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Congressional Help: Serial Set

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About  

The U.S. Serial Set is a collection of U.S. Government publications compiled under directive of the Congress. It contains comprehensive and often detailed information on an extremely wide range of subjects. There has rarely been a published series of its depth and breadth of coverage, and none in this country as long-lived. Its earliest documents date from 1789 and additions are made continually.

Currently, the Serial Set includes House and Senate documents and reports, Senate executive reports, and Senate treaty documents. For a more complete description of Serial Set content, see Serial Set Content, below. and the Serial Set White Paper.

How do I access the U.S. Serial Set?  

Use the Basic Search Form, Advanced Search Form, or Search By Number Form

These forms are found under the Congressional or the Legislative & Executive Publications links in the menu bar across the top of the interface.

 

 

Advanced Search Form Segments for the U.S. Serial Set Digital Collection

The Advanced Search form of the Congressional Publications allows you to search on specific segments of a document. The search segments below apply to the U.S. Serial Set Digital Collection.

From the Advanced Search Form, the following fields may be used:

Anywhere except full text Searches all search segments noted below, with the exception of full text.
Anywhere including full text Contains all bibliographic and biographical information and the full text body of the publication from the first word on the title page to the last signatory on the final page.
Congressional Source (Committee or Agency) The committee or subcommittee (if there is one) that either authored the publication or to whom the publication in question was submitted. This segment also includes all Federal agencies, bureaus, commissions, and nongovernmental entities authoring reports submitted to Congress. A complete list of the committees and agencies can be found by using the Index Terms links.
Subject Controlled vocabulary subject indexing. The items in the subject index are terms that the editorial staff have assigned to publications to describe subject matter. A complete listing of the vocabulary can be accessed by using the Find Terms links
Title The title as it exists on the actual publication, and titles of materials inserted into the document. For Serial Set materials it is the title as it exists on the actual publication, the descriptive title of the publication, and the section title of executive branch publications enclosed within larger publications in the Serial Set.
Witness Names of witnesses who testified in hearings published as congressional reports or documents (in addition to or instead of being published as separate hearings volumes).
Witness Affiliation Affiliations of witnesses who testified in hearings published as congressional reports or documents.
Personal Author The author of a publication, the member of the committee that submitted a congressional report or document, or other authors such as the President of the United States.
Illustration caption The captions of illustrations as they appear in the actual publication. Illustrations are defined as all non-textual entities that are not tables or cartographic in nature. These include drawings, paintings, photographs, lithographs, and the like.
Non-Congressional Source All Federal agencies, bureaus, commissions, and non-governmental entities authoring reports submitted to Congress. A complete list of the agencies and other entities can be found by using the Find Terms links.
Petitioner The names of specific individuals who petitioned Congress for private legislation for relief (i.e., payment) in certain circumstances.
Table Title The title of every statistical table included in the Serial Set, through 2003. For ease of use, the title of multi-page tables containing the same exact title is entered into this search segment only once.
Map area/subject (Serial Set maps only) The geographical area presented in a Serial Set map.
Map relief method (Serial Set maps only) The relief method used to represent a Serial Set map.
Names on Map (Serial Set maps only) The geographical names presented on a Serial Set map.

Tip:  The Serial Set volume number may be used to search by entering the number in any Enter search terms box on the Advanced Search form and searching under All Fields Except Full Text. Additionally, the assignment of volume numbers begins with number one for the first session of the 15th Congress and continues consecutively to the present. This segment is most useful when used in conjunction with other search segments. For example, you may limit your subject or full text search to just those publications contained within a given Serial Set volume.

Collections that Include the Serial Set  

There are several modules that include the Serial Set in ProQuest Congressional.  These are:

  • The Congressional Basic subscription includes abstracts and indexing for all the House & Senate Documents and the House & Senate Reports publication types from 1970 forward. From 1995-forward links to full text are included. 
  • The Congressional Indexes historical module includes indexing for all Serial Set publications from 1789-1969
  • U.S. Serial Set Digital Collection includes full text and metadata in several modules: 1789-1969; 1970-1979; 1980-1989; 1990-2003; and 2004-2010, and 2011-present.
  • Digital Complete Prospective also includes the Serial Set

Serial Set Content  

Congressional Publications

The congressional material in the U.S. Serial Set includes the committee reports, journals, manuals, and administrative reports of both Chambers in addition to a variety of directories, orations, and special publications (such as illustrated descriptions of the Capitol). Unfortunately, not all these categories appear consistently in the Set.

