect on that date. For works after that date, copyright protection usually lasts for the life of the author plus seventy years. For other types of works (anonymous works, first publication or 120 years from the date of creation. For works within this time period (after January 1, 1978), no copyright renewal is possible. For works 4 before this date, registration can be renewed after twenty-eight years. Copyrights, like trademark assignments, can be transferred to new owners. When a work is no longer under copyright protection, it is known as “public domain,” which means it can be used freely without permission from or reference to the former copyright owner. United States government works— those prepared by government employees—generally fall within the public domain. There are exceptions to this, such as government publications that include or are entirely works created by independent government contractors; in those cases, the contractor can retain the copyright to the work, but it depends on the terms of the contract, which can vary greatly from agency to agency.
Lastly, there is the concept of fair use. Fair use is a doctrine which is open to interpretation by the court system; it has been interpreted and reinterpreted again and again, yet no hard and fast definition of the concept has ever been codified. When asked if a particular usage of copyrighted materials falls under fair use, the answer is almost always “it depends.” The question can get particularly thorny when it comes to educational fair use. However, there is some statutory language that gives basic parameters. The law allows reproduction for purposes such as “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching 5
(including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.” These circumstances fall under fair use and do not infringe copyright. However, other factors are considered along with this: the amount of copyrighted material included (known as brevity), spontaneity (if the usage timeline would prevent a timely response to a request for permission), and cumulative effect (prohibitions on the use of multiple works by the same author, etc.). Specifics from judicial interpretation and congressional hearings on these topics are available from the Copyright Office in its Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and 6 Librarians circular.
Intellectual property can be a confusing area where consultation with legal professionals is necessary, so it’s important for librarians not to confuse their roles when it comes to this type of reference assistance. However, librarians do need to familiarize themselves with the basics of this subject so that they can point their users to appropriate sources. The major types of intellectual property covered in this chapter include:
Patents and trademarks, overseen by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Copyright, with the U.S. Copyright Office administering the statutory
1. U.S. Copyright Office, The Copyright Card Catalog and the Online Files of the Copyright Office (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2015), .
2. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Protecting Your Trademark: Enhancing Your Rights Through Federal Registration (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, 2016).
3. U.S. Copyright Office, Copyright Basics (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2017),
4. U.S. Copyright Office, Duration of Copyright (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2011),
5. Section 107, Title 17, United States Code.
6. U.S. Copyright Office, Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2014),
Legislation, Law, Jurisprudence, and Criminal Justice
United States Congress Law and judicial interpretation Regulations Law enforcement and criminal justice Selected commercial resources Practical applications
EFORE DIVING INTO THE DEEP WATERS of legislative and legal
government information, it is helpful to set some boundaries. This chapter will deal solely with legislation and law as it relates to the federal level. When this country was founded, the idea was that legislation and law at
the federal level should be limited—that the right and the responsibility for the majority of the laws that affect the everyday activities of citizens should rest with the state and local governments. Resentment for authority too far removed to be responsive to local need (i.e., the English monarchy) was still fresh in the minds of the Founding Fathers, and this bred in many people a proclivity for the principle that those closest to a constituency would best understand the lawmaking necessary to effectively govern society. Obviously, this is a mindset that has gone the way of the dodo, since the federal government attempts to affect local lawmaking in each and every way it can, resulting in a sprawl of legislation, statutes, and regulations that, together with state and local laws, govern many aspects of American daily life. It is outside the scope of this chapter to consider state and local laws or other jurisdictions outside the federal realm. This chapter will also eschew international law, except as it relates to specific federal government resources. Instead, this chapter will limit itself to legislation and law at the federal level in the realm of constitutional law, statutory law, regulations, and case law. This chapter will also touch on information relating to the mechanisms for administering that law—law and judicial sources in this chapter: many of these products (e.g., United States Reports, United States Code) are available from multiple governmental and nongovernmental sources, and coverage scope varies accordingly. No attempt is made to cover every single source that offers some form of coverage since much of this information would be duplicative. Instead, the major governmental sources along with nongovernmental sources that provide supplementary coverage—that fill the gaps, so to speak—is the approach taken.
United States Congress
The most simplistic version often touted about how a bill becomes a law would lead one to believe that a bill is introduced in either the House or the Senate, discussed in committee, forwarded for a vote, passed, and then, when this same process has been repeated in the other chamber, goes on to the president and is signed into law. In actuality, the process looks something a bit more like Figure 12.1.Figure 12.1. “How a Bill Becomes a Law” poster from the Government Publishing Office.
Since the inner workings of America’s legislative machine have been the subject of multiple monographs, the minutia of the congressional process will be eschewed in favor of focusing on some of the major resources and publications that result from congressional activities. This list is not exhaustive; the idea is to familiarize yourself with the most important resources and to consult other sources (law librarians are a fantastic resource) if one needs to move beyond the basics. This section will focus on bills and resolutions along with committee hearings, reports, and more.
Many will be familiar with the THOMAS website, which was formerly the home of most legislative information. In 2016, it was superseded by The main page of offers a quick overview of our nation’s legislators; if you are one of the many Americans who cannot name the Speaker of the House or the Senate Majority Leader, gives this information or by the chamber and find contact information for them and a list of the committees upon which they serve. is also a fantastic first stop for current legislative activities. Links are offered to live video of sessions being held, the top ten most-viewed bills, and links to the Library of Congress Law Library blog. A feature a newbie to congressional processes may find of particular interest is the link to nine videos that explain the legislative process.
This site is also the place to go for information on congressional committees; information can be found here on the different types of committees (standing, special, select, joint, commissions, etc.), committee membership, and past committees which are now inactive.
From its legislation section in the top navigation, offers links to legislation from 1973 to the present, which includes currently over 400,000 items. Searches in this database offer a variety of expandable filters:
Bill type (bills, amendments, resolutions, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions, etc.) Congress (93rd through current) Status Subject (the policy area, such as health, taxation, etc.) Chamber of origin Committee Sponsors and cosponsors Party
One of the other helpful features of this database is its tracker. Users can see, on first looking at a results list, where the bill is in the process—introduced, passed House, passed Senate, sent to the President, or signed into law. The database also links out to other information users may find helpful, such as cost estimates for the bill from the Congressional Budget Office.Table 12.1. Congressional Committees
YEAR Agriculture 1820 Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry 1825 Appropriations 1865 Appropriations 1867 Armed Services 1945 Armed Services 1946 Budget 1974 Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs 1913 Education and the Workforce 1867 Budget 1974 Energy and Commerce 1795 Commerce, Science, and Transportation 1946 Ethics 1967 Energy and Natural Resources 1816 Financial Services 1865 Environment and Public Works 1946 Foreign Affairs 1822 Finance 1816 Homeland Security 2002 Foreign Relations 1816 House Administration 1946 Health, Education, Labor and Pensions 1869 Judiciary 1813 Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
1921 Natural Resources 1805 Judiciary 1816 Oversight and Government Reform 1927 Rules and Administration 1946 Rules
1789 Small Business and Entrepreneurship 1950 Science, Space, and Technology 1959 Veterans’ Affairs 1970 Small Business 1941 Transportation and Infrastructure 1946 Veterans’ Affairs 1946 Ways and Means 1789
Intelligence 1975 Aging 1961 Benghazi Terrorist Attack 2014 Ethics 1977
Indian Affairs 1977 Intelligence 1976
Joint Committee on the Economic Report 1946 Joint Economic Committee 1956 Joint Committee on the Library 1802 Joint Committee on Printing 1846 Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation 1926 Joint Committee on Taxation 1977
United States Commission on International Narcotics Control 1985 United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control 1985 Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe 1975
Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission 1983
Congressional Record, House and Senate Journals, and Congressional Serial Set The Congressional Record began publication in 1873, and the information it contains is exactly what one would expect: a record of the proceedings of Congress. It is published daily while Congress is in session, and is a record of legislative activities in both of the chambers, debate, remarks from congressmen, presidential communications, and more. House business in the Congressional Record can also include “extensions of remarks,” which are statements that House members wish to be published but that were not ever actually presented in the House chamber.
More than one edition of the Congressional Record exists. The Daily Edition is published daily, and its pagination is broken into four distinct sections: S (Senate), H (House), E (Extensions of Remarks), D (Daily Digest). The Daily Digest, a summary of the previous day’s activity, is usually the default view when searching digital versions of the Congressional Record. The Congressional Record is also printed as a collective, reindexed and repaginated bound volume edition at the end of each session of Congress, which represents the permanent, final version.
The Congressional Record can be accessed from several different websites.
Govinfo/FDsys has 1994 to the present ( ). When it comes to the bound edition, govinfo/FDsys offers digitized versions back to 1892, and this digitization project is ongoing. Print volumes can be found in depository libraries.
Because the Congressional Record is a complex and massive publication, utilizing the Congressional Record Index can prove helpful, especially when searching through print volumes. The Index entries link specific topics, congressmen, organizations, and so on, to the relevant sections within the Congressional Record. For the volumes of the index that are available online (1993 to the present from and 1983 to the present from govinfo/FDsys), hyperlinks are available directly from the Index entry to the relevant page in the Record.
Before the advent of the Congressional Record, a few other publications with varying titles covered the proceedings of the 1st to 42nd Congresses (1789– 1873) and even back to the Continental Congress. These publications are searchable through the Library of Congress’s A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation website ( ), and they include:
Annals of Congress (1789–1824; 1st to 18th Congresses)
Register of Debates (1824–1837; 18th to 25th Congresses) The Library of Congress also makes available the House and Senate Journals. Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution mandates that both the House and the Senate keep a journal of their proceedings. What these publications actually record are every motion made and the results of every vote, as well as the subject of the vote, given in general terms. Thus they are not a source for transcripts of debate or some other types of proceedings on the floor of the chamber; for verbatim records of this type of information, the Congressional Record should be consulted. The Journals are also not available for purchase from the Government Publishing Office. These Journals can be accessed through the Library of Congress’s American Memory site from 1789 to 1873 for both chambers (House: and Senate:. Later versions of t h e Journals for the House are available from govinfo/FDsys ( from 1992 to 2014.
While the Congressional Record is an accounting of what goes on during sessions on the floor of the two respective chambers, there is a substantial amount of the congressional historical record that takes place outside this realm —in committee, during investigative functions, and more. Some of this type of information can be found in the Congressional Serial Set. Published since 1817 (15th Congress), the Serial Set contains committee reports (which are usually reports of findings on matters being investigated or other information about proposed legislation), documents, executive department publications, treaties, and other materials, and it gets its name from the fact that these documents are given sequential serial numbers and the volumes are published in serial fashion. Thus there are currently more than 15,000 volumes. There are some tools available to help users search these volumes, including the Numerical Lists of Documents and Reports (available digitally from 1957 to 2012 from the GPO;
), which gives a
numerical list of all Congressional Documents and Reports, along with a brief title and a reference to the volume of the Serial Set in which the document/report is bound. The Congressional Information Service also produced a series of indexes to the Serial Set. The Congressional Serial Set Catalog is available from the Catalog of Government Publications ( , which offers searching for the years 1976 to the present.
It should be noted that the Serial Set and what it contains has evolved over time. Printing the Serial Set is very expensive, and some of the types of information it once included have been whittled down over the years (e.g., reports from executive departments and agencies, and even the Senate and House Journals) in an effort to reduce congressional printing. Some of these publications (e.g., Foreign Relations Papers) could be found in other publications altogether. One major Serial Set omission that often confuses those new to legislative information is the testimony given before Congress during hearings. While some of this type of information is excerpted in committee reports and thus found in the Serial Set, hearings are a separate class of publication not explicitly included in the Serial Set, and the majority of these will require searching other sources in order to locate records of their testimonies. Congressional committees are not consistent in the way they make their hearings accessible, so even sources such as FDsys/govinfo, which offers hearings from 1985 to the present ( ) does not offer all hearings within this range because the GPO was never provided the hearings by Congress. The individual committee pages from
are another source for recent hearings but are also idiosyncratic in
what they choose to make accessible. This is where commercial resources can help fill a gap, as will be detailed later in this section.
