Government Information Source Evaluation

News sources, Legislative histories, databases, et cetera; where do we turn to find the best and up to date government information?  That is a good question, and in this paper I hope to present the reader with a comparative analysis of some of the options available when conducting research into government information.

We will look into the Impeachment of President Nixon as a subject for comparing these tools.  I chose this topic because I thought it would be more interesting, as impeachment can contain a sense of spectacle, versus something such as oil spills in Alaska or railroads in North Dakota.

This paper will examine two aspects of government information retrieval and government information research.  Before getting into the meat of the issues of this paper, I would like to provide a brief synopsis of ProQuest as three out of the four sources we will be looking at are ProQuest products. In the first half of the paper, we will be comparing two versions of government document catalogs: ProQuest Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications 1895-1976 and Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (with full-text from FDSYS).  In the second half of the paper, we will compare and evaluate the legislative branch content of ProQuest Legislative Insight with that of ProQuest Congressional. Within each of the two major sections, I will try and provide the reader with a sense of the value of each of the sources being examined. After describing some of the results of the research process, I will provide a comparative analysis of each of the tools.

 Brief Synopsis of ProQuest: In Their Own Words

Since three out of the four sources I will be evaluating in this paper are ProQuest tools, I would like to provide the reader with a general background on ProQuest. This conglomerate of research tools has a rich history dating back to 1872 when “R. R. Bowker launche[d] Publishers Weekly. Four years later, he team[ed] with Melville Dewey to publish volume 1 of Library Journal.” (ProQuest, Histories and Milestones)  On it’s website, ProQuest claims that:

“ProQuest is a composite of companies, each begun by an innovator who was inspired to resolve a challenge for libraries or researchers. As a hub of entrepreneurship, ProQuest’s collective history charts the evolution of the information industry, from the very beginnings of the library profession through the relentless shift from print to electronic resources.” (ProQuest, Histories and Milestones)

They also claim:

“ProQuest is a key partner for content holders of all types, preserving and enabling access to their rich and varied information. Those partnerships have built a growing content collection that now encompasses 90,000 authoritative sources, 6 billion digital pages and spans six centuries. It includes the world’s largest collection of dissertations and theses; 20 million pages and three centuries of global, national, regional and specialty newspapers; more than 450,000 ebooks; rich aggregated collections of the world’s most important scholarly journals and periodicals…” (ProQuest, Who We Are)

Now that we know what they claim about themselves, let us begin to examine the research at the heart of this paper. In the following two sections we are going to explore and use various tools for government research.

Comparing Government Publication Catalogs

In this section we will be looking at Government Publication Catalogs. There are numerous government publication catalogs available such as: Marcive Webdocs; OCLC FirstSearch GPO; ParaText: Government Documents Masterfile; and ProQuest’s Executive Branch Documents 1789 – 1932, a component of  ProQuest Congressional. The two up for examination here are ProQuest’s Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications 1895 – 1976 and the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (which has full text available from FDsys).

The first item we will examine is ProQuest’s Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications. In the overview of their description page for this source, ProQuest says:

“The Monthly Catalog of US Government Publications, 1895-1976 is a faithful digital version of the US Government Printing Office’s authorized government bibliography from 1895 to June 1976. The Federal Depository Library Program, which has been administered by the Government Printing Office (GPO) since 1895, is filled with information on careers, business opportunities, consumer information, health and nutrition, legal and regulatory information, demographics, and almost any other subject.  The U.S. Government is the largest publisher in the world. Due to the huge amount of information printed by the U.S. Government, very few documents have historically been catalogued. The Monthly Catalog is the only finding aid to this vast body of literature.” (ProQuest, Monthly Catalog)

This source covers “nearly 1,000 monthly issues,” and is formatted in an index (ProQuest, Monthly Catalog). There are various access points through which one can search this database. An access point can be a “name, term, heading, or code in a bibliographic record with which library materials may be searched, identified, and retrieved.” (UC SanDiego, Common Library Terms) ProQuest’s Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications allows the user to narrow down by Keyword, Publication Title, Corporate/Agency author, and Author. The search can be further limited by searching the Monthly Catalog entries and Appendices, the Front/Back matter sections, title page, list of depository libraries, previews, table of contents, abbreviations, explanation, shipments of depositories, the subject index, author index, title index, a general index, and/or the annual indexes.  It is also possible to narrow the results down by publication date, SuDoc number, GPO item number, contract number, monthly catalog date, and various other access points.

