Posted by & filed under Special Days.

In 1802 the town of Cheshire, Massachusetts, renowned for the quality of its cheese, presented President Thomas Jefferson with a 1234-pound “mammoth cheese” incorporating milk from 900 cows and engraved with the Jeffersonian motto, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” The cheese apparently remained in the White House at least as late as March of 1804, at which point it was described as “very far from being good.”

In 1835 the dairymen of Oswego County, New York presented President Andrew Jackson with a 1400-pound block of cheese commissioned by Jackson’s supporters, who believed that “every honor which Jefferson had ever received should be paid him.” It was carried to the White House in a cart pulled by twenty-four horses, then deposited in the vestibule, where it aged for two years.

In 1837 Jackson announced that there would be, at his last major reception before leaving the White House, a cheese tasting and open house to which the general public would be invited. Thousands of people showed up, and the cheese was consumed within a couple of hours, although the odor lingered well into the administration and White House residency of Jackson’s successor James Van Buren, who was compelled to discard the stinky drapes, repaint the walls, and air out the carpets for several days. Not long thereafter, Van Buren received to his consternation a gift of his own 700-pound wheel of cheddar, most likely left behind by Jackson.

The Jackson cheese episode, in a somewhat garbled retelling, became the inspiration for a fictional event on the TV show West Wing. The White House Chief of Staff announces a “Big Block of Cheese Day,” during which the White House doors are opened freely to the public, who are allowed to present any question or concern, no matter how trivial or bizarre, and have it discussed by White House staff.

Virtual Big Block of Cheese DayOn January 29, 2014, inspired by Andrew Jackson’s spirit of openness and by the fictional “tradition” portrayed on television, the Obama Administration is sponsoring the first Virtual Big Block of Cheese Day. All day long White House officials will host a virtual open house on social media, answering random questions from the public in real-time on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and via Google+ Hangout.

See the White House Web site for the day’s schedule and information about how you can participate.

Article by Bobby Griffith.

Posted by & filed under Local Doings, Make a Difference, Special Days.

Take a Day On, Not a Day Off: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of ServiceMany of us take a day off from work or classes on the third Monday in January to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This day has been designated a national holiday since 1983, but since 1994 it has also been designated a national day of service.

The MLK Day of Service provides an opportunity for all Americans to help bring Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community” a little closer to reality by engaging in action that helps solve social problems, working against the triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism to create a society where all people can share in the wealth of the earth, and conflicts are resolved peacefully through a mutual commitment to King’s principles, philosophy, and techniques of nonviolence.

Visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Web site to learn more about what opportunities are available in your community and how you can participate. Both the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University have service projects scheduled. The City of Denton will have a day-long celebration with the theme “Living the Dream through Words and Deeds.”

More information about Dr. King and his philosophy can be found at The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Shortly after Dr. King’s assassination, his widow Coretta Scott King established this nongovernmental, nonprofit organization to provide research, education, and training in King’s principles, philosophy, and techniques of nonviolence. The Center champions the causes of freedom, justice, and equality by working to eliminate poverty, build community, and foster peace. The Web site also includes an extensive digital archive of Dr. King’s works and papers.

Service to your community doesn’t have to be limited to one day a year! Learn more about ways you can become active in your national, state, and local community at the UNT Libraries Civic Engagement Portal.

Let’s each take some time on this special day to make a contribution to our community, keeping in mind these immortal words of Dr. King:

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?

Article by Bobby Griffith

Posted by & filed under Get Help, Special Days.

Robert Feke, "Young Benjamin Franklin," c. 1748.About this time most of us have probably already given up on maintaining our New Year’s resolutions. It might be worthwhile, therefore, to observe Benjamin Franklin’s birthday today by reviewing the “bold and arduous project” he devised for achieving moral perfection in his personal life, and considering how his system might be applied in defining our own values and achieving our own personal goals.

Establish Goals

The first stage in Franklin’s plan was to establish a list of moral principles he found himself in need of practicing. He coupled the name of each virtue with a definition in the form of a brief admonition, and arranged the list in a climactic sequence so that each virtue would be built on the achievement of the previous one.

