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Eric Bartheld
IU Bloomington Libraries

Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008

IU Bloomington Libraries offer expertise to new federal government reference service

March 17, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Bloomington Libraries are one of only 20 public, academic and state libraries nationwide to provide an online reference service to the public through a new federal service launched by the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Launched this month as a free, Web-based service, "Government Information Online: Ask a Librarian" gives the American public the opportunity to ask librarians questions about government resources. Librarians from federal depository libraries nationwide answer chat- or e-mail-based questions related to any federal agency.

Lou Malcomb, head of the Government Information, Microforms, and Statistical Services Department in the Herman B Wells Library, staffs the service at IU and said it not only builds on the strength of the university's extraordinary research library but also responds to the way citizens seek information today.

"IU has been a depository library since the 1800s," Malcomb said. "Our collections, and the expertise we've developed by using them, have been of great service to those who come in the door. Now we're broadening our reach in yet another way by making our expertise available to anyone throughout the nation."

Federal depository libraries receive information issued by the U.S. federal government free of charge with the stipulation that it be preserved for access by all citizens. In 1881, Benjamin Harrison, then a U.S. Senator from Indiana, requested that the federal government designate IU to fulfill this role.

IU's collection of U.S. government information dates to 1774 and includes historic materials such as the Secret Journals of Congress (1820), and predecessors to the Congressional Record (pre-1830). Librarians such as Malcomb also acquire resources outside the program and complement the collection with commercial sources.

As more and more information becomes available online, Malcomb estimates that IU receives only 10 percent of the printed materials it received from the federal government just a decade ago.

"Though fewer people must now refer to a tangible item, they still need to know where to look and what to look for," Malcomb said. "The Internet is faster in many ways, but researchers still have to know their way around government jargon or legalese. That's where we can help."

Anyone may ask government-related questions at

The service is managed by the University of Illinois at Chicago, with whom IU collaborates as a member of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a group of 12 research universities concentrated in the Midwest.

The Government Information, Microforms and Statistical Services Department is located on the second floor of the Wells Library, 1320 East 10th St. in Bloomington. All IU libraries are open to the public. The Government Printing Office is the federal government's primary centralized resource for gathering, cataloging, producing, providing, authenticating and preserving published U.S. Government Information in all its forms.