T h e Serial Set’s predecessor is known as the American State Papers—a collection of manuscript and printed legislative and executive documents covering a period from 1789 to 1838, in thirty-eight indexed bound volumes. Some Serial Set volumes have been digitized and are available from the Library of Congress (1833–1917, with gaps;
, as are the American
State Papers ( . Some of these publications are also available through HathiTrust ( ), which was covered in detail in Chapter 4 and is not a government source but contains a substantial collection of government information digitized by member libraries from original government-published sources. HathiTrust also includes individual hearings, and the number of Serial Set volumes digitized and available as full text by the site is impressive. The Serial Set is also available in digital format from commercial vendors, which will be touched on in the “Selected Commercial Resources” section.
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress | T h e Biographical Directory of the United States Congress is a continually updated publication which offers basic biographical information on all congressmen, both representatives and senators. The entries include full names, birth and death dates, education details, occupational details, congressional terms and anything of note that has occurred with regard to government service, and various other biographical details. This tool is particularly useful for historical research on members of Congress, since it dates from 1774 to the present. Printed volumes can be found in depository libraries, and the digital version offers searching by first and last name, position (e.g., senator, delegate, Speaker of the House, etc.), state, party affiliation, and year
Law and Judicial Interpretation
Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation |
The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, which is also sometimes referred to simply as the Constitution, Annotated, is exactly what its name would imply. It is the Constitution of the United States, annotated with information based on Supreme Court case law that has affected its interpretation and the application of its tenets. This resource is available in PDF format from , on govinfo/FDsys as a searchable resource, and even as an app.
United States Code, United States Statutes at Large, and Slip Laws The United States Code is the codification, the official version of the general and permanent laws of the United States, as they currently stand. It represents a consolidation of federal law. It was first published in 1926 and is currently published on a six-year schedule by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the House of Representatives. Cumulative supplements are published annually to update the Code in between publication dates, so generally, there will be the Code plus five supplements. The Code is divided into fifty-four titles (the number of titles continues to increase; the latest title, Crime Control and Law Enforcement, was added in 2017) which represent broad subject areas (e.g., Banks and Banking, Labor, etc.). It should be understood that different titles of the Code carry different legal ramifications. Some titles have been enacted into positive (or statutory) law—Congress has passed a codification bill for that title, which means that the existing laws on that subject have been repealed and are restated in the Code, which is now a positive (statutory) law title. Those titles that have not gone through this process are known as nonpositive law titles, which simply means that the entire title has not been enacted into positive law —but the statutes (laws) contained within that title have been enacted by Congress. The U.S. Code, it should be noted, is a codification of federal law. It does not contain laws enacted by state/local governments, nor does it include regulations or treaties.
T h e U.S. Code is available digitally from the Office of the Law Revision Counsel ( /) and also from govinfo/FDsys ( ) and the Library of Congress ( . The Code is also printed by the GPO, and the printed version is the official version.
The Statutes at Large represents the collection of all laws, resolutions, and proposed and ratified amendments to the Constitution enacted during a particular session of Congress, the laws passed by that Congress in Congress printed in pamphlet format—that have been enacted during a congressional session. The term slip law is often used interchangeably with public laws, but there are in fact two different types of laws: public and private. The majority of the laws passed by Congress are public laws. They are meant to apply to the entirety of American society. Private laws, by contrast, relate to a single individual, family, or occasionally small group, and their intention is to address particular issues that citizens face in the areas of injury by government programs or appeals of executive agency rulings. These slip laws are distributed immediately upon enactment (after receiving enumeration from the Office of the Federal Register). When each congressional session is over, all of the slip laws from that session are compiled into bound volumes, the Statutes at Large (also known as session laws). The laws appear in the Statutes chronologically, in the order they were enacted; every six years, these laws (including amendments to existing laws) are then incorporated into the appropriate subject sections of the U.S. Code, providing a compendium. The Statutes also contain presidential proclamations and, up until 1948, treaties and international agreements that were ratified by Congress.Figure 12.2. Slip laws are compiled into the Statutes at Large, which are codified through incorporation into the United States Code. Courtesy of the author.
Slip laws (Public and Private Laws) are available from govinfo/FDsys from 1995 to the present. The Statutes at Large are available from 1951 to the present from govinfo/FDsys, with volumes for 1789–1875 available from the Library of Congress ( . Other assorted year ranges are available from HathiTrust ( ).
United States Reports, Slip Opinions, United States Court Opinions, and PACER Congress enacts the laws, those laws are codified in the publications discussed above, and the federal court system interprets those statutes, oftentimes creating new law in the process—known as case law because the decisions in the cases adjudicated provide legal precedents that modify, or occasionally revoke, current law. For instance, the First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”
The Constitution specifically says “speech,” yet the Supreme Court has held law—they have extended the definition of “speech” to include nonverbal, symbolic, expressive conduct (such as setting an American flag on fire), which has changed the parameters of what is protected by the law. The subtleties of case law, legal terminology, and more are outside the scope of this work (though the “Practical Applications” section later in this chapter will provide you with some of the basics), and there are a multitude of online sources, monographs, and other resources (including law librarians) which can provide elucidation for those wishing to dig deeper. This section will focus on the government-produced resources available for federal court opinions and documentation. It should also be noted that judicial information is one area where the Federal Depository Library Program and government-created resources have been outstripped by commercial vendors; the “Selected Commercial Resources” section should be consulted for fuller coverage access regarding federal judicial information.
The judicial system in the United States is made up of both state and federal courts. This section deals with the federal court system, which hears cases regarding constitutional questions, statutory law, or even cases that involve as a party the state courts of last resort (highest level of state court) or the United States. The federal court system is tiered; cases heard at lower levels can be appealed up the ladder.
Those wishing to locate a particular federal court should consult the Federal Court Locator tool from the United States Courts website ( ); it allows for searching by court type (district, bankruptcy, appeals, etc.) combined with city, state, or ZIP code.Figure 12.3. The Federal Judicial System. Courtesy of the author.
Starting at the bottom tiers with the District and Appellate Courts, for opinions from this level, users can consult the United States Court Opinions available from GovInfo/FDsys. In collaboration with the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, the GPO has made available selected appellate, district, and other court opinions from 2004 onward ( , and they can be browsed, searched, and downloaded in PDF format.
The other primary tool for accessing district, appellate, and bankruptcy court information is the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER;
/) database. The PACER database contains millions of
case file documents and docket information, which is available immediately upon the electronic filing by the court. Though PACER is a tool provided by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, it should be understood that it is not free to use; though funds were sought from Congress, none were appropriated for the service, so PACER attempts to recoup costs through user fees instead
($0.10 per page, based on the number of pages that result from any search). All request for an additional fee. PACER can be searched by case number, party name, Social Security number, or tax identification number for bankruptcy courts. District courts may be searched by case number, party name, or filing date range and appellate courts by case number or party name. PACER does have an index of sorts through its Case Locator function, which is a national index of district, bankruptcy, and appellate courts. Users can utilize this tool to conduct nationwide searches for party names to determine if a party is part of any federal litigation. The results these searches return will include the case summary, docket entries, and copies of the documents filed. Those seeking further information must contact the court itself.
Moving up the ladder to the Supreme Court, opinions are published in the United States Reports. To date, the Reports number over five hundred volumes, and volumes can sometimes run over a thousand pages. These volumes contain the opinions of the Supreme Court, but they also contain additional materials such as rosters of justices and court officers, memorial proceedings for deceased justices, cumulative tables of cases reported, topical indexes, and more. Just as with Congress’s multiple publication methods for laws (slip laws, the Statutes at Large, and the U.S. Code), the Supreme Court has multiple methods of disseminating its opinions before they are codified in the bound volumes of the Reports. They are:
Bench opinions: The text of each opinion is disseminated to the public in
printed pamphlet form on the day it is announced, which can be obtained from the Court’s Public Information Office. These pamphlets contain the majority opinion, any concurring or dissenting opinions, and a preface that summarizes the decision. Bench opinions are also disseminated electronically through Project Hermes, a subscription service.
Slip opinions: Slip opinions are pamphlets printed under the auspices of the
GPO several days after the initial announcement of an opinion, and they are also available for sale from the GPO. Also, they are disseminated electronically through the Supreme Court’s website ( . It is these slip opinions which will be compiled at the end of the term into the bound volumes of the Reports.
Preliminary prints: These are a preliminary version of the Reports—several
(usually from six to twelve) softcover volumes which are printed under the auspices of the GPO, and also sold to the public by the GPO.
Bound volumes (United States Reports): All the information in the
preliminary prints goes through one more editing and indexing process. These volumes (usually between three to five per term, depending on the number of opinions) are printed under the auspices of the GPO and sold by the GPO. The bound volumes represent the final, official text of Supreme Court opinions.
The Supreme Court website offers slip opinions from 2011 to the present and the Reports from 1991 to 2010. Search capabilities include a case citation finder petitioner, or respondent. The site also offers an advanced search which can be limited by opinions, speeches, argument transcripts (which the site has from 2000 to the present), argument audio (the records of all oral arguments, available from 2010 to the present), counsel listings, and more. Finally, a docket search is available that allows users to search by case name, other words or numbers included on the docket report, or the docket number. The Reports are also available from the Library of Congress from 1754 to 2004 ( ).
At the time of this writing, the Supreme Court is in the process of implementing a new electronic filing system that will allow new filings to be accessible at no charge to the general public. The parties represented in the cases will be required to submit electronic versions of documents, which will then be posted to the docket and made available to the public through the Supreme Court website.
Judicial Business of the United States Courts and Other Statistical Sources |
The U.S. Courts compiles and makes available statistical data and analysis information on the business conducted by the federal court system. The type of statistics to be found here are caseload numbers, comparisons with previous years and year ranges, the number of cases filed by filters such as nature of proceeding, and more. The tools include:
Statistical tables for the federal judiciary;
Also, there is the Judicial Business of the United States Courts, which is an annual report which parses information by the type of court (appeals, district, or bankruptcy) and the type of filing (civil or criminal) and also covers probation and pretrial information, complaints against judges, caseload indicators, and more. Law Library of Congress Guide to Law Online: U.S. Judiciary |
This resource from the Law Library of Congress provides a useful set of links which will give users an overview of the Supreme Court and federal court Supreme Court opinions, records, and briefs and also information on appeals and district courts and special jurisdiction courts, such as the U.S. Court of International Trade or the U.S. Tax Court.
In the section on Congress, we looked at legislation (statutory) law, the judicial section examined interpretations that carry the force of law (case law), and this section will look at the last link in the process: how the executive branch regulates the law (administrative law). When the average citizen hears the word “executive” with regard to government, the general impression is that one is dealing solely with the president. Yet the vast majority of the government is huddled under the umbrella of this one executive branch—all the departments and their sub-agencies. These agencies are the final link in the chain; they create rules and regulations to enforce the laws that Congress enacts, and the judiciary interprets.
Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, List of Sections Affected, and the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions
The sheer scope of federal regulations is absolutely mind boggling, and it continues to expand exponentially. The federal government has had a hand in regulating everything from the nutrition labels on boxes of cereal to the fuel efficiency of automobiles. In fact, there are few aspects of American daily life today that aren’t affected in some way by federal government regulation. Because of this wide-ranging scope, there won’t be an attempt here to cover regulations with regard to specific topics (although some of this type of information can be found in the sections on agencies whose function is almost entirely regulatory, such as the EPA). Instead, this section will examine the resources in which regulations are codified so that when seeking rules and regulations on a particular topic, you will know where to look.
In fact, there are so many government regulations that a daily compilation is necessary to keep track of them. The Federal Register, published by the Office of the Federal Register (OFR; an office under the National Archives and Records Administration), is the official publication of all the rules, proposed rules, and notices of federal agencies. It also includes a special type of administrative law —executive orders and other presidential documents. Every weekday, except federal holidays, the Federal Register is published by 6 a.m. It is organized into the following sections:
Table of contents: This lists all documents in the issue alphabetically by
agency name. Under each agency entry, the documents are arranged by their classification (rules, proposed rules, or notices). Also listed are the Code of
Federal Regulations (CFR) parts affected (more information about the CFR
Rules and regulations: Final rules and regulations, which have the force of
law, are found in this section, and they include the issuing agency, the CFR parts affected, and a description of the subject. Docket or Regulation Identification Numbers (RIN) are also sometimes included.