This is the list he came up with:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

You might come up with a different list, depending on what is most important to you or which specific habits you need to practice. The defining admonitions also might be reworded or otherwise adapted to be more personally relevant and more contemporary.

Keep an Account of Progress

Franklin knew that trying to keep all these ideals in mind all the time would be an overwhelming and futile task, so he established a system for focusing on one habit every day for a week while noting any violations of the other principles, but not focusing on them. When he reached the end of a thirteen-week cycle, he would start over and repeat the entire program, completing four cycles every year.

He designed an accounting ledger to keep a record of his progress, creating for each week a matrix that lists all the virtues in a series of rows, and the seven days of the week in a series of intersecting columns. He assigned one primary virtue to each week and gave himself a black demerit every time he found himself violating one of his principles, the object being to keep the entire row clean for the week’s featured habit, but keeping himself mindful what is happening in the other areas:

Page from Franklin's ledger of moral virtues.

Franklin reused these pages many times and discovered that the constant marking and erasing wore them out quickly. Later he used a memo book with ivory pages that could be repeatedly erased without damage. If he were alive today, he would most likely be using an electronic spreadsheet or an iPhone app.

He also established a daily routine of working, resting, eating, and other activities, beginning each day by asking himself, “What good shall I do this day?” and ending each with the self-query, “What good have I done today?”

Franklin's daily schedule.

Evaluate Results

Franklin conceived this self-improvement program when he was twenty years old and kept it up off and on at least until he was seventy-nine, when he wrote about it in his memoirs. Did it work?

According to Franklin’s memoirs, his bold goal was to arrive at “moral perfection.”

I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.

He certainly never arrived at moral perfection. His propensity for indulgence in food and drink, for example, and the ensuing gout from which he suffered because of it, are well-known.

His attempt at maintaining a constant state of mindfulness did lead to a self-awareness and an improvement in his behavior, however much he fell short of perfection, and he attributed much of his success to the regular application of this discipline:

To temperance he ascribes his long-continued health, and what is still left to him of a good constitution. To industry and frugality, the early easiness of his circumstances and acquisition of his fortune, with all that knowledge that enabled him to be a useful citizen and obtained for him some degree of reputation among the learned. To sincerity and justice, the confidence of his country, and the honourable employs it conferred upon him: and to the joint influence of the whole mass of the virtues, even in the imperfect state he was able to acquire them, all that evenness of temper and that cheerfulness in conversation which makes his company still sought for, and agreeable even to his young acquaintance: I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.

Did you make any resolutions this year? If you’ve had difficulty maintaining them, or have any areas in your life you need to improve, you might want to try out Franklin’s system. Let us know if it works for you!

Article by Bobby Griffith.

Portrait of the young Benjamin Franklin by Robert Feke, c. 1748. Harvard University Portrait Collection.

Posted by & filed under Special Days.

JFK motorcade (photo by Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News)Fifty years ago today, at 12:30 p.m., President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Two days later the chief suspect in his death, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself shot and killed by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Confusion, suspicions, and accusations followed immediately and have continued to this day. Every attempt to establish the facts only seems to create more controversy.

Several federal government investigations have been conducted and reports issued over the years, beginning with the Warren Commission, established a week after the assassination, and there have also been countless investigations, books, and articles from private citizens. Anyone attempting to learn about the Kennedy assassination has an overwhelming amount of material to slog through, and yet there are also numerous gaps in the record, missing pieces of the puzzle that only add to one’s sense of frustration.

Here are a few resources that provide convenient points to begin researching this complex and controversial subject:

JFK Assassination Records Collection (NARA)

Shortly after Oliver Stone released his 1991 movie JFK, which mentioned briefly that thousands of government files related to the Kennedy assassination were still classified, there was a public demand for the government to release the files. Shortly thereafter Congress passed the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which mandated that all government records related to the Kennedy assassination be gathered into a single collection in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and required that all records be available to the public no later than October 26, 2017, with the exception of those the president decides must be kept secret for national security reasons.

