Tech’s ‘secret’ government documents

By Wesley Harris

Deep in the recesses of Wyly Tower’s basement, the Prescott Memorial Library has a secret. Even some of its librarians aren’t sure what’s down there.

But the Library wants to expose the secret, to share her treasures with everyone.

Louisiana Tech’s library contains over 20,000 linear feet of government documents spanning the history of the United States. They are a secret only in the sense most of the general public and even Tech’s students are unaware of the documents’ existence here in Ruston.

The Prescott Memorial Library at Tech possesses over 2.6 million federal publications and maps. As a participant in the Federal Depository Library Program since 1896, it is one of the oldest depositories of federal documents in the nation.

The documents are not restricted to student and faculty use, although only those affiliated with the university or with certain credentials can check them out.

The documents cover every aspect of government, from National Park Service brochures to NASA reports on the space program. Thousands of bound volumes and boxes of microfiche preserve every Congressional hearing ever held. Department of Agriculture pamphlets on growing sweet potatoes can be found just a few rows from Smokey Bear comic books and thousands of topographical maps.

The library takes regular deliveries of material from the Government Publishing Office via a cataloging service. Documents are added constantly to the collection. 

When researchers need primary research material, this is where they go to find the best sources. The collection includes the complete records of the “War of the Rebellion,” an essential resource for any Civil War scholar. Researchers who visit the documents section range from students composing papers to citizens conducting family or community research. A recent researcher sought population data for his hometown, another needed statistics on the state penitentiary at Angola.

One of most fascinating documents in the basement is the transcript of the 1911-12 Congressional hearings on the Titanic disaster.

The library also maintains an extensive Louisiana state document collection. The library has been a member of the state depository system since 1948 and became a historical state document depository in 2012.

The library is open to the public and welcomes usage of its extensive government document collections. Most of the documents circulate to any person with a valid Louisiana Tech library ID, or by validated LALINC borrowers.

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