Proposed rules: This section offers the public the chance to weigh in on
rules and regulations that have not yet gone into effect and are still under consideration for implementation. They often include a comment period or announcements regarding public hearings for chances for public feedback.
Notices: This section offers notices of hearings and investigations, committee
meetings, agency statements—pretty much anything that is not a rule or proposed rule.
Presidential documents: Documents signed by the president and submitted
for publication are found in this section, along with executive orders, proclamations, memoranda, and other items.
Sunshine Act meetings: Federal law requires that, with some exceptions,
meetings of government agencies be open to the public, so this section is used for the announcement of the meetings, whether they are closed or open to the public, the time, place, subject matter, and a contact for more information.
Reader aids: This section offers several aids for locating information within
the Federal Register system, such as a cumulative list of CFR parts affected for the current month.
Corrections: This section details editorial corrections of typographical or
clerical errors from previous issues. For content errors, corrections prepared by the appropriate agency are included in the section for that agency’s documents.
T h e Federal Register is available for searching and browsing from govinfo/FDsys ( back to 1980 and from the Library of Congress back to 1936 ( ) that only dates back to 1994, but it has a superior search functionality; users can easily limit by subject, classification, and more. Its user-friendly calendar feature also makes it simple to find an issue of the Federal Register for a particular day. A browse feature for CFR index terms is another helpful tool. Agencies use a common controlled vocabulary of index terms to add to the documents they publish in the Federal Register, allowing for searching by these terms (e.g., acid rain or alcoholism) to find relevant regulations. The site also offers video and other tutorials to assist users with effective searching.
With this amount of regulation, it may come as no surprise that along with the good (ensuring the chicken you buy at the grocery store is much less likely to kill you) has also come the bad or terrible: confusion, overlap, unbearable cost, and unintended consequences. The federal government’s solution to this was to add another level of regulation—to require federal agencies to publish their how they plan to go about it. This information is compiled by the Regulatory Information Service Center (RISC) into the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. Until 2007, the Unified Agenda was published in the Federal Register. After that date, the Federal Register includes just the Regulatory Plan, which is a more succinct version of the Unified Agenda. It includes planning information only on rules that may have a significant economic impact. The Unified Agenda is available from govinfo/FDsys
, which is covered in detail in its own section.
The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is where the regulations from the Federal Register are officially codified. Published annually by the Office of the Federal Register, it is the official version of the general and permanent rules of the federal government promulgated by its agencies. The CFR is divided into fifty subject-based titles (e.g., agriculture, banks and banking, etc.) that contain one or more volumes divided into chapters, sections, and parts. For this reason, citations for the CFR appear in the following format: 7 CFR 611.11, where 7 is the title (Agriculture), 611 is the part (soil survey operations), and 11 is the section or sub-part (soil survey information). The revision date will then usually be included (“revised as of October 25, 2017”).
While the CFR is an annual publication, the publication dates of the titles are staggered; not all are released at once. The printed version of the CFR is paperbound by the GPO with a colorful spine that changes every year and allows users to quickly determine which titles have been revised for the year and which are still awaiting revision. It also offers depository librarians the joy of placing bets on what spine color may appear in the forthcoming year.
In addition to its rules, the CFR also provides the key to how these regulations interact with statutory law. The Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules gives the rulemaking authority, along with citations for the statutes it is intended to affect (in the U.S. Code, the Statutes at Large, and Public Laws). The CFR is available from 1996 to the present from govinfo/FDsys ( ) and is also offered as the e l e ctroni c Code of Federal Regulations (eCFR) on its own site ( ), which has browsing and searching capability. Earlier years can be found on other sites such as HathiTrust.
But if the Federal Register is published daily (i.e., new regulations appear every twenty-four hours) and the CFR is only updated once a year to codify them, how does one keep it all straight, or know if the most current CFR has already been supplanted by new regulation? This is where the List of CFR Sections Affected (LSA) comes in. This publication lists proposed, new, and amended regulations that have been published in the Federal Register since the last revision of the CFR. It is a cross-reference, giving the CFR part and section confirmed, or revised. It then links all this back to the Federal Register page where that new regulatory information appears. Each volume of the LSA is cumulative, and it is published monthly. It is available from govinfo/FDsys ( ) back to 1997.
is a site provided by the Office of Information and Regulatory
Affairs (OIRA). The OIRA serves as coordinator for all the agencies making regulations; it is charged with ensuring that they follow proper processes, including offering proposed rules for public comment, considering alternatives to regulation, and more. It is an office that essentially regulates regulations—it reviews regulations and analyzes them before letting them forward through the process. Due to these functions, it collects information on the regulations, and it allows for the dissemination of some of that information through The information collection can be searched by agency for agencies with regulations currently under review, those which have had reviews completed in the past thirty days, and more. It also provides access to the Unified Agenda and Regulatory Plan.
bills itself as “your voice in federal decision-making,” and its
purpose is to allow citizens to find regulations, view information on them, and submit comments. To this end, search features by keyword, Regulation Identification Number, comment tracking number, and docket ID are included. Proposed rules, rules, notices, and supporting materials can all be found by searching the site (drawn from the Federal Register). Comments and citizen petitions are also viewable, and users can post their own comments and sign up for email alerts to keep themselves abreast of regulatory developments in areas that are of interest to them. Executive Orders
Executive Orders represent an end run around the congressional legislative system—they are not debated in Congress, and they are not voted on. Executive orders do not actually have an explicit definition grounded in law, but they function as presidential directives that carry the force of law. The president signs an executive order, and it functions as law. Congress can pass a law that overrides an executive order, but the president also gets his turn at that legislation when it comes across his desk, and he can veto it. While the current political atmosphere has made executive orders more visible, presidents have always used them as far back as to the foundation of the country. For example, the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive proclamation and order (number 95, to be exact); it carried the force of law. It would later be codified when the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, but the abolishment of slavery was first accomplished through executive order. And orders, the case is not necessarily one of volume; President Franklin Delano Roosevelt far and away holds the record for the most executive orders, numbering in the multiple thousands. The current partisan political climate ensures that such orders are closely scrutinized and criticized when they occur, and the motives for using an executive order as opposed to traditional legislation may be different. But to whom is such an order directed? The answer is not the American public. Executive orders are made by the president to federal agencies or officers of those agencies. The agencies and officers then carry out these directives as if they were the result of federal statute.
Due to this increased scrutiny, government information librarians are asked with increasing frequency about where to find executive orders. There are several options. As discussed previously, executive orders can be found in the Federal Register, and it is one of the timeliest sources. They can also be found on the White House website ( through the Office of the Press Secretary. Finally, executive orders and a variety of other presidential documents are found in the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents put together by the Office of the Federal Register. These include:
Proclamations Executive orders Speeches Press conferences Communications to Congress and federal agencies Statements made about bill signings and vetoes Appointments and nominations Reorganization plans Retirements White House announcements Press releases
T h e Compilation is available back to 1992 from govinfo/FDsys ( . Beginning in 1977, the information from the Compilation would be incorporated into the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States. Volumes for Presidents Ronald Reagan through Barack Obama are available in digital format from the National Archives
in many depository libraries.
Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice
Just as with the information on the court system and the legislative system in this chapter, it is important to note that law enforcement and criminal justice this work. However, there are criminal justice and law enforcement statistics, tools, and information available at the federal level, and those will be touched on in this section. Some of these tools do also aggregate state- and local-level data.
National Criminal Justice Reference Service Virtual Library |
The National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) was established in the 1970s to compile information on juvenile and criminal justice, victim assistance, and drug-related research and programs to help those engaged in law enforcement and to drive federal policy. NCJRS is sponsored by several sub- agencies beneath the Department of Justice (DOJ), which are themselves all overseen by the Office of Justice Programs (OJP):
Office of the Assistant Attorney General (OAAG) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART)
Thus, within one reference source, the NCJRS Virtual Library includes publications, statistics, and information from all of these entities. Some of the more notable of these sub-agency publications and other resources from these agencies will be examined in further detail later in this section. But generally, if one is searching for particular types of statistics or information, it will be generated by one of these OJP sub-agencies, so all are good sources to consult for topical information. The library collects and provides public access to not only publications from these sources but also to gray literature and journal articles. There are currently almost a quarter million records in the NCJRS Virtual Library, and many of these are full text, offered as PDFs. For those that aren’t, users can read abstracts of the publication, and those publications can be ordered from NCJRS or found in depository libraries. The library can be searched by title, author, journal name, and date range. The library also offers a thesaurus-based search, where users can select controlled-vocabulary terms (e.g., “active shooter” or “adjustment to parole”) and use them to build lists of publications for browsing. The thesaurus also offers see-alsos for related terms. The search results can then be sorted by relevancy, title, date, or NCJ publication number. Also, the site offers a listing of OJP publications it contains, which can be sorted alphabetically by title, publication date, or the date added sort can also be a good way to keep up with the latest OJP publications. Bureau of Justice Statistics |
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) oversees a variety of statistical programs that result in the publication of many useful datasets. BJS coordinates with and collects data from other federal agencies (such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the United States Sentencing Commission) and also uses the Census Bureau to collect statistics. It makes data available on:
Law enforcement agency and correctional facilities administration Prosecutorial practices and policies State court case processing Felony convictions Criminal victimization Federal criminal offenders Correctional populations Criminal justice expenditures
It also conducts special studies on other topics of interest to criminal justice and law enforcement. This information can be searched and accessed through the BJS site in a variety of ways. Its Data and Product Finder can be searched by release date or keyword; it can also be browsed by publication series (e.g., Crimes Against People with Disabilities). The results are listed in a tabular format indicating if they are available as a data table, PDF publication, or as a press release. Publications can be searched by series, and the BJS also offers its data by topics (e.g., the type of crime). This site is a one-stop shop for most statistical information related to criminal justice. Do you want to find key statistics on parolees? Recidivism rates? This is the place to start. For these types of statistics, users can find the survey data from which they were drawn so that further information can be gleaned. Statistical analysis tools are also offered to allow users to build custom tables of statistics in different topical areas (e.g., corrections, victims, courts, law enforcement, etc.).
Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reporting | / One of the most useful collections of statistics and information on law enforcement and criminal activities is the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. The program compiles annual data into four publications:
Crime in the United States National Incident-Based Reporting System Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted
Hate Crime Statistics The data collected by this program is also used to produce a variety of miscellaneous reports on other law enforcement and criminal justice-related topics. Whether you need information on cargo theft, human trafficking, family violence, or the number of law enforcement officers in your city, the Uniform Crime Reports have this information, often in ways that can be parsed geographically. These publications are available through the Uniform Crime Reporting website. Most of these publications are available back to the mid- 1990s on the website (except for the National Incident-Based Reporting System, which was not instituted until 2011). Crime in the United States dates back to 1958, and much of the same types of information can also be found going back even further by searching the web for specific years in the Uniform Crime Reports, since data is available back to 1930.
The FBI, along with the BJS, has also compiled these statistics into its UCR Data tool ( ). This tool allows users to build tables for statistics at the national and state level from 1960 to the present and at the city and county level from 1985 onward.
National Institute of Justice Publications | The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is a research agency that focuses on, among other things:
Crime Law enforcement Prevention of violence and victimization Corrections Forensic science
Due to this focus, many of its publications appear in the form of evidence-based best practices. The research conducted and information gathered by NIJ is available in various forms, from webcasts to articles to monographs. In addition to these specialized publications, the NIJ publishes its own NIJ Journal and also makes annual reports to Congress that highlight current issues in law enforcement and criminal justice and how the NIJ is attempting to impact them. This information can be searched, or it is organized in topical form for easy browsing.
