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The Serial Set, Part 2: HeinOnline v. Lexis

Serial Set 2

HeinOnline is not the only player in the game when it comes to the U.S. Congressional Serial Set. Lexis also includes U.S. Congressional Documents 1777-present (U.S. Serial Set), with its own advanced search functions. You may be thinking this is overkill (isn’t one of these enough?), but for any researcher who has something specific in mind and cannot easily fish it out, it is a boon to be able to have all sources at hand and algorithmic search variables to multiply the means to compare and locate possibilities.

As valuable as a specific Serial Set Identification Number may be, the problem with a very special number is that even a small anomaly in the citation may mean a blank wall within one or the other databases. As one example: the Senate Committee on Judiciary Report on the Nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor is available on both Lexis and HeinOnline.  The Serial Set citation given on HeinOnline is 13406 S.rp. 22 and on Lexis the report is designated as 13406 Exec. Rpt. 22. Neither will bring up the other solely on the assigned number.

Serial set 2 cite

Fortunately, both Serial Set databases also offer keyword and title searches, with advanced filters. The true charm of having this content both within HeinOnline and on Lexis is the power to search across the entire Serial Set based on whatever level of information is already known to the researcher.

In the current Phase I of the HeinOnline Serial Set, search results indicate whether the material is downloadable as full text content, or preliminarily indexed as part of Phase I, with the Serial Set citation and other information given.

Serial Set Part 2

In Lexis, searches facilitated by its own advanced search functions bring up detailed summaries of results, with the option of downloading the original text as “Replica of Original Proceedings.”

If you can’t make it to the library to use HeinOnline and Lexis, there is yet another congressional resource collection: the ProQuest Congressional database offers coverage from 1970 for some congressional reports, and later dates for other document types. Online access is available for free to any CA resident with a library card issued from the San Francisco Public Library.

Next up: an in depth look at available Supreme Court nomination materials


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New Database Content: The Serial Set

Serial Set

Every Congress accumulates a veritable ocean of words: in resolutions made, hearings held, and legislation introduced and sometimes passed. From when the very first Congress opened on March 4, 1789, then in Federal Hall in New York City, to the current Congressional session opened on January 3, 2019, documents and records have been piling up. Now that content is data — virtual and weightless — it is hard to imagine the vast and unruly mass accumulated over 230 years’ worth (and counting) of Congressional matters under consideration: bills, reports, records of hearings, maps of boundaries and territories, drafts, and treaties, select executive and agency documents, odd-ball records (such as reports on rivers and harbors 1817-1982), and some interspersed annual reports of various non-governmental organizations, such the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, DAR, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Smithsonian.

The Serial Set was ordered by Congress in 1813, and has by now been modified and codified in Title 44 of the US Code §§ 701, 719, 738:

“Ordered, That, henceforward, all Messages and communications from the President of the United States; all letters and reports from the several departments of the Government; all motions and resolutions offered for the consideration of the House; all reports of committees of the House; and all other papers which, in the usual course of proceeding, or by special order of the House shall be printed in octavo fold, and separately from the Journals – shall have their pages numbered in one continued series of numbers, commencing and terminating with each session.”

(v. 9 Journal of the House of Representatives, pages 166-167, December 8, 1813)

For an excellent further discussion of the history and evolution of the Serial Set, see: https://www.fdlp.gov/about-fdlp/mission-history/u-s-congressional-serial-set-what-it-is-and-its-history.

Its name — Serial Set — is a nod to the process of organizing congressional history as it unfurls, through a serial identification system that consecutively numbers every document from each congressional session. Even with this numbered identification system, the sheer quantity and mix of types of materials can daunt or delight any researcher. While legal researchers may be intent in building out a legislative history (see Singer, Statutes and Statutory Construction §§48:31-48:3 for an extensive discussion of use of legislative history as an extrinsic aid to interpretation of a statute), other researchers may turn to the Serial Set for other explorations, such as genealogical research, research into environment change, or assessments of social and political history through the details of the records collected over this entire historical period. Due to the enormity of the task, full digitization with advanced search functions has been a wish more than a promise.

Open source sites, such as committee reports collected on Congress.gov (93rd Congress, 1973-1974 forward) or other core congressional materials on www.govinfo.gov  (104th Congress, 1995-1996 forward), offer a first bite, with excellent collections of relatively recent materials, but thin out quickly as time spools backwards. Microfiche, for anyone who has arduously wound through the pages one by one, is hardly the answer any researcher wants to hear.