The act also established the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), an independent agency that was responsible for reviewing and rendering a decision on files that an agency considered too sensitive to be released yet. The ARRB also collected testimony of people who had information connected with the assassination and added that testimony to the collection.

The JFK Assasination Records Collection Web site provides a number of methods for searching this enormous collection, but only a few of the materials are available online. There is also an FAQ that answers some of the most frequently asked questions about the collection, such as “How can I get a copy of the Warren Commission Report?” and “Can I view Mrs. Kennedy’s pink suit?

The JFK Assassination (Mary Ferrell Foundation)

Mary Ferrell, a historical researcher who was working in downtown Dallas at the time of the assassination, almost immediately took it upon herself to begin collecting what eventually grew into an enormous—and enormously valuable—collection of books, newspapers, magazines, reports, and declassified documents. The Mary Ferrell Foundation has put many of these documents online, and their Web site also has a number of helpful articles summarizing various aspects of the event and the many investigations that have been taking place over the years. There are links to a plethora of related resources.

JFK Facts

This site includes the latest news about the assassination and about progress being made toward the release of classified government files, especially from the CIA. It includes educational materials such as Tips for Writing a JFK Term Paper and questions raised about the assassination. The site’s moderator, Jefferson Morley, is a widely-published journalist and is currently suing the CIA for release of classified documents.

Press Kit: November 22, 1963 (JFK Presidential Library)

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has made available on their Web site a smattering of photographs, moving images, and audio files that were recorded from November 22 to 25, 1963. They have also provided a selection of primary source documents and oral histories from participants in the events of those days. All these materials are in the public domain and are media ready. This source is useful not just for reporters, but for anyone wishing to get a sense of what it was like to be around at that time.

Related Reading

There have been countless books written about the Kennedy assassination, some well worth reading, others less so. Here are two recent works of scholarship that present exhaustive arguments for or against conspiracy, each supporting their arguments by the mountain of evidence that has accumulated over the years.

Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, by Vincent Bugliosi. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. (2007).

Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (cover)This book is largely based on evidence gathered while the author, who once successfully prosecuted Charles Manson, prepared for a mock trial in which he prosecuted Lee Harvey Oswald on British television and obtained a verdict of guilty. The author examines the events of the assassination in great detail and draws the same conclusion as the Warren Report—Oswald shot Kennedy and was acting alone. The author also discusses the trial of Jack Ruby and reviews and attempts to debunk several of the major conspiracy theories that have been proposed over the years.

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, by James W. Douglas. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books (2008).

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (cover)This book, highly praised by Oliver Stone, argues that Kennedy, who went through a conversion from a traditional “Cold Warrior” being urged toward violence by his military and intelligence advisors to a leader who sought peaceful solutions to international conflict arrived at through private negotiations with “the enemy,” was perceived as a threat to the burgeoning military-industrial-intelligence establishment seeking to control the government and was therefore eliminated as the result of a plot orchestrated by the CIA. The reason “why it matters,” the author argues, is that ever since this incident the national security state, operating in secrecy and with impunity, has only grown more powerful, more secretive, more expensive, and more violent.

What is your opinion on the causes and consequences of the Kennedy assassination?

Posted by & filed under Data about Databases, Keeping Tabs.

An old and familiar, sometimes beloved, sometimes reviled government resource is reaching the twilight of its life, and like an august but increasingly behind-the-times elder statesman is about to be retired from service and supplanted by his more vigorous young progeny.

For almost 20 years now, the Web site THOMAS: Legislative Information on the Internet has been providing U.S. citizens and others interested in the federal legislative process with free access to congressional bills, resolutions, statutes, calendars, and other information about the Congress.

Beginning on Tuesday, November 19, the URL will begin redirecting users to, a new legislative service that will fully replace THOMAS by the end of 2014. Users will continue to have access to THOMAS at until the site is complete and out of the beta stage of development.