Drug Enforcement Administration and Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Statistics |and
Statistics on drug-related issues can be found in a variety of sources (see
Chapter 10 for information on drug abuse statistics and relations to mortality) and are often found incorporated with other more general criminal justice and explosives. Yet there are two separate agencies that focus specifically on such issues and thus offer targeted information. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Resource Center Statistics and Facts offers a variety of statistics, both domestic and international (e.g., the influence of major Mexican transnational criminal organizations). In addition to the statistics, the DEA also publishes Drug Fact Sheets and information on drug schedules.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) produces statistics and information, some of which cannot be found in other governmental justice sources. For instance, the ATF’s U.S. Bomb Data Center compiles statistics on bombings, explosives, and arson-related incidents. It provides firearms tracing data both domestically by state and internationally. Firearms manufacturers provide data on manufacturers, export, and firearms commerce that the ATF publishes annually. The ATF publishes Fact Sheets available from its website on many topics (e.g., explosives, fireworks, etc.). There are also publications that the ATF releases under the Freedom of Information Act, such as documentation related to its enforcement and investigative activities.
Selected Commercial Resources
While many commercial resources that repackage government information are difficult to justify due to their expense, there are several that focus on legislative and legal information which prove the exception to that rule. The legislative and judicial process is complex, and vendor tools which simplify searching and consolidate a variety of sources into tools that provide uninterrupted coverage with editorial enhancements that greatly save time can certainly be worth the outlay if one has the financial resources to expend. ProQuest Congressional
ProQuest Congressional is one of the most comprehensive sources available for U.S. legislative information from the inception of the country until the present day. Of particular note is the access it provides to committee prints and hearings (both published and unpublished), which can be very challenging to locate in other sources. ProQuest’s subscription model is modular, allowing users to add other modules to the basic congressional subscription plan. Full descriptions of the different models for a la carte selection are available from ProQuest’s website
Congressional Hearings Digital Collection—this is especially notable because it contains unpublished hearings, which can be difficult to locate from freely available government sources.
Congressional Research Digital Collection—this features CRS reports and Congressional Record Permanent Digital Collection U.S. Serial Set Digital Collections, I (1789–1969) and II (1970–present) U.S. Serial Set Maps Digital Collection Digital U.S. Bills and Resolutions Legislative Insight—this offers many legislative histories which have already been researched for users. Executive Orders and Presidential Proclamations
These databases offer basic and advanced search options. There are also other vendors that offer similar content, such as HeinOnline (e.g., U.S. Congressional Documents, U.S. Code, U.S. Federal Legislative History Library, etc.). LexisNexis and WestLaw
From law firms to academic institutions to government agencies, many of these invest in a subscription to LexisNexis or WestLaw products to further their legal research. In addition to its suite of business resources, LexisNexis is known for access to legal research sources including:
Federal court decisions (U.S. Supreme Court, appellate and district courts, and specialty courts, such as bankruptcy and tax courts) Federal regulations (Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, etc.) State court decisions
LexisNexis offers not only primary legal sources (statutes, case law, regulations, etc.) but also secondary sources, such as law reviews and related news sources. This provides a fuller picture, and the news sources especially can set the LexisNexis product apart from competitors. Users can search by citations, case names, counsel and justice names, and more. The coverage range is impressive; Supreme and District Court decisions are available from 1789/90 to the present.
By contrast, WestLaw, now a Thomson Reuters product, provides much of the same type of information, but its organizational structure varies. It is often praised for its Key Number System searching and the strength of its editorial enhancements. Legal forms, legislative histories, case evaluations, and attorney/judge profiles can all be found through WestLaw, along with primary legal sources. Both these products, WestLaw and LexisNexis, are valuable resources, and they are priced accordingly. Another competitor in this realm is Bloomberg Law ( ), which more closely resembles LexisNexis products in that it contains information with both legal and business focuses.
It should also be mentioned that both WestLaw and LexisNexis produce annotated versions of the United States Code (the United States Code practitioners of the law consult rather than the U.S. Code, even though these are not “official” versions of the Code. They are valued for their annotations, which provide quickly accessible references that include court opinions and case law, law review articles, and more that affect the individual statutes in the Code. FindLaw and Justia | /
These websites are listed in this commercial resources section because they are not government-produced resources, but they are freely available. Both are portals that provide searching and links to legal information that is on the web, such as cases, information from law firms, and more. Of the two, Justia has perhaps the more user-friendly interface, and it also arranges law information topically by legal practice areas (real estate, immigration), legal research (cases and codes, courts), and legal services (attorneys by specialty, etc.)
ProQuest Criminal Justice Database A ProQuest offering that will be helpful to those looking for criminal justice and law enforcement information is the Criminal Justice Database. The coverage spans from 1981 to the present, and it includes such topics as:
Criminology Corrections administration Criminal law Criminal justice Law enforcement Addiction Family law Industrial security Rehabilitation
In addition to criminal justice journals, the database also includes dissertations and trade publications and crime reports.
How Do I Find Congressional Prints, Reports, or Other Committee Information? T h e Congressional Record provides access to what goes on during the proceedings on the floor of the chamber, but so much of the legislative process occurs not in this realm but in committee. Committees also have an investigative function that can provide in-depth information on topics of particular relevance to American society. How does one go about accessing this type of information? available. Committee reports on bills that are leaving committee (because they are being recommended for passage by the full chamber) can vary in their makeup, but most include information such as:
A copy of the bill A legislative history (used to determine the intent of the bill) A cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (a report that analyzes the bill to project its costs and how it will affect the federal budget) A statement of the reasoning behind support of the bill
Committees publish on a variety of other things besides why they support a particular bill. They may report on oversight activities or conferences, and they hold hearings and solicit testimony, information, and opinions from outside sources. There are also congressional committee prints. These publications can vary greatly in what they contain—from situational studies to memorial tributes to legislative analyses. One common kind of committee print is either investigative or historical in nature; they are research based. Formulated at the request of congressional committee members, those who have input on these types of committee prints can vary greatly. Their purpose is usually to inform committee members on matters related to a bill which the committee members may not understand (such as technical details, etc.). Committee prints are the more succinct counterpart to the information that is sometimes given by experts when questioned in congressional hearings—a synopsis of facts prepared to help the committee with the background of a particular issue so they can have an informed vote.
Another type of report widely consulted is the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report. Congressmen utilize the CRS as their own personal librarians— they can request that the CRS research and report on just about any topic that might affect policy; it does not have to be tied to a particular bill or congressional issue.
The sources to consult for locating these types of reports vary. Some sources for locating hearings are touched on in the section above on the Serial Set (which, by and large, is not a source for hearings information) and especially in the commercial resources section, which can be one of the easiest ways to find historical hearings. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cost estimates are
and distributed to depository libraries. They are also available from the CBO’s website, and they are contained in the aforementioned committee reports. Committee reports are published by the GPO, they have a specified enumeration based on the chamber and Congress (e.g., H.Rept. 115–372 or S.Rept. 115– committee reports are available digitally from govinfo/FDsys. Early committee reports (1833–1917) are also available digitally from the Library of Congress’s Century of Lawmaking site ( .
Committee prints can be problematic because they lack consistency. Because they are considered to be internal documents, there are some instances where they are not published at all, and even when they are, different committees have different procedures for the publication of their prints. House committee prints do not have a regular enumeration, though those for the Senate do (e.g., S.Prt. 114–117). Unlike committee reports, committee prints are generally not found in the Serial Set. They are available digitally from govinfo/FDsys back to 1991 and also some from 1975/76; the Internet Archive ( ) offers additional coverage. Many depository libraries have committee prints in their microfiche holdings. One of the selling points of commercial vendor products such as ProQuest Congressional is the access these products provide to hearings and committee prints, which can be difficult to search for and locate in freely available sources. Perhaps the only source of its kind and one that needs to be on your radar when searching for committee prints is the Congressional Information Service’s U.S. Congressional Committee Prints Index. This source indexes committee prints back to the early 1800s. It is one of several indexing products published by the Congressional Information Service (CIS); it is succeeded by the CIS Annual, which indexes prints, reports, hearings, and public laws from 1970 to the present. CIS also indexes historical hearings, including those that were unpublished. Three sites that provide some very helpful information in this area are the Law Library of Congress’s:
Federal Legislative History: Initial Steps page ( ) Locating a Congressional Committee Print: A Beginner’s Guide page
How to Locate a Published Congressional Hearing: A Beginner’s Guide
In addition to being found in the microfiche collections of many depository libraries, a number of these materials (reports, prints, and other congressional materials) are available with different coverage dates through sources such as HathiTrust and Google Books. Searching for the individual report or print title or keywords can turn up digitized versions in these sources.
How Do I Understand Legislative Citations?Table 12.2 lists some of the most common citations you will come across when
types will not only show you exactly what you are looking at and what is being referenced, but it will also help in your reference activities when searching for legislative information.Table 12.2. Legislative Citation Examples
United States Code 42 U.S.C. § 405(a) 42 is the title, 405 is the section, (a) is the subsection Statutes at Large 107 Stat. 25 107 is the volume number, 25 is the page Public laws P.L. 103–31 103 is the Congress, 31 is the sequential law number (the 31st law passed during the 103rd Congress) Bills S.483 or H.R.3999 S. represents Senate or H.R. for House of Representatives, then the sequential bill number House and Senate Resolutions
S.Res.543 or H.Res.543S.J.Res.71 or H.J.Res.71S.Con.Res.46 or H.Con.Res.46 A simple resolution originating in the House (H.Res.) or
Senate (S.Res.), then the resolution number A joint resolution originating in the Senate (S.J.Res.) or the House (H.J.Res.), then the resolution number A concurrent resolution originating in the Senate (S.Con.Res.) or the House (H.Con.Res), then the number
House and Senate Committee Reports .114–2 or H.Rpt.114–3 114 is the Congress, then the report number Code of Federal
20 C.F.R. § 404.260 20 is the CFR title, 404 is the part, and 260 is the section Federal Register
75 Fed. Reg. 81,849 75 is the Federal Register volume, 81,849 is the page number
How Do I Learn the Bare Minimum of Legal Terminology So I Know What I’m Searching?Table 12.3 shows some commonly used legal terms and classifications, which are things you will need to understand to use certain search engines or look up
citations.Table 12.3. Key Legal Terms
Brief Summary presented to the court which enumerates the legal arguments of the case to be made, and it includes citations.
Docket A list of all filings and rulings associated with a particular court case, arranged in chronological order. Docketsare usually searched by docket number, and the structure of this number (which can include letters) varies depending on the court with which the action was filed.
Filing The paperwork and documentation that is filed with the clerk of a court. Opinion The decision or ruling made by the court, usually stated in a consistent format with an explanation of the underlying reasoning and citations of precedent. There are majority opinions (formal statement of the opinion of the majority of the court’s members), concurring opinion (agrees with the majority opinion, but takes issue with some points given in the majority opinion), plurality opinion (the controlling opinion when there is no majority agreement), and dissenting opinion (the majority decision is not unanimous, and one or more judges in disagreement with the majority write an opinion explaining their dissent). Oral arguments
Verbal presentations given before the court, along with questions posed by the justices. Orders Court orders differ from court opinions; they are short rulings which resolve petitions in summary fashion, either by granting or denying it. Party There are many different parties that can be involved in legal issues (plaintiffs, etc.), but in federal court, parties are usually a petitioner (the party who files a petition to ask the court to rule on an issue or appeal a ruling that has already been handed down from an inferior court) and the respondent (the party who stands in opposition to the petitioner).
Legislative and legal information can be extremely complicated, and when considered holistically, it includes much information generated at the state and local level. For the purposes of federal legislative, legal, regulatory, and judicial information, major sources include:
Congressional Record Congressional Serial Set Federal Register Code of Federal Regulations United States Code Statutes at Large United States Reports
Formulating, regulating, and interpreting the law are not the only aspects of the process; enforcement is another area. Agencies of note in the area of law enforcement and criminal justice include:
Bureau of Justice Statistics National Criminal Justice Reference Service National Institute of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Drug Enforcement Agency
Scientific, Technical, and Statistical Information
Scientific and technical Statistical information Selected commercial resources Practical applications
HE UNITED STATES HAS always acknowledged that scientific
advancement is an integral part of a healthy economy and a safe, prosperous society; thus there are a number of agencies within the federal government that focus on scientific and technical information. From the
minutia of jet propulsion technical specifications to scientific papers on a particular species of insect, the federal government oversees the publication of them all. Some information that is scientific has been covered in previous chapters (especially those with sections on the environment, energy, weather, etc.). As will be apparent if you have made it this far, the federal government also produces an amazing amount of statistical information. That information and the specialized sources for finding said information have been covered in the preceding chapters on specific subjects. There are also some generalized statistical tools available for government information, and this chapter will touch on those briefly.
