United States Government Documents: Providing Reference Service in Libraries

by Moya K. Mason

Sample Reference Questions

1. Two professional photographers are planning a trip on the Amazon River and their physician has made no immunization recommendations. They want to know if there's an official publication that covers vaccination requirements for travellers. Has the U.S. federal government produced anything suitable?

For very cutting edge information requests, the best thing to do is go on the Internet, since it does seem as if governments are indeed deciding to use this media form over print sources. Deciding that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was the best government agency to look for information on international travel, quite a good web site was found at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. Scrolling down to Geographic Health Recommendations to the link for 'tropical South America,' will take you to http://www.cdc.gov/travel/tropsam.htm. On this page, updated last in early September, all the current problems associated with travelling to the Amazon River basin are discussed, including all the necessary vaccinations.

A check of the Weldon OPAC of government documents revealed an out of date book, published in the 1970s called Health Information for International Travel, published by the U.S. Department of Health. However, a lot has changed about foreign travel in the last twenty years, so this book would not be one to recommend. There is a better print publication, available at Taylor Library called Summary of Health Information for International Travel, which is a monthly publication. This and the Internet site should be a good combination for anyone travelling abroad.

United States. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control. Summary of Health Information for International Travel. DHHS Publication No. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

2. For a term project in history I am studying the army's use of camels in the 19th century. I've been told there's a government document on this topic. Where should I look for it?

The best reference tool to check first is U.S. Serial Set Index, Part 1, American State Papers and the 15th, 34th Congresses 1789-1857, the subject index. Find camel, and under camel, purchase and importation of camels for military purposes. Here, you will find a reference to a Senate Executive Document of the 34th Congress, 3rd session, under serial set number 881, document number 62, which is a microlog document. It is a fascinating report, entitled Report of the Secretary of War, "communicating, in compliance with a resolution of the Senate of February 2, 1857, information respecting The Purchase of Camels for the purposes of military transportation." The report describes how a Major Henry C. Wayne was sent to carry out the camel mission, how he found them, and what happened on the way back to Texas, as well as interesting information concerning camels in general and how to take care of them. Keeping these microlog documents safe is very important because they really do contain information that exists no where else. You can find a copy of the report here.

3. A patron is looking for some figures on violent crime in the U.S. What source would you recommend? She also wants a recently published report on the delinquent activities of teenage gangs, published by one of the U. S. federal departments. Can you identify this document and discover how she may obtain a copy?

The place to check is the Internet site for the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Publications homepage, where one can scroll down to a publication called Violent Crime. This link will take you to http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/viocrm.htm, where you can find a summary and information on where to order the 1973 1992 trends in rape, robbery, and assault from Vital, Statistics of the United States, National Center for Health Statistics, and the 1992 murder data from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports (NCJ 147486). This is an excellent source, as is the print copy of Vital Statistics of the United States, an annual report, which is available at the library. (United States Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare. National Office of Vital Statistics. Vital Statistics of the United States.)

The teenage gang publication was difficult to find. It was easy to figure out that the department needed was Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and to find their website, however the document was not found in the list. I went to the OJJDP homepage, clicked on publications, but the links that I needed were not working. I then went to the search feature, typed in teenage gangs, and found a link to the National Youth Gang Center Bibliography of Gang Literature. The only publications that were at all recent were the two listed below:

Howell, J. C. (1997) Youth Gangs in the United States: An Overview. A Report prepared for the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Tallahassee, FL: National Youth Center.

Howell, J. C. (1997) Youth Gang Violence Prevention and Intervention: What Works. Report prepared for the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Tallahassee, FL: National Youth Center.

Still, since neither mentioned delinquent activities I was sure that I did not have the right book. A web search for teenage gang government publications brought up a publication called Gang Members and Delinquent Behavior by Terrence P. Thornberry and James H. Burch II, written for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and released in June 1997. A free copy of the report can be found at: http://www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles/165154.txt

4. Where could I find a summary of events surrounding Judge Bork's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court? I need it in a hurry and don't want to search through newspaper accounts or cope with long official reports.

Although there is quite a lengthy microfiche report, this would not satisfy the patron's desire to have a summarized account of the nomination. Information concerning Judge Bork would also be found on the Internet, but the better source is the Congressional Quarterly Almanac, 100th Congress, 1st Session...1987, volume XLIII. On pages 271 and continuing, there is an abridged version of Judge Bork's nomination process. By and large, the comments made by Senator Edward Kennedy, sum up why Robert H. Bork was not nominated:

Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids ... and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy (Kennedy 1986).

The Congressional Quarterly Almanac is a good source that covers people, legislation, events, and government actions, with Presidential addresses, electoral returns, and how members of Congress have voted.

5. A local family is planning a trip to Washington. Where can they find a floor plan of the Capitol?

The United States Senate has quite a good series of web pages called Learning about the Senate, including one called A Virtual Tour of the Capitol, which has the floor plans for all three floors of the Capitol. On the first floor one can find the following: Crypt| Old Supreme Court| Brumidi Corridors; the second floor has the Entrance| Rotunda| Statuary Hall| Small Senate Rotunda| Old Senate Chamber; while the third has the House Chamber| Senate Chamber. The tour is available at http://www.senate.gov/vtour/index.html. There is also a floor plan of the Capitol in Congressional Quarterly's Guide to Congress. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1976.

6. I'm looking for an official U.S. report on the UFO that was supposed to have crashed in the New Mexico desert sometime in the 1940's. It was released a few months ago. Can you help?

Since the publication is so new, it made sense to look on a government web site for the information. Finding GPO Access: Keeping America Informed Electronically, the American publications site, it was only a matter of putting Roswell into the search engine to access two reports on the incident. Go first to GPO Access at http://catalog.gpo.gov/, where you can search the sales product catalogue. The results provide two reports as follows:

1. The Roswell Report: Case Closed at $18.00.

2. Roswell Report: Fact Versus Fiction in the New Mexico Desert, at $52.00.

The Defense Department publishes both of the books.

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