Committee reports on proposed public and private legislation are among the most important of the U.S. Serial Set's congressional publications and have always been part of the Set. The journals of proceedings of both Houses appeared from 1817 (15th Congress) but have been excluded from the Set since 1953, while Senate and House manuals did not appear in it until 1896, but are still included. The Congressional Directory was privately printed and distributed until 1865, and was not given serial numbering until 1882. Orations and eulogies have always appeared, but recently, addresses on deceased Members of Congress have been printed for distribution outside the U.S. Serial Set scheme.

Administrative reports of the Secretary of the Senate have always been provided with serial numbering, while in the last 30 years the reports of the Clerk of the House of Representatives sometimes have not. The Congressional Record and its predecessors (Annals of Congress, Register of Debates, Congressional Globe) have never been included. Texts of bills and resolutions are included in U.S. Serial Set publications sporadically and on an inconsistent basis.

As a rule, committee hearings and prints have been considered committee rather than congressional publications and have consequently been excluded. Occasionally, however, hearings are printed as or included in U.S. Serial Set publications.

The Senate frequently sat in secret session in early Congresses and proceedings and other records of such sessions (executive journals, executive documents, and executive reports) were not included in the Set except by special order. These types of executive publications should not be confused with executive branch publications that did appear in the U.S. Serial Set with great frequency, especially in the earlier years.

Overview of Serial Set Content

The current Serial Set has House Documents, House Reports, Senate Reports, Senate Documents, Senate Executive Reports, and Senate Treaty Documents.  There have been, however, many changes over the years.  They are documented in the information below. 

The information in the next section is from  The Serial Set:  Its Make-Up and Content, edited by Andrea Sevetson, (Bethesda, MD: ProQuest, 2013), p.9.  This combines content from Laurence Schmeckebier and Roy B. Eastin, Government Publications and Their Use, 2nd rev. ed. (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1969), pp. 151–153; and updated with Richard J. McKinney, An Overview of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 2002 Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D.C., Inc. Revised October, 2006, available at: http://www.llsdc.org/sourcebook/docs/serial-set.pdf.

 

House Documents

  • 15th–29th Congress (1817–1847) House Documents
  • 30th–53rd Congress (1847–1895) House Executive Documents and House Miscellaneous Documents
  • 54th Congress forward (1895–present) House Documents

Senate Documents

  • 15th–29th Congress (1817–1847) Senate Documents
  • 30th–53rd Congress (1847–1895) Senate Executive Documents and
  • Senate Miscellaneous Documents
  • 54th Congress forward (1895–present) Senate Documents

Senate Treaty Documents

  • 15th–95th Congress (1815–1978) not published in the Serial Set
  •  96th Congress forward (1979–present) Senate Treaty documents (until 1981 they were called Senate Executive Documents

House Reports

  • 15th Congress (1817–1819) published in House Documents
  • 16th–56th Congress (1817–1902), House Reports
  • 57th–95th Congress (1902–1978), House Reports (broken into three categories: miscellaneous reports on public bills, miscellaneous reports on private bills, and reports on special topics)
  • 96th Congress forward (1979–present), House Reports

Senate Reports

  • 15th–29th Congress (1817–1847), published in Senate Documents
  • 30th –57th Congress (1847–1902), Senate Reports
  • 57th–95th Congress (1902–1978), Senate Reports (broken into three categories: miscellaneous reports on public bills, miscellaneous reports on private bills, and reports on special topics)
  • 96thCongress forward (1979–present), Senate Reports

Journals

  • 15th–82nd Congress (1817–1952), House Journals
  • 15th–82nd Congress (1817–1952), Senate Journals
  • Prior to the 15th Congress and after the 82nd Congress, the Journals were published outside of the Serial Set.

Executive Branch Publications (U.S. Serial Set)

Historically, the U.S. Serial Set has included a broad miscellany of executive branch publications. Apart from Presidential messages, which have regularly been included, some of these documents appear because Congress orders a department or agency to report to it on a regular basis, and some appear because Members want a supply of reports on particular topics for their own use and for distribution to the public.

Congressional policy for the inclusion of executive branch publications has not been entirely systematic or consistent. Until the establishment of the Government Printing Office in 1860, for example, identical executive branch reports sometimes appeared as both House and Senate publications. Even after that, and until about 1920, Congress sometimes requested reports from subordinate bureaus or agencies that duplicated material found in the reports of their parent departments.