Scientific and Technical
is a portal providing public access to free journal articles, peer-
reviewed accepted manuscripts, and a variety of research publications funded by federal science agencies. Some agencies collaborate on the content that makes up such as the Department of Education and the Defense
Technical Information Center. The portal currently searches approximately sixty allows users to limit by topics, such as Applied Science and Technologies. National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics | /
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is a federal agency devoted entirely to the promotion of the progress of science, especially as it relates to advancing health and prosperity for Americans and securing national defense. It is devoted to funding scientific education and advancement through grants and other programs. It also maintains the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), which focuses on research and development, science and engineering, technology, and STEM education. The NCSES prepares a number of annual reports, including the seminal Science and Engineering Indicators ( ). These indicators are compiled from many different survey sources (e.g., Survey of Science and Engineering Facilities) and can be parsed by state indicators. The data for these publications is available for download, and charts and figures are also included. The various forms of data collected through the NCSES’s surveys can be accessed and manipulated using tools such as WebCASPAR ( /), which culls data regarding science and engineering at U.S. academic institutions, and SESTAT ( , which offers information on the education and employment of scientists and engineers in the United States. NCSES’s surveys focus on the areas of:
Scientists’ and engineers’ education Funding and expenditures for research and development Science and engineering research facilities Science and engineering workforce Public attitudes toward and understanding of science and engineering
National Technical Information Service National Technical Reports Library The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) has been an embattled agency of late. It serves as a centralized resource for government-funded scientific, technical, and engineering information. Its former business model was based on cost recovery; its technical reports were obtainable through purchase or through a subscription to its online library. Yet the NTIS was not actually operating on a cost-recovery basis; it could not sustain itself through its actual products and instead charged fees to federal agencies for service fulfillment. This drew scrutiny from the Government Accountability Office, which published a series of reports regarding the NTIS. One of these found that 74 percent of the reports added to the NTIS library were available from other government 1 sources.
The result of this scrutiny is that, as of 2016, the NTIS reports are now (NTRL) contains approximately three million titles, over 800,000 of which are full text. The library offers searching by keyword, title, author, accession number, report number, year, and more. Subject searching is also supported. As mentioned above, much of the scientific and engineering information available through the library can also be found in other sources, but some of it is unique, and the database’s search capabilities and single-point access make it an efficient way to search for this type of information. National Aeronautics and Space Administration tools |
NASA’s website ( /) needs to be a stop for general aeronautics and space information. The educational resources section provides some amazing resources which can be limited by subject, type, and even by audience. The Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System ( ) is a separate entity, a system that includes four bibliographic databases that provide access to approximately thirteen million bibliographic records in the areas of astronomy and astrophysics, instrumentation, physics and geophysics, and preprints in astronomy. It is hosted by Harvard’s Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and it contains bibliographic records on journal articles, monographs, and other publications, many of which are available as full text.Figure 13.1. One of a set of fourteen “travel posters” created by the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to showcase celestial travel destinations.
NASA also supports a variety of research centers which offer scientific tools. For instance, NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC; provides tools for browsing specific missions or searching for particular objects or positions in space. Daily images of the cosmos are posted along with explanations. This is just one of NASA’s research centers.
OpenNASA ( /) is an open data repository that currently contains over 30,000 datasets. It is easiest to access these datasets through users wade through this mass of data. Data can be browsed by category (e.g., applied science) or type and also searched. 3D models of space suits, vehicles, and more can be found through these tools and downloaded.
Highly technical papers, reports, and other publications from NASA are available in depository libraries and online through NASA’s Technical Reports Server (NTRS; ). These reports include books, accepted manuscripts, book chapters, conference proceedings, journal articles, and technical reports. Many of these publications are available for public access as PDFs; those that aren’t can be requested. This database is particularly notable because it also includes movies, datasets, and oral and visual presentations. Another source for NASA publications is the PubSpace database, which is actually a subset of the PubMed database ( /). Any publication that results from NASA-funded research is required to be deposited in this database, and this includes peer-reviewed scientific publications.
The Smithsonian Institution is enormous, and it encompasses a multitude of subjects. Its vast complex includes museums, research centers, cultural centers, libraries, and more. The Smithsonian fosters a variety of publications in the realm of the sciences, and it also offers a National and Physical Sciences Digital Library. This collection is primarily related to historical science and includes such collections as the Index Animalium, an index of every living organism discovered between 1758 and 1850. Taxonomic literature is another collection that botanists, in particular, will find useful. There are also links available to various exhibitions regarding natural and physical sciences and digitized collections of science books.
However, it is the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press that has vastly increased scientific literature, especially in the areas of biology, zoology, botany, marine sciences, and anthropology, among others. It publishes a number of series (e.g., Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology) that feature highly specialized scientific studies. Historical publications are available in many depository libraries, and the current versions are available online. One of the easier ways to find them is by searching the Catalog of Government Publications ( ); the catalog provides permanent links to the full text.
Defense Technical Information Center Resources | The Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) provides technical research and development information to the defense community to assist with its technological advancement. Due to the sensitive nature of defense information, not all of what the DTIC produces is available to the public. DTIC does offer access tool for research funded by the Department of Defense and defense- related sub-agencies. Full text is available, but in some cases, an embargo of up to a year applies. Another search tool offered is the DTIC Thesaurus, which cross-references subjects to assist users with accessing defense information. Collections of technical reports can be searched and downloaded in PDF format. Further defense-related technical information is available from the ASSIST system ( , which is the official source for the specifications and standards utilized by the Department of Defense. It indexes over 11,000 technical documents, many of which are available digitally.
As mentioned in the introduction to this chapter, the majority of subject-specific statistical information should be sought in the relevant subject sections within earlier chapters. This chapter will focus on general statistical sources and portals.
As the U.S. federal government focuses on open-data initiatives, it has created and enhanced portals to that data.is one such portal. It indexes a whopping 200,000 datasets on topics such as:
Agriculture Climate Consumer data Ecosystems Education Energy Finance Health Local government Manufacturing Maritime Public safety Science and research
Datasets can be searched, or they can be browsed by topics, dataset type, format, organization, publisher, and more. Datasets can also be filtered by geographic location. Statistical Abstract of the United States |
The Statistical Abstract of the United States was one of the most useful tools for 1800s and compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, it was a comprehensive compendium of statistical sources on the social, political, and economic data produced by the federal government. From health and nutrition to geography to national security to manufacturing and even international statistics, the Statistical Abstract was the first place to start. It could serve as a reference for quick facts and a guide to further research. Unfortunately, the Statistical Abstract has been one of the most notable of the many casualties that the Census Bureau’s programs have suffered in the past few years; the Abstract program was discontinued by the Bureau due to funding issues in 2011, so the 2012 edition is the last Statistical Abstract available from the government.
As is the case with many sources abandoned or simply not updated by the government, this particular title was quickly picked up by a commercial publisher. Now known as the ProQuest Statistical Abstract of the United States, it is published annually by Rowman & Littlefield at the cost of nearly $200 for the printed version. Statistical Programs of the United States Government |
The Statistical Programs of the United States Government is an annual report prepared by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and it outlines how much the federal government spends to keep its statistical programs running. While this financial information can be interesting, the value of the publication for the general user lies more in what it lists—an overview of the federal statistical system, all of the principal statistical agency programs, and other federal statistical information by department. In this way, users can see there are statistical programs within the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, Geological Survey, and the National Park Service, among others. Users can then seek out the resources these programs provide. The Statistical Programs publication can be found in depository libraries and is available for sale from the GPO, with later reports available online.
FedStats and and
FedStats bills itself as “your window into U.S. federal statistics,” and it is one of the older portals available, dating back to 1997. Because it can be difficult to know which agency might produce particular statistics, portals such as FedStats can be a good general source with which to start. Over one hundred agencies’ statistical information is indexed through FedStats. All these agencies are listed on a separate page within the site and, as with the Statistical Programs of the
United States Government, browsing this list can help familiarize users with the aspect of FedStats is that its search feature is clunky and the RSS feed information (parsed by the statistical agency) seems to be the only aspect of the site that is regularly updated. It is likely that this site will be completely phased out in favor ofs Data and Statistics “About the United States” page, since it contains some of the same information and many of the older portals have had their information migrated into the topical areas of the
The CIA World Factbook has been mentioned in other, subject-related chapters, but it bears mentioning in this section about general statistical resources due to the scope of statistical information that it provides. With the demise of the Statistical Abstract, the CIA World Factbook is one of the few compendium-type statistical sources still available from the federal government. It contains international statistics on:
Geography People and society Government Economy Energy Communications Transportation Military and security Transnational issues
Selected Commercial Resources
Technical Report Archive & Image Library (TRAIL) | The Technical Report Archive & Image Library (TRAIL) is not technically a commercial resource in that its information is free, although the member libraries that participate do pay fees. It is a quasi-government information resource; it was not created or maintained by a federal government entity—it is produced through a collaboration of the Center for Research Libraries Global Resources Network and some member libraries. However, the project provides access to technical reports produced by U.S. government agencies that have been identified, cataloged, and digitized by the member libraries. Access is open to the public, and it also provides topical guides on science and technology.
Coverage varies, but the majority of reports contained within TRAIL date from 1976 to the present. Basic keyword and advanced searching is available, as is browsing by subject. ProQuest Statistical Insight ProQuest Statistical Insight bears mentioning in a chapter that covers U.S. government statistical information, because much of what is contained in the ProQuest tool is gleaned from U.S. federal agency statistical sources and state and intergovernmental organizations. The primary subject areas that ProQuest focuses on with these datasets are business and economics, social science, sociology, and public policy. Much of the information dates from 1973 to the present, so this is not the most effective source for historical statistical information.
How Can I Find Government-Funded Research? Within the past few years, the federal government has placed an increasing emphasis on making the results and publications that stem from federally funded research and development publicly available. Of course, there are exceptions, such as some defense-related and other sensitive information. But for the rest, the idea is that if research is conducted with public funds, the data and other information that it generates should be open to the public that funded it, with the goal of fostering innovation and building on new discoveries without barriers to the information which is necessary to that goal. In a 2013 memorandum to the heads of all executive departments and agencies, the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy directed these entities to develop plans to support increased public access to the results of research 2 funded by the federal government.
Thus it can be useful to know which federal entities fund research and development because it can offer gateways to the information such research generates. This information can be obtained from the National Science Foundation through its Master Government List of Federally Funded R&D Centers ( /). This list can be downloaded as an Excel file, or it can be browsed online by such categories as location, administrator type (e.g., industrial firms, universities, etc.), the research activity type, and the sponsoring agency.
While some scientific information has been covered in other chapters, this chapter focuses on the agencies within the federal government that are engaged in scientific endeavor and/or produce scientific, technical, and statistical information. Major sources include:
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Defense Technical Information Center National Technical Information Service
Statistical Abstract of the United States
1. U.S. Government Accountability Office, The National Technical Information Service’s Dissemination of Technical Reports Needs Attention (Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office, 2014),
2. John P. Holdren, Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies: Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research (Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy, 2013), .
Part III CHAPTER 14
Tips for Collection Development
Your user base Maintaining focus GPO resources Cooperative collection development Saving money Assessment Filling collection gaps Electronic resources
UILDING A GOVERNMENT INFORMATION collection can differ in a
variety of ways from building traditional, subject-based collections. One major difference is that government information collections are interdisciplinary. Other differences, especially when it comes to selection and
acquisition through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), can produce additional considerations for these collections that traditional collections do not share, and they can also pose challenges for collection development. What follows are a few tips for managing government information resources to ensure that your collection meets user needs.
