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Library marks 150 years as federal depository

Barry McNamara
06/30/2010
Lynn Daw (left), technical services librarian at Monmouth College’s Hewes Library, and library director Rick Sayre pose with a “Newsmap” from World War II. The item is just one of many “little treasures” that the library has acquired during its 150 years of serving as a Federal Depository Library.
Two sesquicentennials have received considerable attention in Monmouth in decades past. One occurred in 1981, when the City of Monmouth turned 150 years old, and the other took place in 2003, when Monmouth College followed suit.

The latest sesquicentennial marks 150 years of Monmouth College serving as a Federal Depository Library (FDL). That makes the college’s library the oldest FDL in the state and the fourth-oldest in the nation.

Lynn Daw, MC’s technical services librarian, explained that FDLs got their start when 19th-century legislators began asking for copies of various bills or documents to be sent to their constituencies.

“They might request that the Journals of the House or the Journals of the Senate be sent to their home library,” said Daw. “Soon, every library was wanting a copy.”

In 1858, the U.S. Congress enabled each representative to designate a depository in his district or territory and, in 1859, the U.S. Senate followed suit for state depositories. The Government Printing Office (GPO) was established the following year.

In 1860, and for several decades afterward, the college’s distinction of being a Federal Depository Library was shared with the community library, but MC took over its exclusive claim in 1905 with the construction of its Carnegie Library (now Poling Hall).

Interestingly, one reason that the college’s Hewes Library is open to the community is that it’s a requirement for the general public to have access to the federal documents inside.

There are approximately 1,350 Federal Depository Libraries throughout the U.S. and its territories, and there is at least one in almost every congressional district. Daw explained that Monmouth is considered a “regional” FDL, which means it’s a “selective” depository. That is in contrast to the Illinois State Library in Springfield, which receives all of the federal documents.

Documents printed by the government grew to an “overwhelming” quantity during the 20th century, said Daw. For several years, microfiche was used to cut down on the storage space needed. That format was followed by CD-ROMs, and now the Internet is the preferred method of making the information available.

“We currently select roughly 19 percent of all documents published by the Government Printing Office,” said Daw. “Today, many items are received electronically and are available for free (at https://vufind.carli.illinois.edu/vf-mon).”

Now that so many documents are paperless, Daw said the college library receives only “about two boxes” of publications per month. While the electronic items can be accessed through the college library, Daw said the general public can access them through their PCs, too.

Through the years, what Daw describes as “lots of little treasures” have been deposited in the college library, making it a historian’s delight.

One such treasure is a series of poster-sized “Newsmaps,” which were published by the Department of Defense during World War II. They provided regular updates on the war and showed where various events were taking place.

“They have a lot of Rosie the Riveter-type messages – things like ‘a foxhole will save your life,’” said Daw.

When determining what type of federal documents the college library receives today, Daw said how the information fits into Monmouth’s curriculum is a factor. For example, federal information that details what should be taught in junior high math is of interest to Monmouth’s educational studies department.

The longer Daw works with the collection, the more interesting items she finds.

“We have maps of Yellowstone, since it’s a national park, and we have census information, in print, dating back to 1860,” she said. “We also have information on the explorations before the transcontinental railroad went through, so we have John Wesley Powell’s maps of the Colorado River. We just keep discovering things like that.”

Other items include the Warren Commission reports on the assassination of President Kennedy and records from the “War of the Rebellion,” which would have been received right around the time that Monmouth first became an FDL. One of the oldest documents on hand is an 1834 reprint of the Annals of the Congress from 1789.

Daw called the value of the collection “almost priceless,” for the way it “puts history in the hands” of library patrons.