Historically, the proportion of executive material in the Set has varied considerably; in some 19th-century Congresses it formed over half the Set, but in recent decades it has been quite small. Executive branch publications appearing in the Set include:

  • Messages of the President of the United States
  • Annual administrative reports of departments and agencies
  • Series publications such as the Geological Survey Bulletins
  • Periodicals such as the Monthly Summary of Foreign Commerce (with its predecessor the Monthly Summary of Commerce and Finance), the Pan American Union Bulletin, and Monthly Consular Reports

In addition to administrative reports, which often also contain a wealth of non-administrative information, some of the Set's more valuable and complete serialized executive publications are:

  • Department of Commerce and predecessor Department of Commerce and Labor reports on foreign commerce
  • Department of State commercial relations, commercial policy, and foreign relations series
  • Smithsonian Institutions Bureau of Ethnology reports and bulletins
  • Bureau of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics bulletins
  • Census Bureau Statistical Abstracts

In addition to congressional and executive branch publications, the U.S. Serial Set includes a number of reports from nongovernmental organizations that are organized under laws requiring such reports. The American Historical Association, Boy Scouts of America, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and various veterans organizations are in this category.

Miscellaneous Publications (U.S. Serial Set)

Other important collections within the U.S. Serial Set defy classification by origin. These include a number of volumes containing unusual historical data, as well as: hearings; reports; exhibits of congressional and executive branch commissions; and investigations and inquiries, such as studies of wages and prices, immigration, woman and child labor, unemployment, national security, conduct of war, and civil rights.

The "Final Report and Testimony of Industrial Relations Commission", classified as a Senate document, is an 11-volume set of reports, exhibits, and testimony on the "general condition of labor in the principal industries of the U.S. . . . and the underlying causes of dissatisfaction in the industrial situation". The volumes contain almost 11,000 pages of testimony from hundreds of witnesses, including Samuel Gompers, Frederick W. Taylor, Louis Brandeis, Clarence Darrow, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Sr., J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, and Andrew Carnegie. A reprint of the British "Political and Economic Report of the Committee To Collect Information on Russia", also classified as a Senate Document, is a 1920 analysis of the situation in Russia after three years of Communist rule.

American State Papers

Although not part of the initial numbering scheme, a reprint of records from the early Congresses was numbered 001 through 038 has generally been considered a part of the Serial Set.

This reprint, the American State Papers included records that were previously available only in manuscript, as well as printed executive and legislative documents. The series covers a period starting at 1789 and ending with dates varying between 1823 and 1838. The documents are arranged in classes within the volumes and appear in chronological order within class. The classes are Foreign Relations, Indian Affairs, Finance, Commerce and Navigation, Military Affairs, Naval Affairs, Post Office Department, Public Lands, Claims, and Miscellaneous.

Serial Set Organization  

U.S. Serial Set: Organization

Publications Series

Serial Set materials are consistently organized into formal House and Senate publication series volumes starting with the 15th Congress (1817-1819). At that time, the set consisted of four series: Senate journals, Senate documents, House journals, and House documents. As required by the Constitution, journals contain minutes of the meeting of each Chamber. While omitting debate, they constitute a concise record of congressional action on bills, resolutions, memorials, and petitions, by title and number, together with all communications from the President of the United States. The House documents and Senate documents series originally contained everything in the set apart from journals, including reports of congressional committees and many executive branch publications.

In 1819, the House of Representatives and 28 years later the Senate separated the committee reports from the document series, forming two new series: House reports and Senate reports. Furthermore, when the Senate began its reports series, both Chambers began to distinguish between executive documents and miscellaneous documents. Executive documents consisted of publications of the executive branch, while miscellaneous documents contained memorials and petitions, amendments, and special reports, exclusive of committee reports. The reports series have always contained committee reports on public and private legislation. Both reports and documents may contain hearings. Between 1856 and 1862, reports from the Court of Claims were printed as a separate publication series.

In 1895, along with a general reform of publishing and distribution policies, Congress dropped the distinction between executive and miscellaneous documents. From 1895 to 1951, there were only three series of publications for each Chamber: journals, documents, and reports, and from 1952-1979 only documents and reports.

Until 1895 there were two types of Senate executive documents. The type included in the Serial Set used a numerical numbering system and covered a wide range of executive agency materials. The other type, which was excluded from the Serial Set, used a lettered numbering system and dealt exclusively with treaties and nominations. In 1895, the Senate began to publish executive materials with the Senate document category, while continuing to print most executive materials relating to treaties and nominations as Senate executive reports and documents excluded from the Serial Set. In 1979, Senate executive reports and documents were included for the first time within the Serial Set. In 1981, the Senate executive document type of publication was discontinued and replaced by Senate treaty documents. Today the Serial Set includes House and Senate reports and documents and Senate executive reports and treaty documents.