Define Your User Base
This is the first step in effective building for any type of collection—one must know the makeup of one’s user base and understand their needs. The type of library in which you work will have a great deal of bearing on this. For instance, if you are employed in an academic library, then your primary user base will include students, faculty and staff, and the administration of the university. You will want to familiarize yourself with the curriculum and the programs your institution offers, along with the specific courses that can benefit from specific types of government information, and give all these things due consideration level (covered in detail in the section on assessment). General users and master’s-level students may need information on the same subject, but the collection depth necessary to satisfy their informational needs will be different. If you are an FDLP library, you must keep in mind your federal mandate to serve the public at large, no matter who makes up your primary user base. To best serve the community, community analysis is key. Many of the resources covered in this work can help you with that—demographic and economic tools you can use to gather information and familiarize yourself with the traits of the geographic area in which your users live and some of the special considerations those users may have that affect their informational needs. Analyze the community that surrounds your library, think about the government information sources that would be useful to them, and then target your collection development to include these resources. An example might include selecting more Spanish-language materials if your surrounding community is predominately a Spanish-speaking population, or focusing on small business resources if the local chamber of commerce is attempting to foster economic growth through entrepreneurship. You can reach out to these types of organizations (chambers of commerce, local health departments and other social services, civic groups, etc.) for information about your community and solicit their opinions about the types of resources that would be most beneficial. Incorporate that into your decision-making.
Your user base may be slightly different than mine; it may be completely different. The point is simply to know who your particular user base is—take the time to educate yourself so that you can then make the appropriate selections and build a collection tailored to their needs.
Government information can suffer from a singular type of collection creep that is not usually experienced with traditional library resources. Whereas most collection building is inclusive, government information collection building can skew more toward the exclusive—ensuring you aren’t receiving material that you don’t want, just as much as you’re acquiring the resources you do want. Due to the selection process from the Government Publishing Office (GPO; covered in greater detail in Chapter 1), libraries can end up with publications that were not what they intended to select or even publications they never selected at all. You may perhaps be thinking, “But all these publications are free, so why worry? Money isn’t being wasted.” While it’s true that, for libraries which receive their government information materials through the FDLP, the materials themselves are without charge, the staff time to process and maintain them and the shelf space to house them are not. These are expendable library resources. Allowing publications that are not useful to accumulate on your materials, which can make finding what they need more difficult. For this reason, selection, acquisition, and maintenance of federal government information collections through the FDLP can require more attention to detail to create a useful collection. The following sections provide a few ideas on how to approach this.
Know Your Collection Development Policy
Every library should have a collection development policy, and the policy should be reviewed on a regular basis. Government information collections are often considered in their own section within institutional policies due to their unique nature. If this is not the case with your collection development and management policy, you may want to add such a section, especially if your library is a member of the FDLP. As an FDLP library, your library needs to meet certain governmental mandates concerning selection, preservation, and access that will not be required for the main collection of your institution. It’s important to define these issues in policy and to always remember that just because you know something doesn’t mean that the selectors who come after you will. For example, say you make the decision to collect comprehensively and even retain superseded publications from a particular group of agencies (e.g., the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, etc.) because your institution has recently added a doctoral program in Emergency Management. If you don’t bother to codify this in policy and selectors or collection managers change, those next librarians who come along may wonder why superseded material had been allowed to accumulate, or why acquisition in particular areas is being pursued to such depth, leading them to deselect materials en masse, decimating the resources necessary to support research at the doctoral level. Government publications, unlike traditional acquisitions, can be difficult to acquire “after the fact.” If you do not select the material when it is first released and shipped out by the GPO, the chances are good that it will never be offered for sale through the GPO Bookstore or any other source again, so going back to buy it later probably won’t be an option. There are some tools you can utilize to help fill collection gaps, and they will be covered in this chapter, but the most effective way to ensure you acquire the government publications you need is to select them in the first place. Make sure that your selection criteria are consistent so those gaps do not occur. Collection development policies further this goal.
If your library does not have a collection development and management policy or it’s outdated, there’s no time like the present to put an updated plan in place. There are plenty of excellent examples libraries offer on the policy sections of their websites that you can follow and then modify to reflect goals that relate to your library’s specific resource needs. Familiarize yourself with policy, because it should both reflect your collection goals and be a primary driver for your
Review Your Shipping Lists
If your institution is an FDLP library, it doesn’t have to keep shipping lists from the GPO, but you should certainly review them before you discard them. It’s a quick way to see what’s actually arriving under the item numbers that you are selecting. This can be especially helpful with item numbers that have somewhat generic descriptions. It can also be an effective way to see how much of a particular type of item you are receiving. Perhaps you were interested in a few technical publications from NASA, but you find that a single item number nets you hundreds per year. Perhaps you were interested in particular types of USGS maps for your area but learn that the item number you selected gives you this type of map for regions you don’t need; it might be better to simply purchase the few maps you are interested in having in tangible format from the USGS rather than have to run dozens or hundreds of maps through the disposal process. Perhaps you need a publication but find that a format change would better benefit your end users. If you are receiving publications under an item number and those aren’t what you intended to select, are not useful for your collection, or are more effectively used in a different format (e.g., digital versions of pamphlets rather than printed ones stuffed into a vertical file), drop those item numbers immediately. The less you allow yourself to accumulate, the less you will have to run through the disposal process at a later date, which is typically five years from the date of receipt.
Weed Your Collection Regularly
Government publications can be ephemeral in a way that other materials are not. From grant application forms to regularly updated vehicle use maps or cumulative volumes with new material added annually—they are often revised or superseded or are time sensitive. In general, unless they are being retained in order to build a comprehensive collection for special user groups, these types of publications do not need to be allowed to accumulate and cause confusion with outdated information or waste your shelf space and clutter up your catalog. It’s not as daunting a prospect to keep things current as one might imagine. If items are cataloged correctly, when the latest revision or superseding volume comes in, you will already know you have a previous version in the collection that needs to be deselected. Ideas for cataloging that can be especially helpful for government publications include:
Linking succeeding and preceding entries or even nonspecific relationship entries by using 700 fields in the MARC records Creating added entry records rather than using individual records for annual report and other regularly published titles each other are grouped together on the shelf
For time-sensitive material, keeping a spreadsheet with dates for deselection can be an effective method of management.
Make Use of the Resources Offered by the GPO
The GPO wants you to build and maintain a useful collection of government information that will serve your congressional district and the public at large; its interests align with yours, and it offers a number of resources to help you toward this goal. You will want to take a look at Chapter 15, which deals with continuing education, because some of the opportunities covered there from the GPO will help you with collection development activities. Even if you are not a depository coordinator, if you are responsible (in full or in part) for managing a federal government information collection, you should be familiar with the resources for collection development that can be found through the FDLP.
should be your first stop; start with the “Depository Collection and
wealth of other information, there are links on the page to lists that you are going to want to look at, which are:
The FDLP Basic Collection—No ifs, ands, or buts; if you are an FDLP library, you must provide access to the titles in this collection. Essential Titles—This list of titles isn’t mandatory for collection, but they are
considered critical reference publications. If you don’t select or provide access to them, you will want to seriously consider why you don’t and perhaps rethink that decision.
Suggested Core Collections—This is where the GPO gets specific and does
some of the work for you. These core collections are parsed by type of library (academic, law, and public). If you are a large public library, you may want to select everything in the Suggested Core Collection for Public Libraries. If you are a small public library, perhaps you will select only a percentage of this list, but it gives you a place to start for the types of government information materials your users may find useful, based upon the type of library in which you work.
Chapter 1 explained how items are selected, acquired, and deselected under governmental regulations and the tools the GPO offers to deal with these aspects of collection development. is the place to go to familiarize yourself with these processes and learn more—there are many resources here geared toward those new to the world of government information. The Quickstart Guide ( ) is a succinct step-by-step guide to help newbies get started. Articles about the basics of the FDLP can also be found here, in addition to opportunities to sign up for email interesting government information and publications. Speaking of which, the Government Book Talk blog from the GPO Bookstore ( ) is another great resource that needs to be in your collection development toolkit. Its topical posts can help with collection building in particular subject areas, and it also offers RSS feeds and email alerts regarding new government publications. One feature of note is that most blog posts, after talking about the publications and resources, include links on how to acquire what was discussed.
Some of the general tools examined in Chapter 4 can also be of great benefit as collection development resources, so be sure and take a look at those as well.
Cooperative Collection Development
One thing to consider both in the acquisition and in the deselection of materials is the government information resources that can be gleaned from other libraries. Some libraries have formal cooperative collection development agreements with other libraries in a specific geographical area. They have agreed to pursue certain collection development goals together, and all parties are aware of their collection development and maintenance roles and responsibilities because they are clearly delineated. However, you don’t have to have a formal agreement to take other libraries’ collections into consideration when you are performing your own collection development duties. This is especially true when it comes to deselection. One of the things to keep in mind with the deselection process is the holdings of other libraries in your geographical region that may have the same publication. Think about how difficult it might be for patrons to acquire a particular title if you get rid of it. Does a library right down the road own it? Is it available in digital format? Could you deselect the print version in favor of the electronic one, or direct users to another library close by? If so, then you might not be significantly reducing access if your library deselected the publication. Check WorldCat or other union catalog tools and see who holds the publications you are considering deselecting. If you are the only library in the state that holds a particular publication, you may want to reconsider weeding it, since you will probably not have a chance to reacquire it and other libraries might rely on you as an inter- library loan source.
Another form of cooperative collection development can be found through Selective Housing Agreements (SHAs). These most often come into play with academic libraries, but some public libraries also utilize them. If, as a depository, segments of the community you serve need certain publications, but you don’t have space or other issues prevent you from housing them onsite, you can have another entity house them for you through an SHA. For instance, say may want you to collect maps extensively but your primary user base hasn’t shown a need for them and you don’t have the room or cases to house them. The geography department can enter into an SHA with your library to house and maintain those maps for you. You select them, but they are shipped to, processed, and maintained by the geography department. If you are a public library, you might consider this type of agreement for specific subject materials that would be of use to local agencies with whom your work closely (e.g., a nearby job placement center). This type of cooperative collection development requires a formal agreement (the SHA) that must be signed by all parties and put on file with the GPO. It can solve certain problems, but it must be noted that it can also create others, sometimes so much so that these issues outweigh the benefits of an SHA. Non-library parties that enter into SHAs must be aware of the governmental rules and mandates they are required to meet—not just aware but also willing to abide by them—and everyone needs to be on the same page regarding collection development goals and maintenance of the collection. Also, when materials are housed offsite, personnel changes can create confusion or even a total lack of awareness that there is an SHA and rules on how these materials must be managed. For effective SHAs, communication is key, and librarians managing government information collections, even if parts of them are housed offsite with another party, should consider oversight of these collections as one of their primary responsibilities.
Save Your Institution Money
Cooperative collection development is one way to conserve resources—to share the burden so that everyone’s load is lighter. Government information also provides ways to conserve financial resources for your institution if you collect wisely. Earlier chapters touched on the fact that many commercial vendors repackage freely available government information and sell it at a premium. There are times when, if the financial resources are accessible, it can be worth considering a commercial product due to superior search functionality, aggregation, or other aspects which affect usability. In these cases, selectors must weigh the enhanced functionality against the cost to see if the purchase is justified. Often it is not, and other times, the funds simply aren’t there, so the point is moot. In these cases, understanding what is available from the government can save your institution money and/or provide access to resources that your users would not otherwise have. This is especially the case with certain types of publications and resources, such as statistical, legislative and legal, and technical types. You may even find that your library has standing orders for titles that are direct repackages of publications you can add to your selection profile and receive for free from the GPO.
So how do you know what’s out there? This book and others like it with a is simply to be a wise consumer and do research before you buy. If your library is considering purchasing a database of legislative material, look at what it contains, the sources from which it is drawn, and look for this information in government sources. You may find the primary source material is largely governmental, which means that it’s also likely to be freely available. Vendor sales representatives are often unaware that the wares they are peddling can be had for free, just in a different format. If they do know it, they certainly aren’t going to tell you, so when it comes to resource acquisition, it pays to educate yourself. Quite literally.
