Treasures from our Government Documents Collections

When you hear the phrase “government documents,” what springs to mind? Dusty volumes of Congressional hearings? Impenetrable reports on obscure topics? Tables of data in tiny type?

What about maps, posters, photographs, games, puzzles, coloring books, recipe books, and a guide to Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic? *

Most people have only a vague idea of the variety of materials published by the federal government, and many are unaware of the treasures lurking in the library’s print, microform, and digital collections.

Our library has been a depository since 1893, and in the 120 years since, we’ve acquired some valuable materials, such as a complete run of the Congressional Record, many early Serial Set volumes, and other notable historical documents. We also have fascinating examples of information gathered and published by the government.

One collection we recently (re)discovered is a set of Newsmaps from World War II.

Newsmaps were published weekly by the U.S. War Department; the first map appeared in April 1942, and the last was produced in March 1946. As their name suggests, they included both maps and news summaries. During the war, the maps provided information about action on the various war fronts; many were double-sided, and the reverse side often contained guides to identifying ally and enemy aircraft (“British Aircraft“), tanks (“Learn to recognize these vehicles“), and uniforms (“German Army Uniforms and Insignia“). As the war drew to a close, the Newsmaps featured graphic images of concentration camp victims (“This is why we fight“), information about the occupation of Japan (“The Sun is Down“), and, later, as troops headed home, information about the GI Bill (“Going to School…”).

newsmap_08-1943_2We have 178 of the 216 domestic Newsmaps that were produced, and we also have one example of the overseas version (see the image of the 16 August 1943 map on the right; it describes military action on the central and eastern fronts). The overseas versions of the Newsmaps contained the same information as the domestic maps but were smaller in size.

These Newsmaps were tucked away, uncataloged, in map cases on the lower floor of the library. Thanks to the help and hard work of Clara Nguyen and Wilson Mericle, we’ve finished sorting through and organizing them, and we are now cataloging each one. Because they are fragile, we are moving them upstairs to Special Collections, where they’ll be stored and protected in archival-quality map cases. They still remain part of the depository collection and are still accessible; just contact Special Collections Outreach Librarian Sharon Byrd to see them.

Staff at the University of North Texas Library digitized all of the Newsmaps, so they are also available online. You can search and browse the collection in the UNT Digital Library.

Questions about government documents? Curious about what else is lurking in the Government Information Stacks — and why? You are welcome to contact me; I serve as the library’s Depository Coordinator, and I’ll be happy to assist you.


* For more examples of unusual government documents (and proof that government documents librarians have senses of humor), see the list compiled by Mark Love at the University of Central Missouri Library and take the “Match the Government Publication to the Government Agency” quiz created by Rob Lopresti at the Western Washington University Libraries.

About Susanna Boylston

Collection Development Librarian[Read More...]