Podcast episode on race, ethnicity and the U.S. Census

I learned (or was reminded) that I am a Census geek when I got excited that one of my favorite podcasts,  Code Switch, recently did an episode on the Census called “Here’s Why The Census Started Counting Latinos, And How That Could Change In 2020.”  CodeSwitch is a blog and podcast from National Public Radio.  Here’s a good description of CodeSwitch, from their About the Code Switch Team page:  “We’re a team of journalists fascinated by the overlapping themes of race, ethnicity and culture, how they play out in our lives and communities, and how all of this is shifting.”

The August 3, 2017, podcast on the Census not only covers the history of how the Census has (or has not) counted Latinos over the decades.  It also features an interview with John Thompson, former director of the Census (the Code Switch blog features a longer version of the interview here) and a discussion of the possibilities and implications of adding “Middle Eastern or North African” (MENA) as a category for race and ethnicity.

I learned a lot from Kat Chow’s story “For Some Americans Of MENA Descent, Checking A Census Box Is Complicated,” which appeared on Code Switch’s blog on March 11, 2017.  I’ve wondered in the past how people of Middle Eastern or North African descent have identified themselves in the Census…this story describes how some people of MENA descent have grappled with that issue.

I also learned about the (well-founded) fears of people of color regarding how Census data might be used.   Chow points out “…the U.S. government used census data to locate and deliver more than 100,000 Japanese Americans to incarceration camps,” not by using individual Census data, but by identifying areas where lots of Japanese Americans lived in 1940.

Code Switch has also published stories on whether the Census Bureau will collect LGBT data.  

Shereen Marisol Meraji, one of the hosts of theCode Switch podcast, and host of the August 3 episode, promises more coverage of the upcoming 2020 Census.  I look forward to it–Code Switch provides valuable perspective and context.  Plus, I like knowing there are other Census geeks out there!

–Beth Harper, Government information and reference librarian, Memorial Library, UW-Madison



Presidential transitions

Sources for texts of presidential actions & public remarks

As we undergo executive (and legislative)-branch transitions on a federal level, there are a few resources I’d like to highlight.

Presidential documents, including presidential proclamations and executive orders, are published in the Federal Register, which is published every weekday by the Office of the Federal Register, which is part of the National Archives. There are a few sites for the Federal Register:

In its “About the Federal Register” section, GPO says, in the “Presidential Documents Section in the Federal Register” paragraph:

This section of the Federal Register contains documents signed by the President and submitted to the Office of the Federal Register for publication. Presidential documents include Proclamations and Executive Orders, as well as other documents such as determinations, letters, memorandums, and reorganization plans. The documents are compiled annually in title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

I had to pull out my gov docs textbook, Tapping the Government Grapevine, 3rd edition, to find the distinction between executive orders and presidential proclamations.  Judith Schiek Robinson says,

Legally, proclamations and executive orders are the same…In actual use, most executive orders are working documents often used to command government agencies or officials, while proclamations address the general public (p. 130)

Periodically the Office of the Federal Register publishes The Compilation of Presidential Documents, which includes remarks made by the president that don’t have the force of law, and a bunch of other  things described here.  The Compilation of Presidential Documents is available at  GPO’s FDSys site, and its Govinfo site (https://www.govinfo.gov/app/collection/CPD)

You can also look at the White House’s web site, particularly the section labelled “Briefing Room.”

There is a lag time between when executive orders are signed, and when they are published.  I don’t know if there’s ever been a standard lag time.  The Federal Register of Jan 30 contains executive orders and proclamations signed on Jan 24 and 25.

Did the old White House site just disappear?

Executive branch websites reflect the priorities of the current President, just as executive branch tangible publications do.  Congressional publications reflect the priorities of current members of Congress.  This is something I try to remember to tell patrons when I’m talking about government publications.

With tangible publications, literal “paper trails” of previous Presidential administrations’ priorities exist (thanks, in part, to the Federal Depository Library Program, in which 19 Wisconsin libraries participate).  The development of systems to keep a historical record of electronic documents is a process many of us have been alive to witness, and it’s still ongoing.  One example of a process to capture electronic government information, the End of Term Web Archive, has been led, in large part, by libraries.  It has preserved websites from administration changes in 2008, 2012, and 2016.

You can view an archived version of the White House website under Barack Obama’s administration at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov    I don’t know how deep it goes, but I was able to view blog posts back to July 2010  and speeches and remarks back to January 2009 .

Other archived White House Sites are available from the National Archives and Records Administration.

–Beth Harper, Government information/reference librarian, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Systematic archiving of state web pages?

