Still Just a Bill: US Congressional documents and why you might use them

by Sarah Elichko

today i am still just a bill

In the spirit of the election, I’d like to talk about a topic some librarians fear: government documents.

Between the labyrinthine structure of agencies and committees to the prospect of navigating a different call number system (Superintendent of Documents or SuDoc), this huge category of resources can be intimidating to approach. Yet if you’re ever looking for statistics, maps, arguments for or against a policy (e.g. welfare reform), high-quality research, or information about a proposed law, government documents are a great place to start. And don’t forget: most US, EU, UN, and other government documents are available for free.

Now, I’m a bit of a government documents geek and I don’t expect everyone to share my enthusiasm for the EPA’s environmental justice mapping tools and compiling legislative histories. But I think that almost any librarian will find some basic knowledge of government information useful in their daily work. Previously on Chasing Reference, Amy highlighted the amazing resource of the recently released 1940 US Census. Today, I’m going to focus on US Congressional Hearings, which which can give you and your patrons a window into the workings of Congress and the process by which laws are made.

We’ll look at three questions: what do Congressional hearings tell you? How can you find them? What about finding older and unpublished hearings?

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