Why You Should Care That We Hold Government Documents

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old papers

The Houston Public Library is a government documents repository and has been since 1884.  What does that mean, you ask? Well we didn't know either, so we asked Katie (former Government Documents Librarian) and we explored for ourselves.  Through the Federal Depository Library Program, the GPO (Government Publishing Office) allows for the distribution of certain government publications to designated libraries free of charge.  As we have been a designated library since 1884, we have some old stuff.

To paint a picture of our Gov Docs room, close your eyes and imagine being in roughly 16,000 sqare feet full of stacks and shelves and ranges of books.  Dust and the smell of old pages is in the air.  It's quiet and fluorescent and there are card catalogs scattered about.  It's pretty grand.  When you start looking around, you'll notice that the bulk of the materials we have are technical reports, laws and legislation, agency budgets, career and training resources, maps, consumer information and puzzles.  Otherwise, there are volumes and volumes of Civil War correspondence titled War of the Rebellion Reports.

Moving along, we discovered Public Health Reports from the early 1900s and I was fascinated by a section from 1915 called Tuberculosis: The Home Hospital Experiment which just sounds like a horrible idea.  Also exciting are the reports from the International Travel Market.  In these booklets, you will find all sorts of data regarding how people from other countries travel.  For instance, did you know that in 1976, 61% of Germans who had visited the U.S. before said that they would visit again?  Other information included is the planning habits of other countries when considering travel.

Military Pyrotechnics definitely caught my eye as I was scanning the shelves.  The table of contents outlines such chapters as "Priestcraft and Pyrotechny" and "Fire Mirror."  This publication covers a survey of ancient pyrotechny and methods used during WWI.

For more details, we asked Katie some questions.  She says although the collection is trending toward electronic, we still get about 100 physical items each month.  These are mostly slip laws (the laws you hear about on the news), pamphlets from national monuments/park, and books from NASA and the Department of Defense.  All of the electronic records are loaded into the catalog and are available to you 24/7.  They look like this: 

You can narrow your search to only Government Documents by selecting the material type: Government Documents.  There are so many documents covering a variety of subjects, so we asked what Katie's favorite section was: the recipes!  There are recipe cards from the Department of Defense from a cook in the service who needed to prepare food for 100 people, and cookbooks from the late 60s and early 70s that highlight fish.  These are "hilarious in their color and food styling glory," Katie says.

If you want or need access to some of the non-electronic treasures, here's how:

1.)  Locate material in our catalog.

2.) Request the material via email reference form, chat or by calling us at 832-393-2222.

3.) Staff will retrieve it for you and let you know when it's ready.

NOTE: You can not take these materials home with you.  You will only be able to use this material at Central Library.

Stay tuned for more tales from Gov Docs, Houston!

Lauren W.

Card Catalog Card Catalog
International Travel Market International Travel Market
Old Senate Documents Old Senate Documents
Old stamps Old stamps
War of the Rebellion Records War of the Rebellion Records

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