By Allison Campbell-Jensen
On Oct. 18, the U.S. Government Publishing Office named the Government Publications Library at the University of Minnesota Libraries the 2021 Federal Depository Library of the Year.
The Government Publications Library is the regional depository library, supporting dozens of libraries in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Michigan. It was selected for consistently striving to make government information more discoverable and accessible.
Alicia Kubas, current Regional Depository Coordinator, accepted the award on behalf of the Government Publications Library, emphasizing that her predecessors Kirsten Clark and Julie Wallace, along with staff who have worked in this area of the library for many years, all contributed to this success. “This is work we have done for decades,” Kubas says. “We could say we could have won it anytime in the last 10 years.”
A major project launched with administrative support in the early 2010s was the cataloging of the physical collection of federal documents in whatever format — paper, microforms, maps, and CD-ROMs. The project is 95% complete, with some thorny issues they are chipping away at.
“Making government information, whatever it is, more discoverable and accessible, that is the core part that underpins everything,” Kubas says.
The questions or topics that researchers and members of the public want to explore often are very complicated, Kubas says. Recent topics include:
- Data about household servants in US, specifically cooks, from 1940 to 1990;
- Nuclear missiles around Twin Cities built in the early 1960s;
- Sugar bush/maple syruping practices of 19th century Ojibwe (process, harvest yield, etc.);
- Businesses interested in federal level contracts and government spending for specific NAICS codes or individual contracts; and
- how the Antiquities Act of 1906 was funded.
A member of the public from Prior Lake wanted to know about documents related to the establishment of a federally recognized tribal nation from a specific unrecognized tribal band. The search used everything from the Federal Register, legislative histories, and Department of the Interior documents, to obscure archeological dig reports from the Department of Energy and the Atomic Energy Commission.
“The Federal government has so much bureaucracy and so many processes,” Kubas says. “If you’re not used to working with that stuff or understand how publishing works in the federal government, it can be really hard for any random person to understand.”
She and other staff will prepare to answer questions with prior research on their own. “There’s a number of different ways it will show up. That’s the fun of it. It’s always a twisting, winding road being in government docs records.”
They aim for a line where they are providing information and also giving direction to the person who queried. “’I searched here with this search, here’s what I found. I encourage you to do more searches.’ You try to teach them what you did, so in the future they can also do it themselves,” Kubas says.
The library also seeks to promote government literacy, covering hot-button topics in the A Matter of Facts blog, and working with middle school and high school students on their History Day research projects. They treat members of the public with the same support they offer those in the U community.
Says Kubas: “We’re always finding new ways to keep at this mission and finding more creative ways to make this stuff accessible and available.”