Newark Public Library Celebrates Centennial as Depository of Federal Documents Display Highlights Over 200 Years of U.S. History
New Jersey has only one, and itís located at The Newark Public Library; the stateís only Regional Depository of Federal Government Documents, that is and itís celebrating its 100th anniversary this month.
The Library will mark this anniversary by selecting some of the most vivid, beautiful and interesting documents in its archives and putting them on display: ďA Window to Your Government: An Exhibition Celebrating the Centennial of the Federal Documents Depository,Ē will be on view from November 27, 2006 through January 13, 2007 in the second floor gallery.
"We are proud that we are the depository for federal government documents in New Jersey," said Library Director Wilma J. Grey, explaining that about 20 other libraries in the state also house federal documents; but only Newark houses them all. "This collection, which numbers in the millions of pieces of information, gives the Library stature. Newark Public Library is one of only four public libraries in the country selected as a regional depository; most other regional depositories are state or academic libraries.Ē
There are 52 regional depositories in the United States; most states have at least one. The libraries in Boston, Denver and Milwaukee are the three other public libraries designated as regional depositories. Once a library is designated as a Regional Federal Depository, it must agree to receive, and house in perpetuity, copies of every piece of information disseminated by the federal government.
Newarkís oldest federal document, a Senate Journal, dates back to December 6, 1790, and pertains to the sessions of Congress held in the City of Philadelphia. Another of the cityís oldest report sets, the American State Papers, a precursor of the Serial Set, covers the first 15 congresses. Almost the whole Serial Set, a collection of Congressional Reports and documents dating from 1817, is available at the Newark Public Library in a combination of microforms and original printed volumes.
As a government document depository for the past century, The Newark Public Library receives copies of information issued by any agency, department, division or branch of the federal government; from the Office of the President to the Internal Revenue Service. That translates to thousands of pieces of information issued every year as books, hardbound and paperback reports, magazines, pamphlets, flyers, posters, CDs, DVDs and old fashioned video tapes.
"We get everything," said Laura Saurs, the official depository coordinator of the federal documents for the Library. A 15-year veteran at The Newark Public Library, Saursí desk is piled high and surrounded on all sides by towering stacks of paper; every imaginable form of printed and published material.
"And there are a lot of documents that are published directly to the Web; we donít always receive hard copies of those," Saurs said. She explained that part of her job as a librarian includes ferreting out information from Web sites, cataloguing it and making it available to patrons upon request.
Who knew that the federal government printing office uses such a rich palette of colors for the informational posters it distributes around the United States like the one identifying wild mushrooms and where they grow? Or the one issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration depicting coral reefs and their tides?
Who knew that the illustrations in dry-as-dust books with titles like "U.S. Geological Survey J.W. Powell Director Atlas to Accompany the Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District" would have breath-taking illustrations of the Grand Canyon? Or that the illustrations in the "Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla Walla to Fort Benning" would depict turn-of-the-century frontier life in such exquisite detail?
The displays will be grouped in four categories: America the Beautiful, Invention and Innovation, Exploration and Famous Names. In the latter category presidents, scientists/inventors such as Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers, and celebrities like Greta Garbo will be featured. Expect the unexpected, advises Saurs who plans to include information related to space exploration and patents, as well a photographs of Alexander Graham Bell and his brother making funny faces from a book on the history of photography.
One may ask: Whatís the use of all this paper, all this information beyond the curiosity of historians or players of trivial pursuit?
"Every hot topic has been covered by the federal government," Saurs said, pointing to different stacks around her desk: "Fighting Meth in Americaís Heartland; Assessing Federal, State & Local Efforts," published as a hearing on government reform. "The National Preparedness System: What Are We Preparing For?" by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the House of Representatives.
"We never know what publications our citizens will need, so itís important that New Jersey have a regional depository," said Teri Taylor; the stateís federal government depository librarian. The New Jersey State Library in Trenton is a selective depository and collects the federal documents that support the role of state government. The libraries at Rutgers, The State University, also receive selected documents.
"We have all the armed forces technical manuals and support materials," Saurs said, explaining many people purchase surplus military equipment and need the manuals to operate or fix them. She can supply the manual for a 1959 Army surplus Jeep, or the 1972 Commissary Stores Meat Market Operations manual or even the manuals for bread baking (1969), pastry baking (1966, issued by the Department of the Air Force) and the manual pertaining to the operation of a hydraulic wrench.
Library patrons have requested old social security blanks to find out if a personís race was recorded on the form. Visitors have inquired about old immigration forms to determine what fees were in effect at the time. Saurs remembers a patron asking about the types of bayonets used in military academies for a research project.
"This is one of the few places where people can come to seek information and expect to find it," Saurs said, explaining people seek this information to support claims in lawsuits, a doctoral thesis or just to preserve family history. "We save everything. We never judge which is still good, which is unnecessary, itís just here."
While the items are physically located in Newark, depositories donít actually own the paper, microfiche, CDs or government videos, the Federal Government does.
"We try to make it easier for people to get what they need out of these masses of information," she said. Libraries are not allowed to dispose of or sell the collection. To weed out documents, libraries must first offer the information to other depositories. If a library sells a document, the funds must be returned to the government. "Whatís interesting is that the government printing office didnít keep copies of items for itself," Saurs noted.
"Itís my goal to get the whole set," she said of the yearly legislative journals which are among her favorites in the collection. Where she will keep them is a pressing question. Currently, much of the federal depository is located in the Library basement and space is a pressing issue at The Newark Public Library.
For more information about the display, or to arrange a guided or group tour, please call Saurs at 973-733-7812. Or log on to the Library's Web site at www.npl.org/Pages/ProgramsExhibits/Exhibits/govdocs.html.
©2006 The Newark Public Library