Seven Reasons to Spend Time in Marx Library’s Government Documents Collection

Posted on July 3, 2018
Alice Jackson

Historical detectives will glean insights into politics and culture in the Government Documents Collection.  data-lightbox='featured'

If you’ve seen all the reruns of “History’s Mysteries” and binge-watched the latest season of “Mysteries at the Museum,” there’s a section of the University of South Alabama’s Marx Library you might want to visit.

The Government Documents Collection, located on the library’s second floor, is part of the U.S. Government Publishing Office’s Federal Depository Library Program. It’s one of 22 federal depository libraries in Alabama that make published government information available — in both tangible and electronic formats — for public inspection and research.

Or, to put it in simpler terms, the archives hold a world of interest for people who love unusual bits and pieces of history beyond the daily, and sometimes mundane, happenings of federal, state and local government. Some of the information is on the internet, but much of it isn’t. A good portion of the collection is regulatory stuff, but some of the quirky curiosities can rival anything you’ll see on The History Channel.

Librarians Vicki Tate and Paula Webb have prepared a list of some of the tidbits you can peruse in the archives. “We find interesting things all the time and try to add them to the list,” Tate said. Here are a few of their examples:

  • Reading all the original documentation is fascinating. The 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy led to the Warren Commission investigation in 1963-1964. On paper, you can read the entire 889-page report and the 26 volumes of supporting documents — including the testimony or depositions of 552 witnesses — and view the list of 3,100 exhibits, exactly as the Warren Commission compiled them.
  • Leave the virtual world behind for a while. Want to show your kids there’s a world of information beyond the internet? The U.S. Forestry Service printed lots of comics with Smokey Bear and Ranger Rick giving tips on how to prevent forest fires and how to connect with nature, especially in federal parks.
  • Learn the games your grandparents played. If you really want to entertain a child the old-fashioned way, hunt up the rules for playing “Capture the Flag,” a popular World War II-era game designed to teach facts about the U.S. flag.
  • Explore why today’s journalists go on and on about Watergate. You can learn about President Richard Nixon’s resignation from office in 1974 by reading the entire transcript of the Watergate hearings. Ditto for the Congressional hearings on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998.
  • There was more to Nixon’s presidency than Watergate. Speaking of Nixon, in December 1970, he welcomed Elvis Presley to the White House after Presley had written him a letter to request a badge from the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. During a White House visit, Presley received the badge — seven years before he died in his Memphis mansion from drug abuse complications.
  • Know the reasons ships and icebergs don’t mix. The Titanic, built in Ireland, was actually owned by American J.P. Morgan. That’s why the U.S. Congress held hearings after it sank in April 1912. That’s a bit of history they don’t tell you about in the movies or news stories, but you can find the transcripts in the documents collection.
  • Discover how high your property is above sea level. There’s a collection of topographic, hydrographic and national forest maps for the region, as well as a complete collection of soil survey maps from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Alabama and the area.

Vicki Tate, senior librarian and depository coordinator of the government documents section, has supervised the collection since 1995. In 2007, she received the USA Marx Library’s “Excellence in Librarianship Award.” She has published numerous papers and articles, and made many visual presentations on issues relating to government documents. She is a member of the American Library Association and the Alabama Library Association, serving on many committees in both groups. She can be reached at or (251) 460-7024.

Paula Webb, the government documents reference and outreach librarian, came to USA in 2007. She is a member of the Southeastern Library Association and Alabama Library Association. Webb received 2011 Mover and Shaker Award and the 2012 ALLA CUS Research Award. She has published numerous papers, articles and presentations. Her research interests include library science, government information and local history. Reach her at or (251) 460-7021.

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