In an op-ed titled DNR Censors All Climate Change Info, published on the site Urban Milwaukee on December 26, 2016, author James Rowen calls attention to extensive changes to a DNR website now called The Great Lakes and a changing world.   When the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine crawled the site on October 30, 2016, the site was called Climate Change and Wisconsin´s Great Lakes (see that iteration of the page via the Wayback machine here).  While the page’s url has not changed, the url is now the only part of the page that contains the phrase “climate change.”

On the federal level, various libraries, including the Library of Congress, the University of North Texas Libraries, and the California Digital Library, along with the Internet Archive, have been conducting an End of Term Archive since 2008, to capture and save U.S. Government websites at the end of presidential administrations.  (Information about the 2016 End of Web Presidential Harvest here; deadline to nominate sites to be crawled is January 13, 2017.)

The column about the changes to the DNR website got me wondering about what systematic efforts are happening at the state level to periodically crawl or harvest state websites for long-term preservation.  We’ve got the wonderful Wisconsin Digital Archives, but it is busy enough with harvesting and preserving what we think of as discrete publications.

Of course, whenever we talk about harvesting and preserving electronic information, the same issues pop up.  Here are a few of them:

  • Are “web pages” discrete, separate documents in and of themselves, like old-fashioned print publications?  Should there be a historical trail of them?  Or are they more like blackboards, used to post short-term messages?  (This question has now been around for a couple of decades!  Have we settled it yet?)
  • If we decide to archive web pages, how often should we do it?  The Wisconsin DNR example from this week illustrates that substantial changes (say, beyond correcting typos) don’t just happen when there’s a change in administrations.
  • It could end up being a massive project!  Who would do the work, and how would we set priorities?

I admit, the issues are daunting.  But the current Wisconsin Document Depository Program wasn’t built in a year (Wisconsin Document Depository Program Historical Background).  Based on my 18 years as a government information librarian, I feel safe in saying that in the future, students and scholars will be interested in things like when a state government’s outlook on climate change shifted.  And it’s crucial that we, as government information specialists, be thinking about these issues.  We’re unique in serving as links between government agencies and current and future students and scholars.  So let’s put our heads together!

–Beth Harper, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison




Summertime in the outdoors


Earlier this week, I went into my backyard about 90 minutes before sunset. Thanks to the mosquitos (and other flying insects), I lasted about a minute! This was the worst I’d seen the mosquitos all summer. So, I tried to figure out WHY there were so many of them. My theory: a whole bunch of mosquito eggs were laid in the aftermath of storms that dumped 2.79 inches of rain on Madison on July 21 and caused flooding around the city. Maybe those mosquitos were now mature and looking for blood. As I related this theory to a colleague, I realized I could look up information on a mosquito’s life cycle. Lo and behold, one of my first results was from the federal government, the Environmental Protection Agency to be exact. Its website on Mosquito Control includes a page on the Mosquito Life Cycle. Given the life cycle of the mosquito, it’s possible my theory is correct, though I’m not sure I’ve had enough standing water in my backyard to hatch many mosquitos.

When discussing government publications about mosquitos, I feel it’s my duty to mention Dr. Seuss’s contribution to the “genre,” a pamphlet entitled This Is Ann: She’s Dying to Meet You. You can learn more about this publication from an April 12, 2012 post by Erin Rushing on the Smithsonian Libraries blog Unbound.

Wisconsin Outdoor Report

On a more pleasant note, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issues an Outdoor Report each Thursday. There’s a general report, followed by five regional reports, for Northern, Northeast, Southeast, South Central, and West Central Wisconsin. The reports tend to be heavy on fishing news, at least in the spring and summer, but do include some information on bug populations, plant life, and general water conditions. In the fall, these reports have information on the state of fall foliage.

National Park Service Centennial

August 25, 2016, marks the centennial of the U.S. National Park Service. In Wisconsin, there’s a John Muir Centennial Event on August 6, at the Ice Age National Scenic Trail at John Muir County Park in Marquette County (about seven miles south of Montello. Registration is required to attend the festival, which will feature a children’s art exhibit, workshops, hikes and poetry recitation by Wisconsin State Poet Laureate. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail passes through this park.

Beth Harper, Government information/reference librarian, Memorial Library, UW-Madison

New draft document on industrial sand mining in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is seeking feedback on a new strategic analysis of the industrial sand mining (ISM) industry in Wisconsin. Comments may be submitted via email, or by US Mail to: ISM SA Coordinator, WDNR OB/7, P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921. Comments must be submitted by August 22, 2016.

The DNR held a public informational hearing on the draft strategic analysis on July 26, 2016, in Eau Claire. You can listen to the audio transcript at the hearing at this

Flags at half-staff

There have been too many occasions recently that the U.S. has been flying its flags at half-staff.  According to USA.gov’s page on the American flag, the U.S. flag flies at half-staff when the nation is in mourning. These periods of mourning occur by Presidential proclamation.

The Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs has a page on Flag-Lowering Orders in Wisconsin. Not only does it give the current flag status and explain under what situations the flag is lowered, it also lists US and state flag lowering proclamations going back to 2009.

In the news…


Jim Church, International Documents Librarian at University of California-Berkeley, has a page on European Union: Brexit. It links to some non-government publications, and resources specific to UC-Berkely.  It also has nice sections with links to

  • EU Selected Statements & Links
  • Official Publications: Great Britain, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, & Northern Ireland

Civilian/police shootings

President Obama’s statements on

In his statement on the fatal shootings of Sterling and Castile, President Obama referred to the recommendations in the final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server

The FBI’s July 5  blog post includes a link to Director James Comey’s full remarks made on the matter on that day.

On a somewhat (?) lighter note

On June 24, 2016, President Obama designated Christopher Park in New York City the  Stonewall National Monument.

–Submitted by Beth Harper, UW-Madison’s Memorial Library

What an actuary has to do with baby names

Have you ever used, or pointed users to, the Baby Name section of the Social Security web site?  Do you know the section’s history?  I learned about it this weekend from the What’s in a Name episode of the radio show To the Best of Our Knowledge.  The segment “What Not to Name Your Baby” features an interview with Michael Shackleford, an actuary working at the SSA’s Office of the Chief Actuary, talking about what motivated him to write the program tabulating which were most popular at a given time.  Shackleford’s efforts were first publicly documented in the government publication  Actuarial Note #139, Name Distributions in the Social Security Area, August 1997.  This publication was distributed to Federal Depository Libraries under item number 0516-F (online), with the SuDoc number SSA 1.25:139 .

On the current Baby Name site, you can look up

Not sure what an actuary does?  According to the entry in the Department of Labor’s 2016-2017 Occupational Outlook Handbook,

“Actuaries analyze the financial costs of risk and uncertainty. They use mathematics, statistics, and financial theory to assess the risk that an event will occur, and they help businesses and clients develop policies that minimize the cost of that risk.”

You may want to investigate this profession further, because, according to the OOH, “Employment of actuaries is projected to grow 18 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

(Both quotations from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Actuaries,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/actuaries.htm (visited June 21, 2016).)
Beth Harper, Government information/reference librarian, Memorial Library, UW-Madison

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

We’ve still got a few more days of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.  Why was May chosen for this commemorative month?  According to http://www.asianpacificheritage.gov/, 

The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.

From About Asian/Pacific Heritage Month, http://www.asianpacificheritage.gov/about/ , accessed May 24, 2016.

The Asian/Pacific Heritage Month site , sponsored by a number of federal cultural agencies and hosted by the Library of Congress, has links to images, audio and video, exhibits and collections, and resources for teachers.  The About section links to a comprehensive inventory of the Public Laws, Presidential Proclamations and congressional resolutions related to Asian Pacific Heritage Month.

One of the partner agencies in the Asian/Pacific Heritage Month site is the National Park Service, which has its own Asian-Pacific American Heritage site.   One of the (physical) sites related to Asian-Americans the NPS maintains is the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II, which is in Washington DC.  You can learn more about this memorial at the (non-governmental, non-profit) National Japanese American Memorial Foundation.

The Census Bureau has put together a fact sheet on Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month: May 2016, with demographic and business statistics.

One of the lesser-known Smithsonian museums, the National Postal Museum, has a page, Asian and Pacific Americans in the Postal Service and Philately, which links to exhibits on this topic.

What government resources would you recommend for this commemoration?

–Beth Harper, Government information/reference librarian, Memorial Library, UW-Madison

Who knew? US gov collects some stats on travel

Did you know that the U.S. government has a a National Travel and Tourism Office?  I didn’t till this spring, when I came across the office as I worked on a reference question.  NTTO is part of the Dept of Commerce’s International Trade Administration.

You can see what kinds of data the Travel and Tourism Statistical System for the United States collects and analyzes at http://travel.trade.gov/about/industry_analysis.asp .

The statistics that really intrigued me were

You can get a sense of international visitation to the U.S., and international visitor spending in the U.S. (both to a monthly level!), and a list of the top states, cities, and regions visited. (alas, Wisconsin and its fine cities do not make those lists).

You can also find annual Profiles of U.S. Resident Travelers Visiting Overseas Destinations back to 2008, and Monthly U.S. Outbound Air Travel to International Regions.

Have you come across information that you were surprised to know federal, state, or local governments published?  Let us know!

Beth Harper

Government information/reference librarian

Memorial Library, UW-Madison