Rescuing an e-document

By Laurie Wermter
Memorial Library Reference Department

I am a reference librarian at Memorial Library on the UW-Madison campus & I am also the creator of the Wisconsin Labor History Bibliography (WLHB).

In 2006 I created an entry for my on-line bibliography of a new Wisconsin government document:  The History of the Wisconsin Civil Service, 1905-2005.  This book had been prepared by the Wisconsin Office of State Employment Relations (OSER) to mark the centennial of the creation of the Wisconsin civil service system. The work appeared in both a print edition and an electronic edition.  (Please see the end of this post for the annotation I wrote describing this 61-page centennial history.).

I had learned of the publication of this centennial history from a website created by the Office of State Employment Relations in 2005 to celebrate the centennial of the WI civil service system. [Note: that OSER centennial website had been available up until September 2015 at, but as of today, is not available.] As I acquired a copy of the print edition at the same time, I can tell you that the two versions–the print edition and the e-edition–are the very same, except for the PDF edition lacking the ‘title cover’ of the print edition.

This summer, someone referred a reporter from a Wisconsin daily news source to me, for bibliographical suggestions about the civil service system of the state, and one of the best sources of which I am aware is this centennial history from OSER.  Although the OSER centennial website itself was still available on the web when I checked during the first week of August, I found that the URL in that website for the PDF of this title was now dead.

When I went to consult with the OSER staff about the dead link, I found out that OSER had very recently been folded into the Department of Administration, so it was uncertain as to whether that website would be continued or not.  I was told that the PDF files for the centennial history could not be located or recovered at this point, although the staff person with whom I spoke said that it would be brought to the attention of the department’s administration in the coming weeks that there had been an inquiry from someone wanting to use this Wisconsin government document, in case something could be done to restore public access to the e-version.

At this point, I checked the Google Books website as I thought their project might have digitized this title. A search of the phrase (with the quotation marks):

“history of the wisconsin civil service”

did bring up the fact that the print edition of the book was included in the Google Books website; however, it is only available in their ‘snippet’ view (which lets one look at up to three lines of text around a particular word for which one has searched within the book)–not very usable. (It is ironic that the Google Books website includes this title in PDF, yet will only provide what Google defines as their ‘snippet’ view. By rights, the e-book should be provided for open viewing in Google Books, as Wisconsin government documents, generally, cannot be copyrighted. Google, however, has decided to treat all materials published after 1923 as covered by copyright, so this is the situation with which users must put up. The Hathi Trust, on the other hand, is making an effort to determine which government documents are not covered by copyright, and make those available in full view in the Hathi Trust digital library.)

In addition to searching the website of the Wisconsin Digital Archives, which did not, at that point, have a record of the e-document, I also scoured the Internet thoroughly to see if the e-version of the document had, perhaps, been made available anywhere else.  I found that, although there are multiple library webpages on the Internet which seemed to indicate the PDF of the title was available there, all of those pages also led to dead links.

At that point I was wondering if a reporter could file an Open Records request with the Department of Administration to get the PDF.

Certainly, numerous libraries in Wisconsin do have the print edition available; however, a PDF version would be so helpful to the users of today. If only the print copy is available, users will have to go through a lot more steps to get access to it.

Upon more consideration, I decided to try searching in Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, although, as their métier is to provide access to webpages through time, I was skeptical that their website would pick up the content of PDFs linked in those webpages.

I was delighted to find that the Wayback Machine had trolled the website of the Wisconsin civil service centennial and included the content of the PDFs on that page!  As I had the contact info for the person who had asked the reference question, I was able to send that person the link to the e-version.

As a follow-up, on Friday, September 11, I sent a message to the Wisconsin Digital Archives (WDA) website about the unavailability in their database of the PDF version of this WI government document. (The WDA is dedicated to preserving the digital government documents of Wisconsin.) I am happy to report that, on Wednesday, September 16, one of their librarians replied to me with the information that she had contacted the OSER office and that they had promptly supplied her with the 61-page PDF of the document and that she would be cataloging it soon for the Wisconsin Digital Archives website.

When I checked on Friday, September 24, I saw that the PDF of the e-book was already available in the WDA.

Finally, I note that, as of at least Monday, September 28, when I looked on the Internet for the OSER centennial website, that the entire centennial website appears to have been taken down.  If you would like to look at that full website of the centennial, you will find it archived here in the Wayback Machine:

Entry from the Wisconsin Labor History Bibliography, prepared in 2006:

Wisconsin.  Office of State Employment Relations.  The History of the Wisconsin Civil Service, 1905-2005. Madison, Wis.:  Wisconsin Office of State Employment Relations; [2005].  vi, 61 p.

This is an official history prepared and published by the Wisconsin Office of State Employment Relations to mark the 2005 centennial of the creation of the Wisconsin state civil service system, tracing the development from June 17, 1905, when then governor Robert M. La Follette signed Wisconsin Statute Chapter 363 into law to create the state’s civil service system; the new civil service system was designed to ensure that ‘the best shall serve the state’ with hiring to be based on merit as determined through open and competitive examination. Following the U.S. federal government, New York, and Massachusetts, Wisconsin was the third state to abandon the patronage, or ‘spoils’ system, wherein government employees had been chosen based almost solely on the political affiliation of the job applicants.

Created in 1905, the Wisconsin Civil Service Commission was re-organized in 1929, during the governorship of Walter Kohler, Sr., as an independent agency known as the state Bureau of Personnel under the direction of a three-member Personnel Board. In 1959, the state Bureau of Personnel became a bureau within the Department of Administration, where it stayed until 1977, when new legislation changed the bureau into the Department of Employment Relations (DER), along with a separate Personnel Commission to handle review of appeals of personnel decisions.  Then, in 1978, the state Department of Employment Relations was given cabinet-level status and remained so until 2003, when the Department of Employment Relations was re-created as the Office of State Employment Relations (OSER) and was attached to the Department of Administration for administrative purposes, where it remains today.

Two chapters of special interest are Chapter V, “Wisconsin State Employee Labor History” (p. 35-41) and Chapter VI, “Wisconsin Affirmative Action History” (p. 43-51).

The published version of this history should be available at any of the many public and university libraries which are part of Wisconsin Depository Libraries program–see there under the following Wisconsin Documents Number: WI ADM. 2: C 53/ 2005.

A digital version (in PDF) of this history may be found at a website created in observation of the Wisconsin Civil Service Centennial–see the following URL:

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