By Elizabeth Patterson, Ph.D., Government Documents Librarian
Two reference interactions in Fall 2011 articulated for me the intimate relationship that exists between libraries, librarians and researchers, and the usefulness of the Drew Library to
Khemani Gibson, a CLA student, came to me needing a primary source for his African-American history paper. He was interested in how race may have impacted U.S. relations with the new government of the Dominican Republic after that country split from Haiti in the 1840s.
Using LC subject headings in the Drew Library catalog, we drilled down to Dominican Republic—Foreign relations—United States. We found The United States and Santo Domingo, 1789-1873. I was excited! Chapter IV caught my eye: “America Draws the Color Line in its Policy of Recognition.”
Scanning the chapter, we found much pertinent material, with excellent references. One reference seemed particularly relevant, a correspondence from President Santana’s special envoy
to the United States, Dr. Jose Caminero. The author cited a reference in the correspondence. The citation was to a U.S. Senate Executive Document, part of the Serial Set, a government document. Government documents, not usually subject to copyright restrictions and part of the official record of government, have historical interest for scholarship and consequently are often digitized and made available online. Using Google for what it does best (i.e. searching
for a specific title), a search of the title easily produced the digital full text of this particular document.
My second research interaction was with Bob Moore, a Ph.D. student in history. His dissertation focuses on the role of the clergy in the Ku Klux Klan in New Jersey in the 1920s. Bob has accessed over 30 local New Jersey libraries and historical societies, in addition to the Bernard Bush collection on the Ku Klux Klan in New Jersey, cataloged and made accessible
in April 2011 by Rutgers library, as part of its special manuscript collection.
Bob had two questions. How many municipalities existed in New Jersey in the 1920s was the first. Towns or places can be fuzzy things; a municipality is a specific entity, defined by corporate status and self-government. I knew that the U.S. Census would use consistent designations. I pulled 1920 and 1930 Census volumes containing New Jersey data off our shelves. The U.S.
Census did not disappoint. It listed the incorporated places in New Jersey, as well as “minor civil divisions.”
The U.S. Census still uses these designations: “Town -A type of minor civil division in the New England states, New York, and Wisconsin and a type of incorporated place in 30 states and the Virgin Islands of the United States” (http://factfinder.census.gov/home/en/epss/glossary_t.html,
accessed Jan. 11, 2012).
The second question involved the religious makeup of New Jersey in the 1920s. I turned to my colleague, Dr. Ernest Rubinstein, Drew’s Theological Librarian. Ernie immediately came up with the following title: Religious Bodies. I realized what it was. It too was from our government
documents collection. The Drew Library has Religious Bodies for 1916, 1926 and 1936. I pulled the 1926 volume, and indeed, the data he wanted was there.
My job as a reference/government documents librarian offers many challenges and rewards.
Chief among these is helping serious researchers answer thought-provoking questions and explore uncharted territory regarding resources and approach, a journey that often results in what we in academia refer to as new knowledge.
— This article originally appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Visions, the Library Newsletter