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ProQuest Congressional Index with U.S. Serial Set

Pursuant to 44 U.S.C. 738, the Superintendent of Documents has been publishing Congressional documents since the 15th Congress in 1817. Dr. John G. Ames of the Interior Department created the Serial Numbering System that is still in use today. Documents from the first fourteen Congresses, originally published as folios, retrospectively were assigned a compatible numbering scheme and released as the American State Papers. What would come to be known formally as the United States Congressional Serial Set (“Serial Set”) in 1981 lacked a formal name for over 165 years, instead going by topical or descriptive monikers such as the Congressional Set, the Congressional Series, the Serial Number Set, and the Sheep Set. (The volumes were bound in sheepskin until 1907.) The Printing Act of 1895 transferred printing and distribution duties (to libraries, for example) to the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). The GPO handles print and electronic dissemination of these, and many other, government documents to this day.

Since 1953, the Serial Set lineup of documents has been: House and Senate documents (including reports), Senate Executive documents, and Senate treaty documents. From 1817 through 1952, the House and Senate Journals were also included in the Serial Set. From 1861 to 1957, selected agency documents, such as the Minerals Yearbook, Statistical Abstract, and Foreign Relations Papers were distributed with the Serial Set. While a couple titles, such as Statistical Abstract, may have been subsequently (and separately) digitized, there is undoubtedly a wealth of unique government documents contained in the Serial Set that would be of interest to legal and other scholars, especially historians. While the United States Code Congressional Administrative News has been reprinting the most important House or Senate reports (and selected additional references) related to new federal legislation (public laws) in print since 1952 and more recently (also) via Westlaw, researchers wishing to compile more  comprehensive legislative histories of federal legislation have been better served by using the Serial Set and indexes of Congressional documents. As a government depository library, the Kelvin Smith Library traditionally tried to maintain a print collection of the Serial Set, but few, if any, libraries in the entire country have been able to maintain a complete print Serial Set over the past 195 years or so. Commercial indexes and microfiche sets, especially those produced by Congressional Information Service (CIS), helped bridge the gap of finding relevant Serial Set documents in the days prior to the widespread availability of networked computers.

After acquiring CIS, Lexis digitized the index itself, as the LexisNexis Congressional Index. In addition, the company set out on an ambitious quest to obtain and scan as many of the original Serial Set documents as they could find, working with libraries that had the most comprehensive versions of the Serial Set, and make the full-text available via the Congressional Index. ProQuest purchased the database from LexisNexis, and the current version of the database features indexing back to 1789 and access to over 325,000 full-text documents. While documents related to federal legislation since 1990 or so are readily available for free from GPO (usually most easily located via the Library of Congress’s Thomas service), the ProQuest Congressional Index with Serial Set database is a remarkable tool for those patrons who have access to this proprietary research database to retrieve Senate or House documents and/or research a specific Congress, either by topic or by any of the excellent indexing features it offers. Currently-affiliated CWRU Law patrons may access ProQuest Congressional Index with Serial Set.

Sources: GPO Access and Walter E. Helmke Library guide.