So what can we discover when searching this research tool by looking at the impeachment of President Nixon? Let us begin by searching in the keyword box for “Nixon Impeachment’” and by selecting Monthly Catalog entries and Appendices in the “Limit Search to:” box. This initial search returned five results; two of the items were house documents, two were house reports, and one was a debate on articles of impeachment from the Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee debate sounds interesting. After opening up the link, we are welcomed to a catalog record of this item where copious amounts of surrounding metadata for the item Debate on articles of impeachment, hearings, 93d Congress, 2d session, pursuant to H. Res. 803, res. authorizing and directing Committee on Judiciary to investigate whether sufficient grounds exist for House of Representatives to exercise constitutional power to impeach Richard M. Nixon, July 24-30, 1974.  For instance, we learn that the SuDoc number for this item is Y 4.J 89/1:Im 7/9 and that this item is for sale by the Superintendent of Documents. One of the added benefits of this tool is that it provides the user with an high quality image of the source page from the monthly catalog.

The next tool we will examine is the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP). “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.” (GPO, CGP) “In 2010, all GPO Access content was migrated to FDsys, the largest cross-agency effort to provide and maintain access to federal government information.”  (Forte, p.35)  FDsys stands for Federal Digital System. It is “the biggest collection of publications across agencies.” (Forte, p.35) On page thirty five of his work, Fundamentals of Government Information, Forte describes the four functions of FDsys:

  1. Publishing: The U.S. Congress and federal agencies can submit files and orders electronically to GPO for printing and publishing services, electronic distribution, and inclusion in the Federal Depository Library Program.

  2. Searching for information: Government information will reach a wider audience by providing authentic, published government information to the public through an Internet-based system.

  3. Preserving Information: The Preservation Function of FDsys ensures public access to government information even as technology changes.

  4. Version control: Multiple versions of published information are common; FDsys provides version control for government information.

“In free online format, bills may be found through the American Memory Project (1799-1875 for the House, 1819-1875 for the senate…), then from 1988 on via THOMAS [now congress.gov] and FDsys.” (Forte, p. 63)

The basic search of CGP allows the user to narrow down their search by keywords, title, author, and subject in their basic box.  However, in their advanced search menu there is a large array of options to narrow down the results. In addition to the results from the basic menu, there is also the option to narrow down by, among many others,  title keywords, Serials/Periodicals Keywords, Conference Proceeding Keywords, Corporate/Agency Author Keywords, SuDoc class number, OCLC number, ISBN, Publication Place, and Library of Congress Subject Keywords. Beyond that, a search can be narrowed down by a year range, format, language, and catalogs.  Needless to say there are numerous ways to pinpoint a search.

In order to prevent this from becoming overly complicated, let us try the same general format for search criteria in this database. I again typed “Nixon Impeachment” into the search box and keep it as a keyword search. In this instance, I was greeted with a reception of twenty-one items. It is evident that not all of these items are relevant to our search because of the dates; numerous items are from the ‘90s when President Clinton was being impeached. I see the item from the previous search that is now listed as the thirteenth item on this list. An added benefit of this tool is that they provide a link to where the user can locate this item in a library.

We now have a sense of these two different tools: how they came to be, how to use them, and a quick understanding of some of their strengths over their competitor. We see that each of the databases allow us to search for the same item with minor differences in the results. It seemed as though ProQuest’s tool was more focused in it’s results with only five results, while the CGP was more liberal in it’s approach to interpreting the search query.  ProQuest provided an image of the source file, whereas the CGP provided a link to locations in a library. Now let us take a look at another component of government research.

 Legislative Branch Content

In this section we will compare and evaluate two different ProQuest tools for finding and researching U.S. federal legislative branch content. The U.S. Legislature include both branches of Congress, the House and the Senate. The first tool we will look at is ProQuest Legislative Insight and then we will look at ProQuest Congressional.

Let us now begin with ProQuest Legislative Insight. On it’s website, ProQuest describe their Legislative Insight database as:

“ProQuest legislative histories are comprised of fully searchable PDFs of full-text publications generated in the course of congressional lawmaking. Each history includes the full text of the public law itself, all versions of related bills, law-specific Congressional Record excerpts, committee hearings, reports, and prints. Also included are presidential signing statements, CRS reports, and miscellaneous congressional publications that provide background material to aid in the understanding of issues related to the making of the law.  Legislative histories may be used to discover the legislative intent behind a specific law and to aid in the teaching of legislative process to law school and main campus students. The histories also offer insight into laws of general interest to political science, government, and U.S. history researchers, as well as to students preparing for careers in public health, education, business, or any other discipline subject to federal regulation.“ (ProQuest, Legislative Insight)

There are two components of ProQuest Legislative Insight. “A” includes 18,058 laws from 1929-2012, while “B” will include 9,000 laws from 1789-1965 when it is finished in 2015. (ProQuest, Legislative Insight (Database)) ProQuest has created MARC records for these files as well as enabled OpenURLs.

