Posted by & filed under Uncategorised.

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 thomas.gov URL will begin redirecting users to Congress.gov, a new legislative service that will fully replace THOMAS by the end of 2014. Users will continue to have access to THOMAS at http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php until the Congress.gov 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 Congress.gov

In September of 2012 the new Web site, Congress.gov, 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 Congress.gov home page as well as through a direct link: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php

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 Congress.gov 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 Congress.gov as it develops.

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

Several online classes on how to use Congress.gov 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 Congress.gov so far?

Posted by & filed under Uncategorised.

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.

FuelEconomy.gov 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 Uncategorised.

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 Uncategorised.

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 Uncategorised.

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 Uncategorised.

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.”

USA.gov, 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.

Posted by & filed under Uncategorised.

Greetings and Welcome to the UNT DocsBlog

Although we weren’t expecting the inaugural post of our government information blog to coincide with a federal government shutdown, that’s just the nature of government: surprises can happen at any moment! We hope this blog can be another way of finding the information you need for your UNT project, your business or professional research, your personal life, or any other reason.

This blog is maintained by the Government Documents Department within the University of North Texas Libraries. As a Federal and Texas State Depository Library, we provide access to government information (in both paper and electronic format) to anyone. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a UNT student, a member of the local Denton community, or even a resident of a foreign country: we will help you find the government information you need. See our departmental Web page to learn more about the Federal Depository Library Program.

What you can expect to find here:

Announcements

  •  We’ll keep you up to date on the latest breaking government-related news.
  •  We’ll let give you a heads up on important and interesting documents recently added to our collection.
  •  We’ll let you know about upcoming special events hosted by our department.

 

Tips and Suggestions

  • We’ll offer timely tips and suggestions on how you can participate effectively in seasonal government events such as elections and income tax filing.
  • We’ll highlight some of the more popular resources in our collection and provide tips and suggestions on how to use them effectively.
  • We’ll provide guides on how to use government documents to do your student projects and assignments.

 

Fun stuff

  • Government documents are not boring! (Well, not all of them.) We’ll occasionally highlight some of the more fun or unusual items in our collection—things that you might not necessarily think of as government information, such as comic books, musical scores, posters, and art exhibition catalogs.
  • We’ll also highlight some life-enhancing resources that can contribute to your personal enjoyment of life: fun stuff such as cookbooks, travel guides, and bird-watching handbooks, as well as more practical information, such as how to help your child do better in school, or how to obtain financial assistance.

 

Let us know what you think

We invite you to subscribe to this blog, and encourage you to post comments and ask questions.

We can provide you with information and assistance in the following areas:

  • Strategies and sources for finding information on a specific topic
  • Information about how to use indexes, online databases, and other research tools
  • Information about what we have in our collection

Keep in mind that we’re not lawyers or doctors, though—we can’t provide legal, medical, business, or tax advice; nor do we directly provide statistical data, which is so often open to interpretation; but we can direct you to the appropriate sources of such information.

If you would like help in finding government information, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Entry written by Bobby Griffith and Jesse Silva.