The full print Serial Set is said to take up more than 15,000 thick bound volumes with an ever-growing density, Congress to Congress. On HeinOnline, the entire framework fits on one screen, containing these subsets:

• American State Papers: 1st-25th Congress (1789-1838)
• Congressional Serial Set: 15th-113th Congress (1817-2014)
• Congressional Documents: 114th-115th Congress (2015-2019)
• Congressional Reports 114th-115th Congress (2015-2019)

The HeinOnline Serial Set database, launched at the end of 2018, is better considered an archive under construction. Phase I provides a complete index of all congressional documents across the full date range of the Serial Set (1789-2018), along with full-text content of the most recent 40 years, 1978-2018.  The indexing element is a useful research stepping stone, since the Serial Set identification number can be one key in helping to locate a document in the morass. Ongoing development of a complete archive of full-text content is in the works, with a projected addition of a million pages a year until the full congressional date range of materials are entirely available and searchable. The Serial Set database fits well with other HeinOnline libraries of gnarly federal materials archives, such as earlier editions of the U.S. Code (from 1925 forward), and archives of the Federal Register (1936 – forward) and CFR (1938 – forward), expanding the ways and means of accessing these materials.

Stay tuned for more posts on the Serial Set and congressional records in the coming weeks.


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April Book Drive

Book Drive

Each month we will seek donors to purchase a new title for the Law Library. Here is our Wish List for the month of April. Growing our collection is about so much more than a single book—it is a living demonstration of how the Library expands the public’s access to justice and provides legal practitioners with the tools they need to represent members of our local community. Please see our Donation Guide for more ways to support the Law Library.

The Trial Lawyer
The Trial Lawyer: What It Takes to Win, 2nd ed.
Written by David Berg
$99.95, Paperback, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-64105-110-1

The ABA is offering 25% off with promo code REVIEW19

Representing People with Mental Disabilities
Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers
Edited by Elizabeth Kelley
$49.95, Paperback, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-64105-176-7

The ABA is offering 25% off with promo code REVIEW19

Internet of ThingsInternet of Things (IoT): Legal Issues, Policy, & Practical Strategies
Edited by Cynthia H. Cwik, Christopher A. Suarez, and Lucy L. Thomson
$89.95, Paperback, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-64105-364-8

Thank you to James Michel for generously donating John Lennon vs. The USA: The Inside Story of the Most Bitterly Contested and Influential Deportation Case in United States History, part of our August 2018 Book Drive.

Thank you to Althea Kippes for generously donating both books from our February Book Drive — California Animal Laws Handbook, 2019 and The Art of Fact Investigation.

Thank you to Brenna Moorhead for generously donating Dred Scott v. Sandford: Opinions and Contemporary Commentary, from our May 2018 Book Drive.

Please take a look at our Book Drive page to see Wish List items from prior months. We are still wishing for these books!

To donate, please contact sflawlibrary@sfgov.org or call (415) 554-1791. We appreciate your contribution!

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April Book of the Month: The Library Book

library-book-medThe Library Book
By Susan Orlean
Reviewed by Courtney Nguyen, Reference Librarian

Fire. Stolen books. Lawsuits. Threats of eviction. Lack of funding.

Susan Orlean writes about nearly everything that a library fears in The Library Book, her fascinating and deeply researched account of the 1986 fire that destroyed the Central Public Library of Los Angeles. Like the best modern public libraries, Orlean’s extraordinary book is difficult to define: The Library Book is a true crime story of an unsolved arson case from the 1980s; a chronicle of the Los Angeles Public Library and her colorful directors, librarians, and patrons; a study of the evolving role of the library in American society; and a memoir of a lifelong reader and library patron. The sprawling cast of characters includes an aspiring actor with a penchant for lying (and perhaps fire); an eighteen-year-old female library director whose father had to walk her home from work because of her age; and a librarian who sneakily read “dangerous” books kept locked in a metal cage in the basement during her lunch break. All of these elements and more come together to form a sweeping panorama of the public library’s unique place in the community and people’s lives.

Just as a library contains different subjects and genres to appeal to a wide audience, so too does Orlean offer something for everyone by looking at the fire and the institution of libraries from various and oftentimes surprising angles. The chapter devoted to the actual April 29, 1986 blaze rivals the intensity of any action film, while her sobering examination of the practice of book burning frames the fire in a new devastating light. Orlean’s search for the possible arsonist is as riveting as any true crime serial, and her journalism background moves to the forefront as she follows suspects, detectives, firemen, city attorneys, and those charged with dealing with the aftermath of the destruction. Library enthusiasts can delight in the (often cheeky) card catalog headings that open each chapter before reading about the inner workings of a modern public library and what librarians actually do all day. Orlean’s book also serves as a history of the library and Los Angeles from the 1800s to the present-day, for a history of a public library will inevitably also be a history of a city and a community.

Orlean writes that “[A] library is as much a portal as it is a place—it is a transit point, a passage.” The same could be said of her book, which serves as both a record of fires and eccentric librarians as well as a portal to thinking about the importance and future of libraries. The book makes a strong case for the idea that libraries are embedded in a city physically and mentally—physically in the form of the actual buildings as well as through the constant transportation of library materials to the different branches, running like veins through the city; and mentally in the knowledge they guard and the memories they hold for both lifelong and casual patrons. Perhaps we are biased, but The Library Book is essential reading for everyone in any community. Find this book in its natural habitat at a public library today, including ours.