How it All Began

In January 1995 congressional leaders announced the launching of a new legislative portal, operated by the Library of Congress and designed to make the work of the U.S. Congress more transparent and more accessible to their constituents by bringing together in one free, centralized, online database information that was previously only available in separate locations or for a fee. The new Web site was affectionately named THOMAS in honor of our third president, who in a famous petition expressed his view that “in order to give to the will of the people the influence it ought to have, and the information which may enable them to exercise it usefully,” the communication of a government’s representatives to their constituents must “be free, full, and unawed by any.”

This early version of THOMAS was mainly valuable for providing searchable, full-text house and senate bills from the two most recent congresses at the time. It also offered several other features, including directory information, schedules, rules, and C-SPAN coverage for the House of Representatives, as well as links to the Library of Congress Web site. Curiously, not much information was available from the Senate yet, although THOMAS was touted optimistically by house leaders as a bicameral project.

Senate information as well as other valuable contents were added later, including summary and status of bills, committee reports, and voting records—all integrated with the full text of the bills. Presidential nominations, treaties, the Congressional Record, and live broadcasts from C-SPAN were also added to this increasingly heady mix of congressional resources.

THOMAS Starts to Show Its Age

Internet technology has changed considerably since 1995, and THOMAS has not always kept up with the times. Users often found its interface clunky and frustrating. For instance, the InQuery search tool used by THOMAS generates temporary URLS that can’t be bookmarked or linked to in a document or Web site. Users have to follow a whole separate set of instructions to obtain permanent links to their documents.  The THOMAS site also does not display well on the mobile platforms that have become so popular today.

Many started doubting THOMAS and gravitated toward non-governmental Web sites such as GovTrak and OpenCongress, which presented the same information in a more attractive, user-friendly format. Eventually the incremental improvements and additions to THOMAS were deemed not to be enough, built as they were on a once innovative but now unwieldy and increasingly obsolete infrastructure, and a decision was made to scrap the whole Web site and design another one from scratch that would contain the same data and more, but present it in a more modern, user-friendly way.

Time for a Change: Enter

In September of 2012 the new Web site,, was launched in beta format. Built with state-of-the-art technology and designed according to the latest standards in information retrieval and display, this site is intended to be sleeker, more accessible, and more intuitive than THOMAS, even with more features and more content added.

Here are a few of the improvements:

  • An attractive, responsive display that adapts to a variety of platforms, including desktop, tablet, and smartphones, without requiring a special app
  • A simple, intuitive search box displayed prominently at the top of the opening screen and incorporating Boolean search capabilities
  • Faceted searching, allowing users to refine their initial search and explore related information through a variety of filters
  • Consistent, permanent, logical, search-engine-friendly URLs
  • Congressional Budget Office cost estimates for proposed legislation
  • Profiles of congressional committees and members of Congress
  • Downloadable app versions of the Congressional Record and the Constitution Annotated
  • Video tutorials explaining each step in the legislative process

Even the new name might be considered an improvement by many. We may miss the distinctiveness and warmth of the old site’s name – no more having a chat with our old friend THOMAS – but the new name is admirably clear and straightforward. There will be no more wondering whether (or why) it should be spelled in all caps, nor rampant speculation on whether it’s an acronym, and, if so, what the letters might stand for.

Moving Forward

This transition won’t happen overnight—these things must be done delicately! Some congressional information is still only available on THOMAS. Until all the information has been transferred, the old Web site will be accessible from the home page as well as through a direct link:

Theoretically any links to subpages on the THOMAS site should still work until the transition is complete, but some of them didn’t seem to be working today.

The site is continually being tinkered with while in its beta stage, so be sure to send in any feedback you may have about your opinions on the site, your personal experience in using it, or your suggestions for improvement. You could be an influential contributor to this ambitious project if you act now!

Learn All About It

The Law Librarians of Congress blog, In Custodia Legis, has been posting numerous articles following the transition from THOMAS to as it develops.

Library of Congress news releases have also been following the transition process (enter “” in the search box to see a list of articles):

Several online classes on how to use will be offered next year during the transition period. See the registration form for available dates and to register online.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact the UNT Government Documents Department if you need help with this Web site or have other research questions.

What has been your experience with THOMAS, and what do you think of so far?

Posted by & filed under Data about Databases, Get Help.