Printing and Distribution  

Distribution and Availability

A House resolution of December 1813 ordered that editions of 200 copies of Serial Set volumes be printed in addition to the "usual" number required for use within Congress, and established distribution rules not only for that time but also "for every future Congress". Again, the Senate followed the House's lead, and the resulting policies although they were often inconsistent were intended to ensure that the Serial Set would always be available for public use.

At first, Congress ordered Serial Set volumes to be distributed, as printed, to incorporated universities, colleges, and historical societies throughout the country. By convention, it appears that State and territorial libraries also received them, although they were not formally included in the distribution scheme.

Initially, the Library of Congress and the State Department shared responsibility for distributing the set. The latter cared for educational institutions, the former for all others as well as the public-at-large. When the distribution list came to exceed the number of available copies, Congress ordered larger printings, and the edition size grew in this way to 300 copies by the 1840s.

In 1858, Congress shifted responsibility for educational distribution to the Department of the Interior and gave the Secretary of Interior some leeway in choosing recipients. At that time, Congress also provided that each Senator designate a library for distribution within his State, and that future distribution be kept equal in each congressional district and territory. This action was the basis for a depository library system whose growth and changes have greatly affected Serial Set availability.

Although Serial Set volumes have always been distributed to depository libraries, the composition of the set sent to these libraries has changed from time to time. For a short time at the close of the 19th century, the journals were sent only to some of the depositories that regularly received the set (three libraries in each State and territory), and from 1905 through 1938, the lettered volumes (reports on private bills and simple and concurrent resolutions) were printed in a limited edition exclusively for the principal governmental libraries in Washington.

The latter practice resulted in more serious omissions from the generally distributed volumes than might at first appear to be the case. Private bills were defined as "all bills for the relief of private parties, bills granting pensions, bills removing political disabilities, and bills for the survey of rivers and harbors", and reports on such bills have often been of public interest. In addition, simple resolutions in some instances represent an important research resource. These reports sometimes include impeachment proceedings and the results of committee investigations, many of them detailed and exhaustive. An investigation of the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota appears, for example, in two lettered volumes and contains nearly 3,000 pages of testimony and reports.

With the passage of the Printing Act in 1895, depositories began to receive executive branch publications that duplicated volumes they received in Serial Set shipments. In 1907, in an economy move related to the lettered volumes policy, depositories began to receive these duplicates in Serial Set shipments in a "plain-title" edition, lacking both the distinctive sheepskin bindings that were then used for Serial Set volumes and the set's series front matter. Soon afterward (1913), Congress removed these executive publications volumes altogether from Serial Set depository shipments.

Since many of the reports and documents that depositories receive in non-Serial Set shipments have been issued as separates in pamphlet form or assembled in bindings in a different order from their Serial Set counterparts, they are difficult to use in assembling Serial Sets and have been filed separately by many libraries. Because they lack Serial Set title pages, tables of contents, and spine stampings, they are necessarily incomplete even when assembled with other Serial Set publications.

In 1922, moreover, depositories were given the opportunity to select certain classes of publications in advance, but were not offered the Serial Set in its complete version as a class. The effect of this change in depository arrangements has been to reduce the number of libraries that contain the set as a whole even in variant form.

Because international exchange libraries have long been treated like depositories, the only libraries that now have the complete Serial Set in its true form are the five major government libraries in Washington, D.C.: the House and Senate Libraries, the Library of Congress, the Public Documents Library (now, except for current publications, housed in the National Archives), and the National Archives Library.

Size and Shape of Volumes

The House resolution establishing uniform printing standards for subsequent documents provided that the materials assembled for the set be printed "in octavo fold", and later regulations in both Houses elaborated on this order to establish a policy for volume specifications that has survived largely intact to this day.

With the exception of the period between the beginning of the 46th and the end of the 59th Congresses (1878-1907), well over 90 percent of the Serial Set volumes have pages roughly 6x9 inches, interleaved with folded sheets of tables, maps, or other figures that cannot be reduced to this size. Where an entire volume is made up of such oversize material, it may be found in an oversize binding with all its pages flat, in a normal size binding with its pages folded, or it may be found boxed as an unbound set of folded sheets.