Collection assessment is an integral part of collection management. For those in academic libraries, it’s often imperative—collection assessments must be performed on a regular basis, timed to coincide with visits by program accrediting agencies, to show that the collection meets standards and is adequate to support the program being accredited. However, assessment is important for any type of library because it’s one of the best ways to get to know your collection.Figure 14.1. Pages from an assessment of an integrated government information collection, showing holdings counts.
Courtesy of the author.
If you are new to a particular collection, you won’t know what you have until you assess it. Until you know what you have, you won’t know what you need. There are a variety of methods for assessing traditional subject-based collections (e.g., WLN Conspectus), and these can be adapted to government information collections to create an assessment that meets your needs and shows you what you need to know so that you can effectively manage your collection. Some elements you will want to include in your assessment:
Introduction: Explain why you are conducting the assessment, and describe
its parameters. Give a little background about the collection. Is this an inaugural assessment? If not, how does it tie in with the ones that went before it? Hit the high points with the basic numbers—your total government information holdings, selection percentages through the FDLP, and so on. You will break these numbers down in later sections.
Collection level, purpose, and goals: Clearly enumerate the goals of the
collection. This is the baseline you are going to use to see if the collection you have is fulfilling its purpose. This is where you also indicate the level of depth with which you intend to collect. Is it comprehensive? Perhaps it’s basic study or instructional support level. Maybe, due to cooperative agreements or other factors, you collect in greater depth with regard to some subjects or agencies than others—enumerate those factors, so that your reasoning is clear. Do you collect in foreign languages? All of these things make up your collection level. Another important point to make: If your library is an FDLP library, then no matter what else it’s doing, it isn’t meeting collection goals if it isn’t in compliance with the Legal Requirements and Program Regulations (specifically, section III, which deals with collection development and maintenance). So you will want to include this as part of your purpose and goals. An appendix listing the FDLP regulations for collection development and how you are or aren’t in compliance is a helpful addition to any assessment.
Acquisitions, withdrawals, and funding: You should be keeping statistics on acquisitions and deselections. If you don’t, you need to. Enumerate these.
Funding is where you talk about how you spent your money on those acquisitions—show where it went. If your institution is an FDLP library, you didn’t have to spend money to acquire these materials. However, a funding section in your assessment is a great way to show the value of being a member of the FDLP. Most government publications aren’t available for sale, but you can pull the numbers from the GPO Bookstore for the few that are, including some of the titles that you currently collect. For instance, this is how you can show that if you had to buy the United States Code it would cost you over $5,000 a year for that single title. These types of things can be eye-openers.
Holdings: This is where you pull the data so you know what you have. Use
sure how to run these numbers yourself, you may need to consult with your systems or technical services colleagues. One hurdle can be separating out government information from other holdings. If your library does not integrate government publications, then this can be as simple as limiting to a few locations that contain only government information. If your library integrates its government publications into the main collection, this can make the process more complicated but by no means impossible. Federal government publications that are correctly cataloged have a variety of “hooks” you can use—fields unique to these publications. For instance, in the 008 fixed field in the MARC bibliographic record, an indicator “f” for “federal” is one such hook that can be used to batch holdings counts. Records which contain an 086 field (the SuDoc number) provide another way to pull holdings. Queries can be written to combine factors for pulling specific types of counts, including format (e.g., records with an 086 that also contain an 856—a URL access field—will give you counts for electronically available government information). If you don’t catalog your electronic resources, you can use defined access—pull counts from your LibGuides or however you direct your users to digital content. Your mileage may vary depending on how your resources are cataloged, the particular ILS your library uses, and how you offer access to electronic resources. You may have to get creative but the numbers are there, and there are ways to pull them.
Bibliographies: It’s standard practice to check holdings against
bibliographies that provide benchmarks for certain collections. There are digital tools for this, or it can be done the old-fashioned way by searching your catalog and comparing it to the list at hand. It has become increasingly complicated because fewer and fewer subject bibliographies are being produced, and finding updated resources to use as subject checklists can be difficult. This is also the case for bibliographies that can be used to benchmark federal government information collections. To create an accurate picture, you need both retrospective and current checklist resources, and it is the current subject-based resources that are dwindling. However, there are some, especially in the realm of digital government information. See the resources section at the end of this chapter for some suggestions. Of course, as mentioned earlier, the GPO itself offers a few lists you can use for your particular library—the “Essential Titles” list, the “Suggested Core Collection” lists, and the “Basic Collection.”
Narrative: You have got the numbers, and you will want to include them in
tables, charts, and percentages, but you also need to explain them. It’s not enough to say that your library has 6,974 government cartographic materials. Break that down. What are they? Nautical charts? Maps? If so, what kind? Soil surveys, USGS topographical, historical? GIS software? Put your details in the narrative—flesh it out so you, and your stakeholders, understand what’s actually contained in this collection. Give those numbers context.
Summary: This is where you pull everything together. Analyze all the
of your collection’s purpose and the goals you have set for it. Talk about the collection in terms of its strengths and its weaknesses, and those weaknesses are really what will help you the most—they show you where attention is needed and where your focus should be directed. This is also the section where you can chart progress. Assessments are not static. You don’t do one and call it quits. It is a process. Schedule assessments at regular intervals (every five to ten years is a good rule of thumb), and track how well you have addressed the weaknesses from the last assessment in the most recent one’s summary.
Recommendations: After you have summarized your findings, now’s the
time to weigh in on what’s to be done. The last section of your assessment should include recommendations. Let’s say that one of the things you discovered during your assessment process was that your library was missing certain key retrospective resources; you would then make a recommendation to scour Needs and Offers lists (covered in the next section) and other sources in an attempt to acquire those resources and fill gaps, or perhaps you even suggest the acquisition of a commercial product which repackages the same information. Perhaps you realized that your library has a large collection of microfiche which includes resources now available in digital format. You would recommend that a format change be made to increase accessibility and usefulness. There’s no telling what you will find when you assess, but the key to keep in mind is that assessment is a foundation for action. Understand what you are doing well but also where your collection is lacking, and act to improve it.
Filling Collection Gaps
Previous sections have touched on the difficulty of filling collection gaps when it comes to government information. The way in which tangible government resources are made available makes it problematic to acquire them if the initial selection opportunity is missed. Sometimes gaps can occur even when a publication is selected, you may receive a “short, no rain checks” notification from the GPO. An oversight has been made, and there simply aren’t enough copies of a particular publication for the GPO to distribute it to all the libraries that selected it. Acquisitions librarians are familiar with many sources that can be used to seek out-of-print publications, and occasionally government publications can be found for purchase among them. However, these opportunities are few and far between. There are some other unique ways to acquire government information, including:
GPO Bookstore: The GPO Bookstore, examined in other sections, only sells a
fraction of the publications that are offered to depository libraries, but that fraction is worth examining if you have missed something important. Major sets and publications, resources the GPO thinks are important enough that they will generate sales, are available for purchase through the Bookstore. You can even available, and occasionally these titles will be reprints or reissues of retrospective offerings.
Needs and Offers lists: When depository libraries deselect a tangible
government resource, unless it is superseded or expired dated material, they have to run it through a disposal process. This process can differ slightly from state to state depending on the regional library for that geographical area, but all include offering the publication to others who might wish to have it. This involves giving the regional library the right of first refusal, and if it does not want the publication, it is usually offered to all the depositories within the state. Some libraries take this a step further and offer the publication to all depository libraries. There are different systems in place for disseminating these offer lists, as they are known. The Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) has created a regional disposition database where libraries can offer what they are deselecting and set parameters for things they need (i.e., items they hope to add to their collections from other libraries’ deselections) so that they are notified when these items are available. The GPO has, for the past several years, hosted a national Needs and Offers (N&O) List accessible through
. It has discontinued this practice in favor of an automated system, the
disposition database, should allow libraries to automate the process of offering their unwanted government information and those libraries that need this information to acquire it. GOVDOC-L, the government information Listserv, is another source where needs and offers can be posted and viewed—you can look at other libraries’ offers lists and post yourself for titles you need. The general process is that libraries post their lists, and if you see something you need, you contact the library, request it, and they send it to you. Most libraries will provide this service free of charge, although some may request postage reimbursement, especially if you are asking for a large quantity of publications or something that will be costly to ship.
Seek a digital version: If you find that a copy of the publication you
desperately need cannot be had from an out-of-print dealer, from the GPO Bookstore, from Needs and Offers, or anywhere else you can think to look, seek a digital surrogate. Even if the GPO hasn’t digitized the publication, often a depository or other library will have (see HathiTrust, etc.). The public domain nature of the majority of government publications makes them easy to digitize without worrying about copyright infringement. (Although there are exceptions; see the section in Chapter 11 on Intellectual Property for more information.) If you have checked all the usual sources for acquiring a tangible copy and struck out, and then struck out again checking the usual sources for a digital version, consider digitizing it yourself. Find a depository or other library that will loan you the publication. Scan it, catalog it, and provide access to you version your way if the job isn’t too labor intensive.
A Note on Electronic Resources
Finally, since they are such an integral part of govern development. There can be a tendency with government info librarians do as well. Another mistake is assuming that bec the digital version will be preserved in perpetuity. Pres access to vendor electronic resources, and something replace tangible versions of government publications with di depositories are now entirely digital. However, it has to b keep them accessible, and access to electronic resources (such as FDsys/govinfo) provide some measure of stability, everything outside this system—and that is a lot—impo return. If you don’t have a tangible copy and you haven’t ha permanently lost. This shouldn’t deter you from utilizing information collections. Just keep in mind that they can disa
Resources Bibliographies and Checklists for Assessment
Gale Cengage. Guide to U.S. Government Publications, 2017 edition. Farmington 2017. Ryan, Mary Meghan. United States Government Internet Directory 2017. Lanham, U.S. Government Publishing Office. Federal Depository Library Program Basic C U.S. Government Publishing Office. Suggested Core Collections (revised 2015), collection-tools/267-suggested-core-collections .
Hardy, Gayle J., and Judith S. Robinson. Subject Guide to U.S. Government Reference Sources, 2nd Edition.
Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1996. Hoffman, Frank W., and Richard J. Wood. Guide to Popular U.S. Government Publications. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1997.
Other Assessment Resources: Sample Assessment: .
Skaggs, Bethany Latham. “Assessing an Integrated Government Documents Collection.” Collection Building 25, no. 1 (2006): 14–18.
Government information collections differ in a variety of ways from traditional subject collections, and this affects collection development and management. Those responsible for government information collections should note these additional considerations and take them into account when managing collections.
Understand the user base for government information collections (which may differ from your primary user base), perform the analysis necessary to pinpoint their needs, and collect resources that meet those needs. The Government Publishing Office (GPO) offers a variety of resources to assist librarians, especially depository librarians, with creating and maintaining useful government information collections. Assessing government information collections is imperative to understand what the collection contains, whether or not it meets collection goals and purposes, its strengths, and its weaknesses. This information will allow you to make recommendations for continual improvement. Collection gaps can be more problematic to fill for government information collections due to the manner in which these materials are acquired. Options include Needs and Offers lists, purchasing from the GPO Bookstore and occasionally from out-of-print vendors, and digitization. Electronic government information resources can suffer from lack of permanency, and this should be considered when building government information collections.
Professional Development and Continuing Education
The inadvertent depository coordinator FDLP Academy Conferences, meetings, journals, and other resources Government information librarians
HE SOURCES ENUMERATED IN this book offer a ready-reference, a
quick tool for those seeking to answer particular questions in the realm of government information. We have also touched on the research process itself and the different approaches that can be utilized to yield results. For those
who wish to delve deeper, especially those considering becoming specialists in government information, there are several opportunities for professional development and in-depth education to help reach this goal. Best of all, many of them are available for free.
The Inadvertent Depository Coordinator
As libraries face the need to spread resources across an ever-widening field, many librarians have found themselves with melded position responsibilities. Perhaps your job description included the dreaded “and other duties as assigned,” or maybe a colleague retired and, rather than replace him or her, the position responsibilities were simply divided up among those left behind. Possibly, upon your exit from library school, the only job opening at your dream institution was one in government information. These are just a few ways in which librarians often find themselves in the position of being responsible for government information at an institution without ever taking any formal government information courses or instruction. Every federal depository library is required to have a depository coordinator; the title has to be bestowed on someone, regardless of his or her previous experience or background in inadvertently becoming depository coordinators, awash in unfamiliar regulations, requirements, workflows, and processes unique to government information resources—a situation that can leave many librarians feeling lost.Figure 15.1. FDLP.gov , the home page for the Federal Depository Library Program.