Gas PumpWhen you’re in the market for a new or used car or truck, you can compare how much it costs to insure the different makes and models by calling your insurance company, but how can you find out which vehicle will cost more in gas? The U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency have come up with a powerful tool to help you save money and protect the environment at the same time. is an interactive, online tool that generates side-by-side comparisons of gas mileage (MPG), annual fuel costs, annual petroleum use, greenhouse gas emissions, and the smog rating for new and used vehicles. There are also crash-test safety ratings available. Just select the “Find a Car” feature, plug in your information, and compare! Even if you’re not looking for a new vehicle, this resource can help you maximize the fuel economy of your current car or truck.

There’s even a Trip Calculator to compare vehicles according to where you plan to be driving them most often, or to calculate how much it will cost to drive your own vehicle on a specific trip. This can be a very useful feature if you’re planning to drive a long distance during the holidays, or if you’re looking for a car to drive to work every day.

There are many other useful features on this Web site, such as the following:

Articles on the Web site explain how the EPA tests vehicles and how to read and interpret EPA sticker ratings on fuel economy and air pollutant emissions. You’ll also find a plethora of articles to educate yourself in the areas of climate change, oil dependence, sustainability, and gas prices. Other articles will keep you up to date on the latest technological advances in fuel efficiency, such as electric cars, hybrids, fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), and alternative fuels.

Whether you’re looking for a new car and or simply want to improve the fuel efficiency of your current vehicle, the tools and tips on this site can help you save money, minimize your carbon footprint, and do your part to reduce our nation’s dependence on petroleum products and create a prosperous, sustainable future.

Article written by Jenne Turner and Bobby Griffith

Posted by & filed under Special Days.

Illustration from Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic

Halloween is a time for children of all ages to dress in creepy costumes, enjoy forbidden culinary delights, and have fun trick-or-treating or partying with friends and family. Such annual indulgences can be scary in all the wrong ways, however, so to make sure your holiday is fun and safe, follow these Halloween Health and Safety Tips from the CDC.

If you’re going outside tonight, you might want to check the local forecast for your area provided by the National Weather Service. And watch out for zombies — at this time of the year you might not be able to tell them from the trick-or-treaters!


Posted by & filed under Data about Databases.

Data-Planet logoResearching statistics can be an intimidating task. Where do you begin looking for reliable data out of the vast number of sources available on the Internet and in the library? And what do you do with that data after you’ve found it? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here is an excellent place to begin your statistical research.

Data-Planet Statistical Datasets is a powerful and versatile interactive research tool that provides quick, easy, one-stop access to a vast collection of statistical data collected by government agencies as well as by private entities. Statistics are available at the national, state, county, and local level. Some data are also available for other countries.

Not only do you have immediate access to billions of data points from over 70 source organizations; you can also manipulate that data to create custom charts, maps, graphs, and tables to compare data, describe trends over time, and represent data visually, all without the need for additional software programs. A citations feature even helps you easily cite your data in APA, MLA, or Chicago style.

Data-Planet Statistical Datasets is available to members of the UNT community (UNT students, faculty, and staff). Others may also access it from the public computers in the libraries on the UNT campus.

Find Your Data

There are several ways to find and select data in Statistical Datasets, depending on your particular needs and interests.

  • You can search by keyword, using a simple search box at the top of the screen.
  • You can browse by subject. Statistics are available in the following broad subject categories:
   Agriculture & Food    Industry, Business, & Commerce
   Banking, Finance, & Insurance    Intrnational Relations & Trade
   Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement    Labor & Employment
   Education    Military & Defense
   Energy Resources & Industries    Natural Resources & Environment
   Government & Politics    Population & Income
   Health & Vital Statistics    Prices, Consumption, & Cost of Living
   Housing & Construction    Transportation & Traffic
  • You can browse by source. Statistics are available from dozens of U.S. government agencies, the United Nations, and several commercial and non-profit entities all over the world.
  • An “In the News” feature provides quick access to statistics you’re most likely to hear about in the latest news stories: for instance, the national debt, gas prices, oil prices, and unemployment.
    (By the way, if you want to find actual news stories about a particular statistic, double-click on any point in a trend chart and you’ll see a link to Internet news stories that discuss that statistic at that point in time—ingenious!)
  • Key Economic Indicators” provides direct access to data on inflation, exchange rates, housing startups, and other aspects of the U.S. economy.

