Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Early Psychiatric Hospitals and Asylums

Early Psychiatric Hospitals and Asylums –  https://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/diseases/early.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • When did psychiatric hospitals begin in this country?
  • What were some of the arguments for and against physical restraint?
  • What roles did the Quakers play in the history of psychiatric hospitals?


I have toured two of Thomas Kirkbride’s buildings, which were fascinating, and this could come in handy if your story or characters find themselves in a hospital or asylum in the 19th century.  This is just one page of the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s, “Diseases of the Mind: Highlights of American Psychiatry through 1900.” This site also has short biographies of 19th Century psychiatrists, including Kirkbride, as well as other short descriptions of related topics.  The timeline starts in 1752 and goes through 1890 with links to certain buildings and some digitized primary sources.


JFK Assassination Records

JFK Assassination Records – https://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/2017-release


This page lists out the individual documents released in July and October of 2017.  Organized by release date, these documents sometimes have titles that help to determine what the actual document is, but often may not.  While the  JFK Assassination Collection Reference System does have the older print-only documents released in the 90’s, they don’t yet have the documents released this year, so finding specific documents could be a challenge.

Librarians and Library Assistants (Occupational Outlook Handbook)

Librarians (Occupational Outlook Handbook)

Library Techs and Assistants  (Occupational Outlook Handbook)

Representative questions that can be answered with these resources:

  • What does a librarian actually do?
  • What kind of degree does one need to become a librarian?
  • What are the differences between school, public, and academic librarians?
  • How much do library assistants make?
  • What would a typical work schedule look like for a library assistant?

Librarian characters seem to be some of the most difficult to write without stereotypes creeping in.  Almost always a woman…either of worthy of the title of bombshell or frumpy with a super high I.Q.  Often we are portrayed as guardians of quiet spaces who spend most of our time reading books on the clock.  Yeah…not so much.

Also, not everyone who works in a library is a librarian.  I haven’t seen many library assistant characters in fiction, so adding one to your story might be a great way to try a new path.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook sites are good starts to building a librarian or library assistant character, but for more detail to get a good feel for the day-to-day realism you may want to check actual job descriptions.

https://mblc.state.ma.us/jobs/find_jobs/index.php   The site allows you to filter your results by type of library (academic, public, etc.) as well as education level since this particular site shows library assistant as well as librarian jobs.

Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Dentistry (National Institute of Justice)

National Institute of Justice’s Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Dentistry Page:

Representative questions that can be answered by this resource:

  • What does a Forensic Dentist do?
  • What kinds of research would a Forensic Anthropologist undertake?
  • What are some techniques for fingerprint identification?
  • How do you distinguish between saw and knife wounds in bone?

This page gives basic descriptions of the professions and lists many of the grants they have awarded in the past year, which can give an idea of the types of research being done in this area.   It also has links to some fascinating guide books:

Fingerprint Sourcebook (422 pages)
Latent Print Examination and Human Factors: Improving the Practice through a Systems Approach (248 pages)
Knife and Saw Toolmark Analysis in Bone: Manual for the Examination of Criminal Mutilation and Dismemberment (47 pages)

Ready to Go

I decided that before diving in too deeply at first I should get to know the blog better, so I spent a good portion of the summer reading, link checking, and discovering the wonderful resources that Daniel had collected.  And I am so glad I did.  Not only did I learn about resources new to me, but I also started to understand the structure.  I fixed many links and grumbled a lot when I got to the section of Marine Corps pdfs that were dead and laughed when I found Daniel’s post with his own grumblings about fixing that same section.

So now I’m at the point where I want to start adding posts more frequently and making this blog active again.  I’m more than happy to add things of my own interest…or even more to categories that I found didn’t have as many entries…but again, I would love to hear feedback on what you need.  So don’t hesitate to contact me with ideas or questions.

Ok…now the fun begins.   🙂



Calling All Writers: Looking for New Blog Post Ideas!

I am very much enjoying reading, editing, fixing links, and thinking about new directions for the blog.  I have only added one new post, but would like to hear from everyone about what topics you would like to see added.  Is there a subject that isn’t covered or could be covered differently?  Please send me any ideas you have.  Also, if you run into a real-time research question while writing, feel free to contact me.  

Bee Sting Allergies

Stinging Insect Allergy page from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (linked provided by MedlinePlus) – http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/stinging-insect-allergy

Often people will refer to being stung by saying, “I was stung by a bee,” so “bees” or “honeybees” tend to get a bad rap.  Just as likely they may have been stung by a yellow jacket, hornet, or wasp.  They also have different kinds of venom, so if one were allergic to honeybees, they would not necessarily have a reaction from a wasp sting.

Representative questions that can be answered by this resource:

  • What are the differences between bees, wasps, and hornets?
  • How do you identify different insect nests?
  • What is the best way to treat a sting?
  • What are the symptoms of a severe reaction?


Overview on insect stings including identification of insects, prevention, treatment, and link to finding an allergist/immunologist.

More links on this subject:

Medline’s Insect Bits and Stings page – https://medlineplus.gov/insectbitesandstings.html
ees, Wasps and Hornets Brochure by the NJ Beekeepers Association – http://www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/pi/pdf/beeswaspshornetsbrocure.pdf
edline’s Allergy Shots page  – https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000405.htm

Hello from Kari Mofford

I am honored to be the new owner of this blog and a big thank you to Daniel for creating such a wonderful resource as well as for all his current (and future) help.