The good news is that the Government Publishing Office (GPO) has thrown out a proverbial life preserver. Recognizing the need for training in this area, the GPO offers a variety of professional development and educational opportunities for would-be depository coordinators. For anyone thrust into the role, the first stop should be . There are links to every tool the depository coordinator might need, including articles and written instruction on the minutia of running a federal depository library and managing its collection in compliance with the FDLP’s legal requirements. There are also opportunities at conferences sponsored by the GPO (discussed in detail later in this chapter), such as the New Depository Librarian’s Institute, an educational preconference sometimes held before the annual Depository Library Council and Federal Depository Library Conference.
Also, after a successful pilot program in 2015, the GPO now regularly offers an FDLP Coordinator Certificate Program. This is an online course to educate FDLP per cohort (currently capped at twenty-five), meaning that those who wish to participate may have to apply more than once before being accepted into the program, but it is free and open to all types of librarians. As currently structured, the Certificate Program is a series of eight courses, one per week, delivered online in a webinar format through the WebEx eLearning platform. The course includes required readings, writing assignments, class discussions, assessments, and quizzes. The courses are taught by outreach librarians from the GPO’s Library Services and Content Management division, which provides a useful perspective. Though these librarians are employed by the GPO, the majority of them come from the depository community—they were previously government information librarians themselves, so they understand the related issues from both a library and a governmental perspective. Currently, the course covers:
An introduction and background to both the Federal Depository Library Program and the Government Publishing Office. An overview of the Legal Requirements and Program Regulations of the FDLP. A hands-on session with a depository shipping box, explaining the types of materials to be found inside, shipping lists, and other depository processing procedures. Information on selection and collection development and management, including deselection. Public access requirements and how to go about meeting them, as well as the promotion of government information collections. Cataloging and bibliographic control for government publications, including an overview of Superintendent of Documents Classification (SuDocs). An explanation of and in-depth look at regional libraries, their collections, and their responsibilities.
Perhaps as important as what the course explicitly covers are the opportunities it provides for learning not only from the instructors but also from the other participants in the cohort. Class discussions offer a look into operations at different libraries and library types and the chance to seek answers from the instructors about specific questions or clarification on confusing procedural issues. It is also beneficial for networking with other government information librarians. The course is a valuable learning experience, and by the time it concludes, participants should possess all the competencies necessary to successfully manage a collection of federal government information materials— as well as a certificate to frame, tangible proof you now know what you are doing. For more information about the program, visit
The FDLP Coordinator Certificate Program is but one aspect of a larger effort by the GPO in the realm of providing educational opportunities for government information—the FDLP Academy. According to the GPO, the stated goal of the Academy is to:
Inform and educate the federal depository library community about federal government information resources, Assist federal depository libraries in better serving their communities, and Advance government information literacy. While the GPO specifically mentions “the federal depository library community,” the audience for the resources offered through the Academy is by no means constrained. Reference librarians especially will find the educational opportunities of the Academy to be particularly constructive for developing their skill set concerning government information reference sources, and depository coordinators can and should notify their colleagues about courses of interest to subject specialties offered through the Academy. A useful notification service for such opportunities is the FDLP News & Events, an email list. At least one person per depository institution, usually the depository coordinator, is required to subscribe to this list, since it is one of the primary methods the GPO uses to disseminate important information to depository libraries. However, there is no limit to the number of subscribers per institution, and this is one method the GPO uses to communicate educational opportunities, such as those available through the Academy. Users can sign up and attend webinars live, which affords the chance to ask questions of the presenters, but no worries for those who cannot carve out a specific time to attend—the GPO also archives all these webinars so that users can watch the recordings whenever it is convenient.
Unlike the Coordinator Certificate Program, the webinars offered through the Academy are a collaborative effort—while some are taught by GPO personnel, the majority utilize guest presenters. These presenters run the gamut, from federal agency employees to librarians and other government information professionals. Their subject matter is likewise varied, from in-depth, multi-part series on trade data to collection development of government information for non-English speakers. In this way, a wealth of expertise is mined, offering a robust selection of training and educational opportunities. If this does not provide information on the topic you need, the GPO goes one step further: there is a form available where users can request that the GPO either present itself or host training on a particular aspect of government information.
Conferences, Meetings, Journals, and Other Resources
There are two major conferences aimed at depository libraries that are held under the auspices of the GPO in the fall and spring of each year: the Depository Library Council Meeting and Federal Depository Library Conference, usually held in Arlington, Virginia, in October, and the Spring Depository Library Council Meeting, held virtually, in April. Certain sessions of the October meeting can also be attended virtually. Both of these meetings are offered for free; while attendees must register, there is no conference fee. The DLC aspects of these conferences focus on government information issues, providing a forum wherein librarians and other stakeholders, members of the DLC, and the GPO can discuss topics with a specific end goal: allowing the DLC to fulfill its purpose (discussed in detail in Chapter 1) of advising and providing guidance to the GPO. The FDLP aspect of the conference is of more relevance to those seeking educational opportunities for government information resources. A variety of programs and poster sessions are presented by members of the GPO’s staff, librarians and other depository community and government information professionals, and federal agency representatives. This is the type of conference where one can get in-depth information about everything from geospatial data resources for academic libraries to search strategies for specific government tools, such as govinfo. Interspersed with these types of sessions are presentations from GPO staff regarding upcoming changes, new resources, and procedural issues that affect the FDLP.
Certain regional conferences focusing on government information are also available. For example, the Western States Government Information Conference is held biennially by government information librarians in the western states. Like the conferences offered by the GPO, this conference is free and open to all; it is also available in virtual form and sessions are archived. Individual states may also have periodic meetings of government information professionals, usually hosted by the regional depositories in that state. Presenters from the GPO and other government information stakeholders often make an appearance at such meetings. To look for opportunities in your state, a good place to start is by contacting regional librarians. Not sure which library or libraries in your state are regionals, or who to contact as the regional librarian? This information can be found in the Federal Depository Library Directory ( ).
Another approach to educational conferences is to look for agency- or subject- specific meetings. The GPO is not the only entity to offer educational opportunities for those looking to enhance their government information knowledge. Many federal agencies offer training, virtually and in person, on the informational products they produce. Agency websites also often include educational videos and informational matter on their products and services which can be helpful in educating not only yourself but also library patrons.Figure 15.2. Information from the U.S. Census Bureau on its Commodity Flow Survey, intended to provide a product overview for general audiences.
Those agencies with regional offices, such as the Census Bureau, are more likely to offer in-person workshops upon request or help with specific reference issues (e.g., the Bureau of Land Management’s regional offices all have contact information for regional inquiries regarding land office records). There are several government agencies that offer seminars on many topics, such as the National Institutes of Health’s Regional Seminars on Program Funding and Grants Administration, though it should be noted that often these agency Control sponsor, host, or are a part of a myriad of conferences and symposia, such as the CDC National Cancer Conference. These agency- and subject-based conferences are made up of sessions which might be too technical or detailed for the generalist but may be a good fit for subject specialists performing or assisting with in-depth research.
Of course, vendors also provide training opportunities, so those vendors who specialize in products repackaging government information (LexisNexis, Hein, ProQuest, etc.) are another source of education librarians will wish to consult. The downside to vendor training is that it comes with an unavoidable agenda: to sell products. Even when a library already owns a vendor’s product(s), what are billed by vendor representatives as educational opportunities can turn out to be glorified sales pitches. The upside is that this type of training is free and can provide useful information on new and improved features of certain commercial products.
Associations are another good source to use for educational opportunities. For instance, the Government Resources Section of the North Carolina Library Association has created a series of “Help! I’m an Accidental Government Information Librarian” webinars. These webinars are intended to assist primarily with government information reference sources and to increase users’ familiarity with the types of resources available, the information they contain, and how best to utilize it. Those interested in these webinars can sign up for a mailing list to be notified when new webinars are to be held. The webinars are also available as archived videos on the Government Resources Section’s YouTube channel.
The American Library Association (ALA) has its Government Documents Round Table (GODORT), which produces informational programming at conferences, and a journal, DTTP: Documents to the People . In addition to its informational articles, DTTP publishes reviews of reference works related to government information. These types of publications and conference programming can be found in miniature at the state level; many state library associations also have a government information roundtable or interest groups. For those interested in learning more about issues in government information, there are a handful of journals that specialize in the topic (e.g., Government Information Quarterly, Journal of Government Information, etc.). It should be noted that some of these can be quite theoretical, technical, and/or esoteric; this is not the best place to start if you are looking for opportunities to increase your store of knowledge regarding government resources themselves, the information they contain, and how best to use this information to answer questions. However, for understanding overarching issues that affect government information in this country, consulting specialized journals can be helpful.
Another valuable source for keeping abreast of current events in the world of government information is the Free Government Information (FGI; government information free and providing perpetual access, and one of the ways by which this is accomplished is through education. A variety of issues relating to government information are covered, and FGI has a library of articles, white papers, commentaries, and analyses of government information topics.
Government Information Librarians
First and foremost, librarianship is a service profession. This means that not only do librarians live to serve their library’s users, but they also love to help each other. One of the easiest ways to learn is by finding a mentor. If what you want to learn about is government information librarianship, then find a government information librarian, ask questions, and seek guidance. These individuals are a goldmine for professional development and continuing education.
If you are wondering where to find government information librarians, the conferences and some of the other opportunities mentioned earlier are good sources. Attend them and get out and meet people. However, perhaps your institution doesn’t support travel, or there are other reasons why you can’t make it to a conference. Other good sources are government information–related email lists. In particular, GOVDOC-L is populated by a great many knowledgeable government information professionals who are happy to respond to reference questions, procedural questions, and even requests for roommates at conferences. You can also simply look government information librarians up in the Federal Depository Library Directory—look at the entries for the libraries in your state in the directory, and contact a local coordinator; his or her contact information is included. Reach out and tell them the issues you are encountering. Maybe you need help with collection development. Perhaps you feel like your reference abilities could use some polish. Talking to these individuals can provide you with the benefit of their experience and also suggestions for resources to lead you to other methods of continuing education. Don’t be intimidated—librarians want to help. It’s what we do.
Key Points This work provides an introduction to the field of government information
Librarians who wish to pursue the subject in greater depth have a variety of options for continuing education and professional development opportunities.
The website, home of the Federal Depository Library Program, offers a gateway to a number of resources from the Government Publishing Office that can provide education on government information resources, their management, and more. opportunities encompassing a large number of subjects, and it is a fantastic source for in-depth training on subject resources available in the realm of government information. Conferences, such as the Federal Depository Library Conference and Depository Library Council Meeting held annually, are good ways to network, learn more about government information through informative sessions and discussion, and meet government information professionals. Journals that specialize in government information, training and information materials offered by government agencies about their products, and email lists, such as GOVDOC-L, offer information that will help with continuing education in the field of government information.
About the Author
Bethany Latham, a professor at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville,
Alabama, holds a BA in history, a master’s in library and information studies, and has received certification from the Government Publishing Office through its FDLP Coordinator Certificate Program. She has fifteen years of experience in the field of government information and electronic resources. In her capacity as electronic resources/documents librarian and federal depository coordinator at the Houston Cole Library, she manages a federal government information collection and performs government information reference, among other duties.
Ms. Latham is the managing editor of the Historical Novels Review, the technology editor of the Journal of Academic Librarianship, and a regular reviewer for Reference Reviews. She has written numerous book chapters as well as articles in professional journals such as Collection Building, OCLC Systems and Services, Journal of Web Librarianship, Journal of Academic Librarianship, Reference Services Review, Information Outlook Quarterly, and Library Journal. She is also the author of Elizabeth I in Film and Television: A Study of the Major Portrayals (2011) and Academic Libraries in the US and China: Comparative Studies of Instruction, Government Documents, and Outreach (2013).