When searching ProQuest Legislative Insight, there are numerous access points to begin the process. In their guided search option, there is the ability to narrow down the search by Legislative History, Bill, Public Law, Report, Committee Print, Document, Hearing, CRS and Miscellaneous Publications, Presidential Signing Statement, and by narrowing down the specific Congress.  Other useful tips for using this database include using the “two special characters, * and ?, that may be used as wildcards. *matches zero or more characters, while ? matches a single character.” (ProQuest, Legislative Insight (Database)) Also note that “to find an occurrence of an exact phrase, enclose it in quotation marks. The search is not case-sensitive or punctuation-sensitive.” (ProQuest, Legislative Insight (Database)). Lastly, the searches produced by this database do take proximity into account.

For this search, since we are dealing with a legislative history, we broadened the scope of our search from “Nixon Impeachment” to a search for “Richard M. Nixon.” After obtaining 144 results in the legislative histories, we narrowed down the results to include only hearings and CRS and Misc. publications. This produced two interesting results. The first item is Authority of GSA to Vest Final Administrative Authority for Public Access to Presidential Tapes and Materials in the Presidential Materials Review Board (included in legislative history for PL93-526). The second item is H.R. 16902, a Bill To Establish a Commission To Study Rules and Procedures for the Disposition and Preservation of Records and Documents of Federal Officials (included in legislative history for PL93-526). If we expand the result even further to include reports, we now have a few more results.  One of these is the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (included in legislative history for PL93-526). As we can see from our results, a recurring theme is Public Law 93-526. The last thing I did was to look up PL 93-526. I found that it was the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act I had found earlier in a hearing.

The last source we are looking at in this paper is ProQuest Congressional. ProQuest Congressional was previously a product of Lexis Nexis called Lexis Nexis Congressional. (Forte, p.71)On it’s website, ProQuest describes this database as:

“ProQuest Congressional is the only site anywhere that offers a comprehensive collection of congressional documents from 1789 to the present. This primary source collection offers students an unparalleled opportunity to understand the present by comparing today’s events and opinions with trends and patterns throughout our nation’s history. Congressional hearings offer a unique perspective on all aspects of U.S. social, economic, and political history by presenting differing views from representatives of all societal sectors, including business, industry, labor, education, health, criminal justice, and government. Testimony is presented by foreign policy experts, economists, Native Americans, civil rights leaders, public health officials, scientists, farmers, fishermen, environmental advocates, and ordinary citizens. House and Senate publications document the transformation of the U.S. from thirteen colonies into a world power, with primary source content on subjects ranging from war and military incursions to nuclear energy, space exploration, terrorism, and human rights. When examined in conjunction with ProQuest news and archival sources, congressional content can facilitate the ability of even novice researchers to develop critical thinking skills necessary for full participation as citizens and workers in a secure and competitive society of the future.” (ProQuest, Congressional)

ProQuest Congressional covers “full text of congressional publications, controlled-vocabulary indexing, a bill-tracking service and full text of public laws and other research materials.” (ProQuest, Congressional) They do this in an “abstract and index, full text” format. (ProQuest, Congressional)

There are numerous access points through which one may begin searching this database.  In the facet menu on the left side of the page there is an option to narrow down by Member Records, Demographics, Committees, Regulations, and Political News. In the middle of the advanced search page there is the option to narrow down the search further by the following:

Legislative Histories 1969-present; Bills & Laws 1789-present; Committee Prints & Misc. Publications 1817-present; Congressional Record Bound Edition & Predecessors 1789- present; Congressional Record Daily Edition 1985-present; CRS Reports 1916-present; Hearings 1824-Present; House & Senate Documents 1817-Present; House & Senate Reports 1817- Present; Serial Set 1789-present; Serial Set Maps 1789-present; and Executive Branch Documents 1789-1932.

 Other useful searching tips in this database include knowing that quotation marks will return the exact phrase searched, knowing the few stopwords that are incorporated into the search, and knowing that the Boolean terms are case-insensitive. (ProQuest, Congressional Help)

Now let us insert our search query one last time to see what kind of results we can obtain in this database.  After typing in “Richard M. Nixon” and pressing the magnifying glass we obtain just under 40,000 results.  This is much too many to have any meaningful results, so let us narrow it down further with our facet search abilities. As all of our previous results have centered around the 93rd Congress we will select that and also narrow our results down to only those that are full text. This now gives us just under 3,000; a much smaller number, but still too many to search through.  By opening up the document type box, we can include and exclude certain types of documents; let us include: hearings published, house and senate documents, house and senate reports, CRS reports, hearings unpublished, and house and senate journals. Some of the results of this search include: Impeachment of Richard M. Nixon, President of the U.S (Rodino, Impeachment); the published hearing Debate on Articles of Impeachment (Judiciary, Debate); A series of published hearings called Impeachment Inquiry (Judiciary, Impeachment). The list here just skims the surface of what is available through ProQuest Congressional.