Customize Your Data

After selecting the data, you can display and manipulate that data in a number of ways, either by selecting an icon at the top of the screen or by using the “Graph” option in the menu bar.

  • Trends creates a graph that charts how a statistic has changed over a given time period.
  • Ranking creates a table or chart to compare data.
  • Map creates a map to show data for different geographic areas.

Once your data is displayed, you can alter the layout, refine the specific time periods and variables you want to display, or apply mathematical formulas to manipulate or analyze the data.

Export Your Data

Your custom data display can then be exported as a static image, delimited text, or dynamic spreadsheet. You can even save the data as a link that you paste into a document. When a reader clicks on the link, your beautiful, custom-made chart, table, or map opens up and displays the data.

Learn More

To learn more about Data-Planet Statistical Datasets, visit the Data-Planet Web site. Tutorials and training videos are available in the Statistical Datasets LibGuide. And, as always, please don’t hesitate to contact the UNT Government Documents Department if you need help with this database or have other research questions. With a little practice, this valuable resource can make your statistical research projects less stressful, more professional-looking, and perhaps even fun!

Posted by & filed under Is that a Document?, Special Days, Toys "R" U.S..

Are you looking for a unique idea for a Halloween costume this year? State and federal government agencies have some surprising resources for creating outfits ranging from the inexpensive to the elaborate.

Texas Endangered Species Animal Masks

The Texas Endangered Species Activity Book, published by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), contains many fun activities and projects to teach children about several endangered species in Texas. There is a wheel that spins to reveal the stages of a toad’s metamorphosis; a whooping crane mobile; instructions for drawing a bobcat and ocelot; bird pictures to color; a cut-out bat that you can hang in a window or on a shelf; and many other activities, accompanied by facts about the animals.

Included among these projects is a role-playing game that includes patterns for a couple of animal face masks. Color them, cut them out, and attach a popsicle stick handle to hold them in front of your face masquerade-ball style, and in minutes you can be a black-footed ferret or a prairie dog. ane mobile; instructions for drawing a bobcat and ocelot; bird pictures to color; a cut-out bat that you can hang in a window or on a shelf; and many other activities, accompanied by facts about the animals.

Texas Endangered Species Activity BookPrairie Dog Mask from Texas Endangered Species Activity BookHouston Toad Mask from TPWD Web site

The Texas Endangered Species Activity Book is available for checkout from the UNT Libraries Government Documents Department on the Third Floor of Willis Library. An electronic version in PDF format can be downloaded from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Web site.

Many more endangered species animal masks can be downloaded from the TPWD Publications for Kids page. There’s even a salamander hat!

U.S. Army “Blueprint Specials”

During World War II, the Special Services Division of the U.S. Army provided soldiers with do-it-yourself entertainment kits called “Blueprint Specials,” which contained a script, lyrics, music, dance routines, and detailed instructions for building sets, props, and costumes out of Army surplus, waste, and salvage materials — everything soldiers needed to create a musical variety show. These kits provided an early glimpse into the careers of such show-biz luminaries as Frank Loesser, Alex North, and José Limón.

The costume designs in these kits can still provide a handy guide to creating inexpensive outfits from T-shirts, crepe paper, and discarded clothing, although sometimes they may assume you have bits and pieces of WWII Army uniforms lying around! Because the casts of these shows were all-male or all-female (one Blueprint Special, P.F.C. Mary Brown, was written especially for the Women’s Army Corps), many of the costume designs provide opportunities for cross-dressing.

Hi, Yank! [cover illustration]P.F.C. Mary Brown costume designs

The UNT Libraries Government Documents Department has three Blueprint Specials that can be requested from Documents Reserve:


A Guide to Colonial Dress

Halloween costumes are usually meant for fun and by their nature are usually worn once and then discarded, so they rarely aspire to any degree of historical authenticity. If you are feeling especially ambitious, however, Clothing for Ladies and Gentlemen of Higher and Lower Standing: A Working Pamphlet to Aid the Imitators of New England Citizens of the Eighteenth Century is a tiny pamphlet that is packed with information.

