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Mr. Mustache, another librarian blog

I am a reference librarian with experience in both the public and state government fields. I am doing this on a whim, sort of like the mustache I grew when I was 19 and still have in my 50's.

Location: New Jersey, United States

I am a state worker and a librarian.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

More on government documents

Today Government documents are largely available on the Internet. If you can navigate federal and state websites with ease, you will encounter many publications and pieces of information that are available to anyone with a web connection, librarian or liguorian.

Turning the pages of history with a nostalgic eye I look back on the old days of documents. The golden age. I became a government documents librarian in 1988 when the Internet was a dream in Mark McCahill’s eye and the documents were all in paper and comprised a library within a library. Sort of like Sheridan Whiteside in the Man who Came to Dinner, it was a difficult if prestigious member of a library collection.

Being a government documents librarian was almost like belonging to an arcane cult. We shelved with suDoc numbers. We knew what shipping lists were. We knew what item numbers were.

We were united in being terrified of the quinquennial event of a government inspection. The fear of the government inspection drove government documents librarians to huddle together during those fateful months when an inspection was taking place. Gossip was quietly whispered about which libraries failed and why. The government inspector wanted two full time staff people solely devoted to documents and full cataloguing of all of them. He was never fully satisfied but could be led to acquiesce to the budget problems of a library if so inclined and given a proper lunch, it was said.

And the people who sat on the reference desk were wary of our documents and us. It was beneath the dignity of a professional librarian to dirty their hands with documents or children. A request for BLS or Census data meant they could have a vacation from the reference desk while the documents person would handle this annoying patron demanding esoteric and exotic data emanating from some bureaucrat in Washington. Of course you had to find the documents person first somewhere in the distant government depository. For the document collection was always housed miles away from the reference collection, in the basement, a back room, or in my case, in the balcony of the children’s building.

The boxes from Washington arrived incessantly. Documents having to be retrieved, stamped, their existence recorded or at least acknowledged in some sort of index. To be shelved at a later day, certainly well before the inspector comes.

And then the bane of all government document librarians. Discarding! You can’t (note the use of the present tense) even get rid of anything unless you hold the piece for five years, compile a discard list, submit the list to your regional (there is one in each state) and get permission to discard. They said the federal prison system was manned by governmnent documents librarians who discarded documents without permission.

Well, so much for our walk down memory lane. Government documents are still there, although computer passwords and limited distribution of documents are the rule today. One good
site for interesting new documents is on Columbia University's site. You might want to peek at the latest Monthly Labor Review's special issue on how Katrina effected employment.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't get enough of government documents!

1:06 PM  

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