From what we have viewed, it appears that ProQuest Congressional is the superior source for general research, or if a specific item is known.  On the other hand, ProQuest Legislative Insight offers a better legislative history.  So if a search is being taken on Legislative Branch information, it depends on the nature of the research one is doing with respect to choosing the database.

Conclusion

I hope that I have provided some insight to the nature of these databases and research tools so that the reader will be more confident in their approach to retrieving government information. As we have seen, ProQuest is a fantastic set of tools because of the vast amount of resources that they are stewards of. That said, they are not the only ones.  After familiarizing themselves with the tools discussed in this paper, the reader should now be able to explore the numerous other databases available to searching government information.

Bibliography

  1. American Law Division, CRS. “Authority of GSA to Vest Final Administrative Authority for Public Access to Presidential Tapes and Materials in the Presidential Materials Review Board.” 94th Congress, 1st Session (1975)(1974)Print.

  2. Committee on the Judiciary. United States House of Representatives. Impeachment Inquiry, Book I. Tran. House. Washington D.C.:, 1975. ProQuest Congressional. Web. Sudoc: Y4.J89/1:Im7/10/bk.#

  3. Eric J. Forte, Assandra J. Hartnett, and Andrea L. Sevetson, ed. Fundamentals of Government Information: Mining, Finding, Evaluating, and using Government Resources. New York City: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., 2011. Print.

  4. Government Printing Office. “Catalog of U.S. Government Publications.”Web. <http://catalog.gpo.gov/F?RN=961121605>.

  5. Judiciary Committee, House, Congress, Washington, DC, 20515. Debate on Articles of Impeachment, Hearings, 93d Congress, 2d Session, Pursuant to H. Res. 803, Res. Authorizing and Directing Committee on Judiciary to Investigate Whether Sufficient Grounds Exist for House of Representatives to Exercise Constitutional Power to Impeach Richard M. Nixon, July 24-30, 1974. . Tran. House. , 1976. Print. Sudoc: Y4.J89/1:Im7/9

  6. Peter Wallace Rodino, Jr. (1909), Democratic Representative from NJ. Impeachment of Richard M. Nixon, President of the U.S. Tran. House. , 1974. Print.

  7. ProQuest. “Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications, 1895-1976.”Web. <http://www.proquest.com/products-services/monthly_catalog.html>.

  8. —. “ProQuest Congressional.”Web. <http://www.proquest.com/libraries/academic/databases/proquest-congressional.html>.

  9. —. “ProQuest Congressional Help – Using Search Connectors and Commands.” 2014.Web. <http://congressional.proquest.com:8090/webframe.html?connectors_group_ref.html>.

  10. —. “ProQuest- History & Milestones.”Web. <http://www.proquest.com/about/history-milestones/>

  11. —. “ProQuest Legislative Insight.”Web. <http://www.proquest.com/products-services/legislativeinsight.html>.

  12. —. “ProQuest Legislative Insight (Database).”Web. <http://www.conquest-leg-insight.com/legislativeinsight/LegHistMain.jsp;jsessionid=90445C912F4827BA9D4B686B67E7E360>.

  13. —. “Who We Are.”Web. <http://www.proquest.com/about/who-we-are.html>.

  14. Sen. Gaylord Nelson [D-WI]. Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act. Tran. Committee on House Administration. House. H. Rpt. 93-1507 Vol. Washington D.C.:, 1974. ProQuest: Legislative Insight. Web.

  15. Subcom on Printing, Committee on House Administration. House. Washington D.C. H.R. 16902, a Bill to Establish a Commission to Study Rules and Procedures for the Disposition and Preservation of Records and Documents of Federal Officials. Tran. House. , 1974. Print.

  16. The Library UC SanDiego. “Common Library Terms & Acronymns.”Web. <http://libraries.ucsd.edu/help/glossary.html>.

  17. United States House of Representatives (Senate Concurring). Impeachment Inquiry – Hearings and Final Report. 93 H.Con.Res. 566; H.Con.Res 566 Vol. Washington D.C.:, 1974. Print.

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