Promoting the Interesting and Attractive World of Federal Publications

In library instruction classes, I regularly ask students to raise their hands if they think Government documents are boring; most raise a hand. This perception can be difficult to counter since the few Federal publications most students are exposed to are FASFA forms or from the IRS. Some of the materials we receive won’t catch their eye because they are fiscally responsible with minimal illustrations, little use of color, and without the glossy covers. The challenge is to increase awareness of these important materials.

As Government Documents Librarian at the University of Montana Missoula, I try to show students, faculty, and staff the interesting and attractive world of Federal publications. Once a week, I look over the latest documents from the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), hunting for informational gems. Those publications go to the new bookshelf where they sit for several days before being shelved with the regular collection. In addition to this traditional display method, I created an online version of the new bookshelf where materials are not in competition with non-Government documents. The online new bookshelf also provides other advantages; it allows for longer viewing and faculty has easy access to it from their offices.

  • New Government Documents featured online by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library.
  • Mansfield Li­­­brary already has a number of library guides for different collections. To create one dedicated to new Government documents was an easy and obvious solution. Because the main audiences are the students and faculty of the University, the site is divided into sections based on the focus of the different colleges and schools. These sections are History/Political Science, Science/Health, Forestry/Parks/Environment, Business, Social Issues, Economics, and Native Issues. This organization of materials is not static and will change as more materials and different subjects, such as education, are added.

    Information for each title includes the author, issuing agency, date, call number, a URL to the online version if available, a description of the contents, and a link to the catalog record. Writing the descriptions for each item can be the most time consuming part of maintaining the guide. Copying the synopsis or abstract from the digital version speeds the process and allows for more items to be included regularly. Materials selected have content relating to the geographic region or an area of study at the University. If the document also has an attractive cover, the image is included in the review, which helps to make the guide attractive. Images for book covers come from the online versions at Amazon.com or the U.S. Government Bookstore. Sometimes the library creates cover images using digital photography.

    If there is more information available from an agency’s Web site, the URL is included at the end of the description or review. One example is Sea Unseen, Scanning Electron Microscopy Images From Puget Sound and Beyond, a publication based on an exhibit with the Seattle Aquarium. This wonderful book, filled with surreal images, comes from the Northwest Fisheries Research Center and has an educational Web site that includes more information. A link to that external site is included in the review. Because more Government publications are born digital, one tab is for Web sites with materials that were once available in paper but are no longer printed, such as the National Climate Data Center reports. Older, important documents will be included to highlight some of the jewels of the collection and to increase awareness of our print holdings, such as the War of the Rebellion.

  • The Science/Health section of New Government Documents.
  • The guide went live in April, and by the end of May, there were over 500 page views. This is fairly heavy use for a library guide dedicated to Federal documents. In comparison, the main library guide for Government information had 31 hits in May. The usage statistics broken down by tab show the most viewed page is the homepage with 531 views, followed by History/Political Science (99 views), Science/Health (88), and Forestry/Parks/Environment (87). Economics has the fewest hits at 50 page views. These statistics can be used to target different schools and departments for outreach. The overall success of the page in terms of increased use and awareness of the print collection is more difficult to determine. Many of the materials added to the page have online versions and may not result in an increase of print material circulation, and we are not currently able to track use of the links.

    Outreach to promote the page has included notifying faculty in different departments of the resource, including some materials in blog posts on the main page of the library and sharing the site with other librarians via listserves. Library blog posts also appear on the library’s Facebook page. As a teaching librarian I include the Web page in my instruction to classes.

    I believe any effort to put forth our great Government materials can help increase the use of those materials. Although I try to encourage the inclusion of Government documents in all the library’s displays, that is not always possible. My goal for this guide is to act as a focused forum for the ever-changing and exciting materials that are in our collection, and thus far the usage statistics show this may be working.