Our History: Celebrating 60 Years of Public Service

In the words of James Madison, “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” (Letter to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822.)

In 2008 the UNT Government Documents Department celebrated our 60th anniversary as a federal depository library. Here is a brief history of how our department has developed and expanded our services over the years in an ongoing effort to provide our ever-burgeoning clientele with free public access to government information.

We Are Designated a Federal Depository

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear…

The Date: December 18, 1947.
The Place: North Texas State Teachers College (NTSTC).

Librarian Arthur M. Sampley writes to the Honorable Ed Gossett, Representative of the 13th Congressional District, requesting that the NTSTC Library be designated a federal depository library for his District. Dr. Sampley persuasively argues that NTSTC easily meets the requirements for depository designation because the College has:

  • A co-educational student body of 4,668.
  • A faculty of 265.
  • 14 librarians.
  • 178,000 volumes in the library collection.

The College administration anxiously awaited the Representative’s response. Ten years earlier (in 1937), President W. J. McConnell had concluded his plea for designation to Senator Morris Sheppard by stating that “to look down the line of the future for this large school of men and women with no hope of getting a depository would be discouraging.”

Fortunately, Representative Gossett acted quickly, and within just a few weeks the Superintendent of Documents notified President McConnell and Dr. Sampley that (as of January 20, 1948) the College Library would be officially designated a Depository for United States government publications.

We Move to Willis Library Third Floor

In accepting this designation, the Library agreed that it would “receive only such publications as are desired and [only as many as the Library is] capable of handling to the best interest of the public,” and that “all publications received would be available for free public use.” A year later, the Denton Record-Chronicle reported that in its first year as a depository the NTSTC Library had received 4,000 federal documents. Miss Pauline Ward, Documents Librarian, stated that the documents would be temporarily located in the Reference Room until additional shelf space could be secured. That “temporary” location lasted 23 years, until the Documents Collection was moved to more spacious quarters on the Third Floor of the new Willis Library building in 1971. Today the Documents Collection includes over 1 million items, in a variety of formats: print, microform, audiovisual, maps, posters, musical scores, DVDs, LPs, CD-ROMs, and “virtual” Web documents.

Our Documents Are Added to the Library Catalog

Additionally, most of the materials received since July 1976 are included in the UNT library catalog.

We Enter Cyberspace

Our primary mission as a Federal Depository Library remains the same today as it was fifty years ago: Free Public Access.

Our clientele, however, has changed dramatically during the past four years. Through the Internet, we can now provide the whole world with directed access to full-text federal, state, local, foreign, and international government information. Our unique, subject-specific Web pages support the special needs of scholars, the general public, and the younger K–12 community. Documents reference specialists can also respond to information requests via an electronic reference form linked to our Web site. Now that we are on the Internet, our services are no longer limited geographically to our immediate Congressional District.

We Are Designated a GPO Access Gateway

In 1994, our Depository was designated an electronic Gateway for the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). The Gateway Project was developed during the early days of GPO Access to maximize free public availability of the resources on GPO Access through federal depository library portals. The project also allowed for libraries to customize search interfaces to best serve their constituencies and became a medium for developing new and innovative ways to utilize the important public resources available through GPO Access. As the only GPO Access Gateway Library in Texas, we began to serve a clientele that is truly global. Over time, technological evolution of both the public’s Internet capabilities and the capacity of the GPO Access system eliminated many of these original needs, and consequently GPO ended its formal support for the Gateway Project on September 30, 2000.

We Join the FDLP Content Partnerships Program

Foreseeing the potential preservation problems created by federal agencies’ ventures into electronic publishing, we became the second depository library in the nation to join the Federal Depository Library Program Content Partnerships Program. This program attempts to ensure permanent public access to electronic federal information.

As a participant, the UNT Depository Library was designated the host of the permanent online collection of the defunct Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR). In 2001 we received a grant to finance the creation of electronic copies of well-known ACIR print publications such as the Significant Features of Fiscal Federalism. Electronic copies of older ACIR reports are now available to scholars throughout the world via our Web page.

We’ve since expanded our Content Partnership with the federal government to include dozens of other defunct federal agency Web sites. This electronic repository is popularly known as the CyberCemetery. In recognition of our work in this area, the UNT Libraries were designated an Affiliated Archives of the National Archives in 2006. Under this agreement, the UNT Libraries will continue to preserve and provide access to the records of defunct government Web sites, while NARA will legally accession the records as part of the Archives of the United States and will join the UNT Libraries and the GPO in ensuring the preservation of these valuable records. We are currently the only non-military educational institution to be designated an Affiliated Archives.

We Create More Digital Collections

We have created other digital collections that have benefited the public.

The CRS Reports archive provides integrated, searchable access to hundreds of full-text Congressional Research Service reports that were previously only available to members of Congress or posted on a variety of sites scattered across the Web.

Our Federal Newsmaps collection provides digital access to Newsmaps produced by the U.S. War Department during World War II. They usually feature maps displaying the theaters of conflict and often include narrative descriptions of war-related events. Some feature photographic essays or poster-like designs on themes such as enemy insignias, demobilization, and farm loans.

Our collection of over 600 World War Posters was digitized shortly before being transferred to the Rare Book and Texana Collections, where it now resides.

We Initiate the Texas Agency Content Partnership Program

Our experience with Federal Partnerships and digitization projects has served us so well that we have applied the concept to the state level.

In 2000 we initiated the first Texas Agency Content Partnership through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This MOU is modeled on the GPO Content Partnership agreement, and our new agreement with the Texas Secretary of State placed the electronic backfiles of the Texas Register with us.

We also received a grant to digitize the first ten volumes of Gammel’s The Laws of Texas and debuted as a Texas Electronic Depository Library in 2003.

Our Texas Laws and Resolutions Archive makes available online all bills, joint resolutions, and concurrent resolutions that have been passed by the Texas Legislature from the 78th Legislative Session to the present, including those that were vetoed by the Governor.

Our historical collection of Texas Soil Surveys puts online all Texas county and reconnaissance soil surveys completed prior to 1950. These surveys demonstrate early scientific thought regarding soil identification and use, and the maps contained in them show many cultural features in the landscape, including businesses, churches, schools, gins, mills, and ferries.

Our Future

With the continued support of UNT and the UNT Libraries, our Federal Depository Library—and our collection of Texas state publications—will remain not only a valuable local resource, but also will, through the Internet, serve an expanding global community of scholars.

Melody S. Kelly
Associate Dean, UNT Libraries (Retired)
November 2007