A little about me…I have been an academic librarian for almost 20 years with experience in reference/instruction, interlibrary loan, acquisitions, and access services.  I am currently the Undergraduate and User Services Librarian and Chair of the Access Services Department at UMass Dartmouth.  I am also subject liaison to English Composition.  My colleague and I run a dystopian/science fiction book club here at the library for faculty, staff, and students.  Other interests are backyard beekeeping with my husband and teaching yoga part-time on campus.

I am an avid reader, but actually “listener” might be more precise as I have a considerable commute and make the most of this time with audiobooks.  My fiction tastes have run from gamut over the years with a strong emphasis on fantasy/science fiction/dystopian fiction and lately I have been enjoying mystery cozies.  My TV tastes tend to run in the same direction…Buffy probably being my all-time favorite.

So while I love being immersed in a wonderful story…it only takes a one incorrect fact to pull you out of that state and the experience is completely altered.  This is what I loved about this blog, not to mention the mission to use government information, which appeals to my information literacy side.  And I very much appreciate the astronomy section of this blog, as my first job after college was part-time at Sky & Telescope Magazine and part-time in the library at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

This is my first blog, so I will be taking time this summer to really analyze the material and start planning how I want it to move forward.  In the beekeeper world, this would be akin to starting off with a nucleus hive (something already established… a mini version of a hive) as opposed to a package of bees that you put in an empty hive with just foundation frames for them to build out.  See “Basic Beekeeping Techniques” under  https://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/beekeeping to learn more about starting a hive.

I want to find the best way to proceed that will both honor the original mission while exploring new ways to grow.  This will take time, so please be patient with me as I start this journey.  I look forward to working with Daniel and I welcome your feedback or ideas…so please contact me…Really.  🙂

Site Transition: Meet Your New Host

For quite some time now, I (Daniel) know I have not put maintenance or promotional energy into this site that it deserves. Partly that’s because I run this resource in my spare time. My job description has not included government information since 2007 and so I never sought work support for this project. In addition, I have other projects and lifelong learning opportunities going on. The result has been you getting the leftovers of my focus and energy. You writers and readers deserve more.

So several weeks ago, I made the choice of seeking a new owner for the Writer’s Guide to Government Information. Today I’m happy to announce that not only does the Writer’s Guide have a new owner, but one with institutional support!

The new owner is Kari Mofford, Undergraduate and User Services Librarian of the Claire T. Carney Library at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. In addition to having the support of her dean for this project, Kari is also liaison to the English department at her school. This puts her in a great position to do outreach to the writing community.

Although not a government information librarian herself, she has really enjoyed the resources she’s found in the Writer’s guide, and is committed to maintaining the site and sharing her discoveries.

I’m going to be in the background for as long as Kari finds me useful, but this is her site and her show now. In the next few weeks Kari will be posting announcements about the site’s future direction. I imagine she will also be soliciting your input on how the Writer’s Guide can be made even more useful than it is now. I look forward to seeing the direction she takes it in. I hope you will too.


Resource for 19th Century DC social life

It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything here, but the Library of Congress recently digitized a collection that I think writers of stories set in early to mid 19th Century Washington DC would find helpful.

The collection is Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton papers, 1793-1861 and it can be found at https://www.loc.gov/collections/anna-maria-brodeau-thornton-papers/about-this-collection/.

Here’s the description from the “About this collection” page:

The seven volumes of diaries and notebooks, 1793-1861, of Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton (ca.1775-1865) document her position at the center of a Washington, D.C., social circle that included George and Martha Washington, James and Dolley Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Margaret Bayard Smith, and the cabinet members, congressmen, and diplomats who constituted the city’s entwined social and political worlds. Thornton was the daughter of Ann Brodeau, who emigrated from England in 1775 with the help of Benjamin Franklin and established a successful school in Philadelphia. The identity of Anna Maria Thornton’s father is unknown, but he may have been English clergyman William Dodd, who was hanged for forgery in 1777.

In 1790, at just fifteen, Anna Maria Brodeau married William Thornton (1759-1828), an architect who was born in Tortola and initially trained as a doctor. He is best known for his design of the United States Capitol. Thornton was one of the commissioners appointed to plan the capital city, and later in his career he became United States Superintendent of Patents. The Thorntons moved to Washington in 1792 and lived there for the rest of their lives.

Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton’s papers consist of diaries and commonplace books, 1793-1861, which she began when she was eighteen and ended at eighty-six, a period of sixty-eight years. These volumes document the operation of her household, including the management of slaves; travel, including visits to the Virginia homes of George and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James and Dolley Madison; the construction of Washington, D.C., and the United States Capitol; the city under attack during the War of 1812; visits of the Count de Volney, 1796, and Alexander von Humboldt, 1804; an attempt on her life by Arthur, a slave, in 1835; the 1844 shipboard explosion that killed Secretary of State Abel Upshur and Treasury Secretary Thomas Gilmer; the inauguration of president James K. Polk in 1845; and the start of the Civil War.

Thornton’s entries show the networks of visiting and social events, including presidential “levees,” at which she, along with other wives of Washington’s leaders, observed and influenced power in the capital city. Included are household accounts, receipts, a visitors log, 1794-1798, book lists and reading notes, essays in French and English, recipes, a collection of autographs of Washington figures, photographs, and silhouettes. Among the silhouettes are a few done by Philadelphia artist Charles Willson Peale of Humboldt and his party during their 1804 visit to Washington (volume 6).

I haven’t examined this material in detail, but it seems like it would have to have a lot of authentic details for antebellum Washington DC. If you do find this material useful, I’d love to hear about it in comments.

This post is not a prelude to either posting more regularly or doing a thorough overhaul of the site. Sometimes I just can’t help myself from sharing. We’ll see what happens here as I get through a few other commitments.

Post Navigation