Between 1879 and 1907, many volumes in the documents series were printed quarto (approximately 9x12 inches in size) and journals have been quarto since 1889. Thickness of volumes has not been consistently regulated, but all fall within the range conventionally allotted to books as opposed to pamphlets, and most are between 1-1/2 and 3 inches thick.

In some cases, only the Senate version of duplicative House and Senate materials has been bound as part of the Serial Set, although the House versions were assigned serial numbers and cross-referenced in the Senate volumes.

Numbering & Sequencing of publications  

The serial numbers from which the set gets its popular name owe their existence to Dr. John G. Ames, head of the Document Division in the Department of the Interior, and later, Superintendent of Documents in the Government Printing Office. In 1892, the Interior Department issued his "List of Congressional Documents, 15th-51st Congress, and of Government Publications Containing Debates and Proceedings of Congress, 1st-51st Congress, with miscellaneous lists of public documents, historical and bibliographical notes". This was the first edition of a work that, because of its unwieldy title, quickly became known as the Checklist. Its second edition, published in 1895, contained a set of serial numbers that Dr. Ames had devised for numbering volumes in the Congressional Edition from 1817 onward.

Starting with serial number one assigned to the Senate Journal for the 15th Congress, 1st session every item in the set received a serial number according to its shelf position when arranged by Congress, session, and volume number. While they lacked sessional volume numbers, the journals were conventionally placed before documents and reports for serial numbering purposes. During all of the 54th Congress and the 1st session of the 55th Congress, serial numbers were omitted from the journals of both Houses. These journals have since conventionally been given the number of the volume preceding the number they should have received plus the letter "A".

The sequence of publication class series in the Serial Set for each session before 1902 was as follows: Senate journal, Senate documents (executive documents preceding miscellaneous documents, 1847-1895), Senate reports (1847-1902), House journal, House documents (executive documents preceding miscellaneous documents, 1847-1895), and House reports (1819-1902). Since 1902 the arrangement has been Senate journal (1902-1952), House journal (1902-1952), Senate reports, House reports, Senate documents, House documents.

Since 1979, all reports and all documents have been arranged and bound in numerical sequence.

Numbering Schemes

Within Publications Series

Each Chamber’s reports and documents series has its own internal sequential numbering scheme. All publications in these series carry unique document or report numbers (sometimes referred to as publication numbers) assigned sequentially within a Congress or session. All classes of documents were numbered by session during the 19th century, but have since been numbered by Congress. Senate reports have always been numbered by Congress; House reports were numbered by session prior to 1881, and have since been numbered by Congress.

Sessional Volume Numbers

Ordinarily, only documents of a single publication series are bound together in any single serial volume. These documents are organized within the volume in ascending numerical order. The bound volumes for each publication series are numbered sequentially within a session. Thus, sessional volume numbers group together all volumes of a given publication series for a given session.

The effort to achieve uniform width bindings, however, has resulted in some conflict between the otherwise compatible publication series and sessional volume numbering systems. Shorter documents in a series are bound together in generally numerical order in several volumes and are usually assigned the initial volume numbers for a session. Longer documents receive separate bindings and are assigned subsequent volume numbers. The order of documents in volumes is, therefore, not strictly the same as their order by publication series number.

Between 1905 and 1939, certain volumes were lettered (given alphabetical designation) rather than numbered. These lettered volumes contained reports on private bills and on simple and concurrent resolutions. They were separately printed as an economy measure and were distributed only to the House and Senate Libraries, the Library of Congress, and the Public Documents Library. Because reports were numbered sequentially irrespective of public or private intent, the creation of lettered volumes further disrupted the filing order of reports.

Appearance of Numbers

Documents and reports have always had title pages that show Congress, session, and document number, but never volume or serial number. Before 1854, each page of a document or report repeated its document number. Without formal authorization during the remainder of the century, this number was carried with the signature mark on most documents but not on every page, and since then it has appeared only on the title page.

Volume title pages were common but not universal before 1854, and have since been regularly printed. They show Congress, session, and volume number, but not serial number. Many volumes have tables of contents that list included documents.

The serial number is shown only on the binding of Serial Set volumes. It is stamped on volumes issued after 1895 as they are bound. Many libraries have added the numbers to earlier volumes, but it cannot be assumed that pre-1895 volumes will show them. The same document, volume, and serial number may be found on two or more separate volumes in the set, and in such cases, the numbers will be subdivided by addition of a digit or letter (e.g., serial numbers 8607-1 and 8607-2, and, in the case of omitted journal numbers, 3346 and 3346A).