ELLENSBURG — Did you know that the U.S. government paid $20,000 to move a cemetery to make way for the Hanford nuclear reservation in 1943?
Or that the federal government published a pamphlet in 1945 to dispel myths about Japanese-Americans such as widespread disloyalty and dishonesty?
That information comes from two of the more than 600,000 federal documents kept at Central Washington University’s Brooks Library. The library adds 10,000 to 20,000 new items every year.
A steady stream of students, professors and local government officials and residents in Central Washington use the library’s government publications collection. And business is picking up. From July 2011 through June 2012, 10,964 items had to be reshelved, compared to 8,973 the year before.
The library is part of a system — the Federal Depository Library Program — set up by Congress in 1813 to make federal documents accessible to the public. More than 1,250 libraries across the United States and its territories participate in the program.
“We collect about 55 percent of everything the federal government produces, which is pretty high for an organization of our size,” said Patricia Cutright, dean of library services at CWU. “But we are the only federal depository in Central Washington.”
There are 19 other federal depositories in the state, but only five libraries — including CWU — collect more than 50 percent of federal publications, and most collect fewer than 15 percent.
Most federal documents today are published electronically and stored on computer servers, but Brooks Library still has shelf after shelf of documents on nearly every subject imaginable: energy efficiency studies, railroad statistics, Army histories of D-Day, flood insurance reports, occupational stress studies, congressional hearings, border control reports and so on.
A locked room in the back of the collection’s home on the third floor at Brooks Library holds its oldest records. Those shelves are lined with aged leatherbound reports, reviews, studies and other records dating from the 1800s and early 1900s.
The library’s oldest federal publication is probably the 1836 edition of the Congressional Globe, which contains the proceedings, roll calls, debates and other records of the 24th Congress, said Kathy Nelms, the department’s senior librarian.
Many historical government documents have been digitized by universities, some federal agencies, Google and other entities. But there is no comprehensive catalog or source for scanned documents.
For example, several Big Ten universities and Google have launched a digitization campaign, which so far has scanned more than 450,000 documents, according to Mark Sandler of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which is coordinating the project. The committee is a consortium of Big Ten schools and the University of Chicago.
But there is no national strategy for these efforts, he said in an email to the Yakima Herald-Republic.
“We’ve not yet done a good job of compiling lists of which known series have been more or less completely digitized. Organizing the scanned content is a ‘known need’ going forward, but our emphasis at this point has been on getting the content scanned,” Sandler said.
Most of project’s documents are from after 1950, he said.
Older documents, like those in the back room at Brooks Library, mostly exist only in print or microfilm.
“I don’t think anything like this has been scanned,” she said, waving her hand at U.S. Department of Agriculture Weather Bureau reports from the late 1800s.
But the information contained in those and other documents is still used by researchers today.
Nelms pulled out several U.S. Department of Agriculture technical reports on subjects like nitrogen in soil, grasshopper reproduction and training colts. Many were published more than 40 years ago, and some dated to the 1920s.
“These are still very popular” with people in agriculture, she said. “They’re full of good, solid information.”
CWU history Professor Jason Dormady makes all students in his introduction to history class use the collection.
“It helps in getting students comfortable with research” on primary sources, which is a critical skill in many professions, he said.
One of Dormady’s students, Janelle Munck, turned to those primary documents to research the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s interactions with American Indians.
She reviewed the expedition’s journals, which the library has on microfilm among its federal documents.
“They’re still holding onto the past with all these” records, Munck said.