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United States Congressional Serial Set

The United States Congressional Serial Set began in 1817 as the official collection of reports and documents of the United States Congress. The collection was published in a "serial" fashion, hence its name.


  • Overview 1
  • Technical detail on non-print format availability 2
  • Numbering 3
  • Citation 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The Serial Set does not normally include the text of congressional debates, bills, resolutions, hearings, committee prints, and publications from congressional support agencies such as the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office. Proceedings of the Congress are published in the Congressional Record, while committee hearings and prints in most cases are published separately through the Government Printing Office (GPO). However, by special order some 300 selected committee hearings were included, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries."[1] Coverage for the period 1789 to 1817 is via the separate compilation American State Papers, which consists of 38 volumes.[2] The two series overlap, as American State Papers covers through 1838.

It is common for a volume of the Serial Set to be composed of a combination of documents and reports. Some of these reports may be one to two pages in length, while others can be hundreds of pages long. Although congressional in name, there are thousands of executive branch publications (e.g., the Annual Report of the Secretary of War and Official Records of the American Civil War) included within its pages. It is this rich combination of legislative and executive publications that account for its tremendous value as a primary source for American history.

Although its more than 14,000 bound volumes are an invaluable historical resource, it has often been neglected by researchers due to weak indexing and limited distribution. Volumes of the Serial Set have been sent to federal depository libraries over the years by the GPO, but many such depositories hold only a partial collection of the set for a variety of reasons (e.g., age of the depository). Also House Report 104-657 directed beginning with volumes covering the 105th Congress (commencing with v.14388) distribution has been limited to regional depositories plus certain others designated by Congress.[3] An exception are Serial Set volumes judged to be key Congressional publications by GPO and that thus receive distribution to all depository libraries.[4]

Virginia Saunders, the longest serving employee at the Government Printing Office, dedicated most of her 64 years of federal employment to binding and proofreading the Congressional Serial Set. Saunders died June 19, 2009. [5][6]

Technical detail on non-print format availability

In the late 1980s the Congressional Information Service issued the Serial Set, along with its predecessor American State Papers, through 1969 (v.1-12880) on microfiche; the entire set constituted about 117,000 fiches. CIS also issued a 56-volume hardcover comprehensive index to both series covering 1789-1969, for the first time providing access to their contents via multiple points (subject, name, bill number, etc.) including the many maps they contain. LexisNexis and Readex have both undertaken digitization efforts to convert the text of American State Papers and the Serial Set to electronic format. Neither of these subscription services are generally available and it is best to consult with a local university librarian to determine where specific volumes can be located.

LexisNexis completed their efforts in late 2006 (covering 1789-1969) and has undertaken a digitization project for congressional hearings. LexisNexis is also rescanning the maps in the set via a partnership with the University of Maryland, College Park, acknowledging the initial scans done from the CIS microfiche while adequate for text are inferior when it comes to maps versus scanning the originals.[7] On November 30, 2010 Reed Elsevier the parent company of LexisNexis, completed the sale of the CIS and UPA product lines (which includes the digital Serial Set) to ProQuest.

Readex, a division of NewsBank, is using original Serial Set volumes from Baker-Berry Library at Dartmouth College to create fine new digital images of every publication through 1994, including approximately 56,000 maps. Additional Serial Set materials not available from Dartmouth are being provided by the United States Senate Library, Middlebury College, the Vermont State Library and the University of Vermont. The Readex digital edition contains nearly 14,000 high-resolution color maps from the Library of Congress and more than 8,000 high-resolution color illustrations. To ensure the best search results, Readex has created all-new indexing of subject terms, executive agencies and bill numbers as well as of personal, committee and geographic names. The Readex edition contains active links from terms in bibliographic records that enable retrieval of related publications, an integrated subject thesaurus, map-level indexing and OpenURLs for each publication.

In 2007, Google Books began to scan the Serial Set.


Research has confirmed in some cases volume numbers were assigned to particular titles that were never published or appeared in later volumes. GPO has issued a list of Assigned Serial Numbers Not Used.[8]


A bibliographic citation such as "35th Congress, 2nd Session, House Miscellaneous Document #43 Claims of citizens of Territory of Kansas" (or the equivalent shorthand version "35th-2nd H.misdoc 43") will be found in the Serial Set.


  1. ^
  2. ^ American State Papers United States. Superintendent of Documents. Checklist of United States Public Documents, 1789-1909, Third Edition Revised and Enlarged, Volume 1, Lists of Congressional and Departmental Publications. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C., 1911. p.3.
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  4. ^
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  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^

External links

  • Serial Set Overview (Library of Congress)
  • US Congressional Serial Set: what it is and its history. Adapted from a presentation by Ms. Virginia Saunders, Congressional Documents Specialist, in GPO's Congressional Printing Management Division. The presentation was given at the Spring 1998 Depository Library Council/Federal Depository Conference in Arlington, Virginia.
  • Checklist of United States Public Documents, 1789 - 1909
  • Overview Overview of the US Congressional Serial Set (Librarian presentation)
  • List of Serial Set Volumes (1817-1969)
  • List of Serial Set Volumes (1970 to Current)
  • U.S. Congressional Serial Set Inventory
  • An Insider’s View of The U.S. Serial Set
  • Selected Volumes Digitized On Line
  • Readex U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994
  • University of Michigan Graduate Library exhibit Congressional Serial Set Hidden Treasures in American History
  • Federal Legislative History Libguide
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