And these outfits are not necessarily as difficult to make as they might seem at first glance — as the author explains, citizens living during this era had practical methods for constructing their wardrobe that are sometimes simpler than more modern techniques, even though their clothes may seem much more elaborate to us. The book has detailed instructions for creating several specific items of clothing, and also has some interesting advice for locating information about 18th century dress in primary sources. For example, newspaper announcements of missing persons often had detailed lists of what a person was wearing at the time he or she went missing.

By following the detailed instructions here, you can learn how to craft an 18th century style gown or jacket and breeches that is so accurate you might be mistaken for the ghost of Betsy Ross!

Patterns for 18th century gownsPattern for 18th century shirt

Clothing for Ladies and Gentlemen of Higher and Lower Standing is available for checkout from the UNT Libraries Government Documents Department on the Third Floor of Willis Library. An electronic version is available online at the Internet Archive.

These are just a few of the many government documents that can provide inspiration for your next costume. What are you planning to dress up as this Halloween?

Entry written by Bobby Griffith

Posted by & filed under Get Help, Hot Docs.

It’s happened—Congress has not agreed on a bill to fund government operations, time has run out, and now the U.S. federal government has shut down.

Whenever federal agencies and programs are not appropriated funds by Congress, they experience what is known as a “funding gap.” Under the Antideficiency Act, they are required by law to cease all operations except for emergency situations or what is specifically authorized by law to continue.

Because Congress and the President have failed to reach agreement on government funding measures in a timely manner for this fiscal year, the government is currently being forced to shut down until an agreement is reached.

Government shutdowns such as this result in hundreds of thousands of federal employees being furloughed, require many government activities to be reduced or to stop completely, and have a negative effect on many sectors of our economy.

Here are some resources to help explain how this happened, what the effects will be, and what is being done to resolve the issue:


What is a government shutdown, and what exactly is being shut down?

A guide in plain English from the Wonkblog at The Washington Post purports to tell you “Absolutely everything you need to know about how the government shutdown will work.”, the official Web portal of the U.S. federal government, has a brief summary of which services will be affected by the shutdown on its Government Shutdown Services page.

For more detailed information about the specific activities of federal agencies, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has posted a list of Agency Contingency Plans.

Where can I get help during the shutdown?

Many government agencies will not have staff available to answer the phones or respond to questions posted on their Web sites or through their e-mail services.

Call 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636) for answers to your government questions. This phone number will continue to operate during the government shutdown, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., Monday through Friday (Eastern Time).


What is being done to end the shutdown?

Follow live coverage of the progress of Congress (or lack thereof) in resolving this issue on C-SPAN.

Where can I find more information about government shutdowns?

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the public policy research arm of Congress, has produced several reports about government shutdowns:

Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects (CRS Report RL34680) Discusses the causes of funding gaps and shutdowns of the federal government, the processes that are associated with shutdowns, and how agency operations may be affected by shutdowns; also discusses some potential issues for Congress.

Government Shutdown: Operations of the Department of Defense During a Lapse in Appropriations (CRS Report R41745) Analyzes potential effects of a shutdown on the Department of Defense.

Government Procurement in Times of Fiscal Uncertainty (CRS Report R42469) Discusses the government’s contractual rights and how these might be used in the event of a shutdown.

Federal Funding Gaps: A Brief Overview (CRS Report RS20348)Analyzes the funding gaps that occurred between FY1977 and FY2010, as well as the events surrounding them, and related legislation.

Past Government Shutdowns: Key Resources (CRS Report R41759) Annotated list of historical documents and other resources related to past government shutdowns, with links to the full text of some of these documents.


And finally, you might like to read the official memo that shut the government down.

The federal government shutdown will have serious consequences for some, while others may hardly notice it. How are you being affected by the shutdown?


Entry written by Bobby Griffith.