Humanities: Government Documents

comp bookOver the past decade, the United States federal government has shifted from a paper-based to a digital system for information dissemination providing anywhere, anytime access to government information.

The introduction of new online tools and websites is providing easier access to information from a wide variety of government agencies.

Librarians will find many of these new information sources useful in addressing the needs of information seekers.


Government Agencies and the Humanities

A few government agencies have humanities divisions or are specific focused on the humanities.

The Smithsonian Institution "is an independent trust instrumentality of the United States which comprises the world's largest museum and research complex; includes 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoo, and research facilities in several States and the Republic of Panama; and is dedicated to public education, national service, and scholarship in the arts, sciences, history, and culture" (US Govt Manual).

try itTry It!
Explore a couple of the Smithsonian resources above.
Brainstorm ways these resources could be used to address humanities questions.

The National Endowment for the Arts "advances artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities." (US Govt Manual). Their NEA Publications page provides lots of resources.

The National Endowment for the Humanities "supports research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities." (US Govt Manual). Humanities Magazine is a good source for information. Their Fact Sheets and Impact Reports are also useful.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services "creates strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas." (US Govt Manual)

try itTry It!
Browse Humanities Magazine.
Think about the broad definition of humanities and how government resources are connected with the humanities. Select an article that reflects this connection.

Art and Architecture

A few government agencies focus specifically on the arts. Many support of these agencies support non-profit efforts.

try itTry It!
Go to ArtsEdge. Brainstorm resources that could be used to address art or music questions. List the question, the answer, and the URL of the information source within ArtsEdge.

Scenario Stumper
I saw a photo showing the United States Capitol dome under scaffolding. What's the deal? Who makes the decisions about a renovation of this magnitude?
The Architect of the Capitol is the builder and steward of America's Capitol. This website contains information about the art, architecture, and engineering elements. This position also oversees the United States Botanical Garden.
The Bottom Line: The Architect of the Capitol makes the decisions.

annetteLamb's Personal Connection
I'm fascinated by the art on postal stamps. I began collecting stamps when my nephew was born over 10 years ago. I thought it would be a fun to give him the collection as a surprise when he's an adult. Over the years, I've been amazed at the variety of artwork. It's also been fun to follow the goof ups like the fact that the quote on Maya Angelou's stamp isn't her words. Opps.

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum has an amazing online collection that includes the history of U.S. stamp design.

Language, Linguistics and Literature

There are a few government resources related to language, linguistics, and literature.

Language and Linguistics

try itTry It!
Read the National Science Foundation Special Report: Language & Linguistics.
Brainstorm questions people might have about language and linguistics that might be addressed using government resources.


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The Library of Congress support events related to poetry and literature.
Explore programs events such as the National Book Festival, Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools, and Read Contests that involve the public with literature. Think about how these might be connected to a library's programs.


Many of the government websites connected with music are related to museums and libraries

Scenario Stumper
I'd like to know if music played a role in the concentration camps during World War II. Were they allowed to have instruments or sing? Did they develop new music?
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a good place to begin an exploration of topics related to the Holocaust. There's a section dedicated to music called Music of the Holocaust: Highlights from the Collection.
The Bottom Line... Yes! While songs from before the war remained popular, many new works emerged too. For many, music was an important part of maintaining humanity. The website contains scanned images of original sheet music and some recordings along with other information about the music.

try itTry It!
Explore one of the music resources above.
How does this national information source apply locally?

Performing Arts, Sports, Recreation and Leisure

If you're interested in radio and television, check out the radio stations available through the Federal Communications Commission website.

The Library of Congress has endless resources.

Scenario Stumper
There's a really annoying AM radio station in my area broadcasting very racist language. I'd like to find out if it's a legal radio station.
The Federal Communications Commission handles radio station information. They will have the best information about the stations that are authorized to transmit both analog and digital signals. Go to AM Query Broadcast Search.
The Bottom Line... you can find out every station that is broadcasting in your area by location and frequency.

Philosophy, Religion, & Ethics

You might not think of philosophy, religion, and ethics as being an area addressed by the US government. However, there are a few important information sources that might be useful in addressing library client questions.

The Office of Government Ethics "directs executive branch policies related to preventing conflicts of interest on the part of Government employees and resolving those conflicts of interest that do occur." (US Govt Manual)

Scenario Stumper
I just got a job working in a retail store at the mall. They say that I can't wear my hijab to work because it's not part of the uniform. According to my religious beliefs, I must wear my veil whenever I'm out in public. Is this discrimination?
A government website is the best source for accurate, up-to-date information about religious discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission addresses this issue specifically.
The Bottom Line... Yes, it's religious discrimination. "Unless it would be an undue hardship on the employer's operation of its business, an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices." This includes head coverings.

try itTry It!
After browsing government resources on this page, pick three government websites you think might be particularly useful in your library setting. List the names and URLs of the website along with a once sentence reason.

Patents in the Humanities

Although you may think of patents as something primarily of interest to scientists or business people, they're very important in art and music as well.

Both the US Patent Office was well as Google Patents provides information about patents.

Read U.S. Patents Related to the Humanities. Think about how this project applies to your area of interest.

Scenario Stumper
I'm a music teacher and I've invented a cover that protects wind instruments from getting cold and wet during marching band season. I'm thinking of selling my invention, but I need to know if there are already patents in this area.
Go a patent search at Google Patents or the US Patent Office.
The Bottom Line... there are already a few patents in this area including the Muff for Wind Instruments. Before proceeding you'll need to be able to differentiate your new ideas from the previous patents.

try itTry It!
Read Musicians and Artists Profile from the US Patent and Trademark Office.

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