Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Appendix B – Multi-Topic Resources

Most of the resources listed in the chapters of this website cover a fairly narrow topic. Since I’m not arrogant enough to assume that any topic you might care to write about is covered within these web pages, I wanted to offer you some general government information resources to help you find quality information related to your situation.

USA.govhttp://usa.gov

This is the federal government’s main portal to federal and state websites. The main page’s main feature is a search box and rolling list of highlights. The search is pretty good, but nearly all searches will bring up a mix of federal and state resources.

I highly encourage you to explore the topics subsection at http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/All-Topics.shtml. This page offers links to resources in the following topics:

  • Benefits, Grants, and Financial Aid
  • Business and Economy
  • Consumer Protection
  • Contests and Challenges
  • Defense and International Relations
  • Environment, Energy, and Agriculture
  • Family, Home, and Community
  • Government Performance
  • Government Sales and Auctions
  • Health and Nutrition
  • History, Arts, and Culture
  • Jobs and Education
  • Money and Taxes
  • Public Safety and Law
  • Public Service and Volunteerism
  • Reference and General Government
  • Science and Technology
  • Travel, Transportation, and Recreation
  • Voting and Elections

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Catalog of Government Publications (CGP)http://catalog.gpo.gov

From the website:

The CGP is the finding tool for federal publications that includes descriptive records for historical and current publications and provides direct links to those that are available online. Users can search by authoring agency, title, subject, and general key word, or click on “Advanced Search” for more options.

This is a very good resource to find background documents and is especially good at finding resources that are not already available on the internet.

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Metalibhttp://metalib.gpo.gov

This is a federated search of 54 federal databases offered by the Government Printing Office. From the website:

MetaLib is a federated search engine that searches multiple U.S. Federal government databases, retrieving reports, articles, and citations while providing direct links to selected resources available online.

Material available varies from simple bibliographic records which you can use in interlibrary loan requests to full text reports and articles.

Click on the “A-Z Resource” tab for a full list of databases with descriptions. You may search individual databases in their native interface. Available databases include:

  • Access to Archival Databases (AAD) System – NARA
  • Army Heritage Collection Online (AHCO) Digital Document System
  • Education Resources Information Center (ERIC)
  • Federal Reserve Board: Reports to Congress
  • NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS)
  • Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Patent Database
  • PubMed (medical literature)
  • USGS Publications Warehouse

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Science.govhttp://www.science.gov

From the website,

Science.gov is a gateway to government science information and research results. Currently in its fifth generation, Science.gov provides a search of over 50 scientific databases and 200 million pages of science information with just one query, and is a gateway to over 2100 scientific websites

In addition to being a one-stop shop for science topics, this site also allows for users to sign up for search alerts. If you’re engaged in medium to long term research for your writing project, signing up for an alert might be a good thing to do. Results from Science.gov run from simple bibliographic records to full text reports and web pages.

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Freedom of Information (FOIA) Collected [via Archive-It] by: Stanford University, Social Sciences Resource Grouphttp://www.archive-it.org/collections/924

From the website:

Collection of sites that deal with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and documents. This includes government sites that receive and distribute FOIA documents as well as non-profit organizations and government watchdogs that request large numbers of FOIA documents on specific topics like national security and civil rights.

Sometimes government information isn’t formally published. Sometimes, especially in embarrassing situations, it has to be pried out of government hands with various tools including FOIA requests. Sometimes the federal government provides digital copies and sometimes dumps boxes of pages onto requesting organization. There’s never been an official “one-stop-shopping” site for documents released via FOIA, although some agencies, like the FBI have online reading rooms where they post a selection of documents released via the FOIA process.

This website is an attempt to provide consolidate searching and access to digitized FOIA documents regardless of who publishes them to the web. The site may be searched by keyword or browsed by sub-site. Sub-sites of possible interest to writers include:

  • FOIA, Terrorist Screening Center watch list mismatches
  • Congressional Research Service reports (CRS) and issue briefs by topic (mostly dealing with foreign relations)
  • American Indian Movement Council on Security and Intelligence
  • FOIA documents regarding Military Analyst Program
  • CIA FOIA electronic reading room
  • Guantanamo, beyond the law : documents from McClatchy’s investigation
  • USDOJ, National Security Division : NSD electronic reading room

If browsing by sub-site, it is best to browse by title.

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National Academies Presshttp://www.nap.edu

If you enjoy high quality information and instant gratification, this site is for you. From their “about” page:

The National Academies Press (NAP) was created by the National Academies to publish the reports issued by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council, all operating under a charter granted by the Congress of the United States. The NAP publishes more than 200 books a year on a wide range of topics in science, engineering, and health, capturing the most authoritative views on important issues in science and health policy. The institutions represented by the NAP are unique in that they attract the nation’s leading experts in every field to serve on their award-wining panels and committees. The nation turns to the work of NAP for definitive information on everything from space science to animal nutrition.

The NAP site has over 4,000 books in electronic format and all can be downloaded by the chapter or by the entire book. If you prefer paper, books can either be purchased on the NAP site or likely borrowed through interlibrary loan at your local library.

Books can be found by browsing or searching. The left hand side of the screen allows you to browse books by the following topics:

  • Agriculture
  • Behavioral and Social Sciences
  • Biography and Autobiography
  • Biology and Life Sciences
  • Computers and Information Technology
  • Conflict and Security Issues
  • Earth Sciences
  • Education
  • Energy and Energy Conservation
  • Engineering and Technology
  • Environment and Environmental Studies
  • Food & Nutrition
  • Health and Medicine
  • Industry and Labor
  • Math, Chemistry and Physics
  • Policy for Science and Technology
  • Space and Aeronautics
  • Transportation and Infrastructure

You can also find books simply by typing in keywords into the search box of the upper left-hand corner of the page. A list of search results with book cover and titles will appear.

Books from this site will probably be the most useful in doing background reading for major story topics.

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Digitization Projects Registryhttp://registry.fdlp.gov

Hosted by the Government Printing Office, the Digitization Projects Registry’s main purpose is to help loosely coordinate the activities of federal agencies and libraries so that they don’t all wind up digitizing the same stuff. As a byproduct, it makes a useful guide to instant gratification on historic government publications.

Each entry in the Registry is maintained by the project owner and should include:

  • An overview of the project.
  • The institution(s) and partners involved in the digitization.
  • The scope of the digitization project (e.g., by volume, year, Congress, administration, geographic region).
  • The status of the project (planning phase, in-progress, completed).
  • Technical specifications of the digitization output (e.g., file format, metadata schema).
  • Whether a digitization project is seeking collaborative assistance.
  • A link to the publicly-accessible digitized content.

Usually, only projects with a status of “in-progress” or “completed” will have content for you to view. Projects can be located by browsing by category (Arts & Humanities, Business & Economy, General Interest, Legal & Regulatory, Natural Sciences & Mathematics, Social Sciences and Technology & Applied Sciences), alphabetically by project title or by project status. The Registry may also be searched by keyword or by many other criteria including the presence of state and local documents.

Projects of possible interest to writers include:

  • America’s Swamp: the Historical Everglades Project
  • Federal Newsmaps (WWII)
  • Obsolete Military Manuals Collection from the US Army Combined Arms Research Library
  • Children’s Bureau publications, 1912-1969
  • Early Recognized Treaties with American Indian Nations
  • Germany Under Reconstruction
  • Home and Garden Bulletin (1950-2003)

Materials from the Digitization Projects Registry will be most useful in getting the feel for a particular time and place or for background reading on topics important to your story.

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