Published: Nov. 16, 2016

Kate Tallman is pictured holding an old thick volume of Senate documents with bookshelves behind her in Norlin Library.

Kate Tallman, CU Boulder acting head of Norlin Library's Government Information Library and an assistant professor in the University Libraries, holds a holds a serial set volume from the late 1800s, which will be housed at the Preservation and Access Service Center for Colorado Academic Libraries (PASCAL), a climate-controlled storage facility located at the CU Anschutz Medical Center. Documents from the preservation steward collection, such as the one she is holding, can be requested and used in Norlin’s special collections reading room. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado Boulder)

Assistant Professor Kate Tallman has been named the acting head of Norlin’s Government Information Library and Colorado’s regional depository coordinator.

Norlin Library recently became the nation’s first official preservation steward library through the U.S. Government Publishing Office, pledging to preserve the U.S. Congressional Serial Set (House and Senate documents and reports), the Congressional Record (the proceedings and debates of the U.S. Congress, published daily when Congress is in session) and the U.S. Congressional hearings from the early 1800s on.

While Norlin Library has been part of a federal depository program since 1879, housing historic public documents, the new agreement grants permanency, as well as special treatment for and storage of particular documents already existing in the collection and yet to be received.

To view the collection, which is stored at a facility on CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus, the public may access digital copies of the documents at Norlin Library on the Boulder campus, or request delivery of the physical documents, which would then be available for 30 days in Norlin Library’s Special Collections and Archives Reading Room.

What does it mean to you that CU Boulder has become a steward of history?

I might get a little emotional. This was the most authentic and collaborative effort I have been involved with in my career. People throughout the university library worked together to make sure we preserved history. It’s been truly remarkable. I thank my predecessor Peggy Jobe, (a retired associate professor and the former head of government information at Norlin), who set the groundwork.

You say that preservation of government information is important to a democracy. Why?

One of the most fundamental human rights is freedom of speech and expression. This is afforded to us in the United States through our Constitution and, in many respects, can only be realized when we have access to the proceedings, debates and publications of our elected officials.

What are some of the greatest historical moments stored in the collection?

It’s every historical moment. The Sand Creek Massacre. The Challenger disaster. The 9/11 Commission. The congressional record contains every proceeding and debate from Congress. The Benghazi hearings and the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan, are two current examples.

Anything that happened in U.S. history that has bubbled up to the congressional level is in this collection.

Which documents in the collection are especially fascinating or surprising to you?

Every time I go to an older serial set I find something interesting. A letter or proclamation from a president. A first-hand account of a military exercise. Or a witness to a historical event. I opened a volume the other day to look for an illustration and noticed some observations of Native Americans. The observations were much more objective than I thought they would be. There were no judgements made on Native American customs, just the facts about building structures, tools and agricultural practices.

One example of a serial set volume is Volume 1277 from 1865 with testimony from military captains who were called before a military commission to report on their activities during the Sand Creek Massacre. Other examples, and some of our favorites, are from Western surveys commissioned by Congress in the late 1800’s. Congress sent scientists, scholars and artists  to the Western states to survey the geology, geography, environment, flora and fauna. The volumes are filled with amazing first-hand accounts of local populations and gorgeous drawings and paintings of landscapes and plants and animals.

Hand drawn hummingbirds.

Hand drawn hummingbirds from Serial Set vol 832, Report on the United States and Mexican boundary survey: made under the direction of the secretary of the Interior. In the late 1800s Congress sent scientists, scholars and artists to the Western states to survey the geology, geography, environment, flora and fauna. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado Boulder)

In the digital age, why is it important to preserve paper copies?

There’s nothing like holding a serial set from 1810 and looking at the illustrations. Paper is durable and long-lasting. It’s been used for hundreds of years. Sometimes it’s much easier to get the information you need from paper copies because many of these government databases are more difficult to navigate than just having a book in your hand.

Do students interact with the documents?

The documents actually get used a lot more than you would expect. My colleague, Leanne Walther, a government information specialist at Norlin, incorporates these primary documents into instructional sessions to give students a chance to experience history in a different way. The students are always impressed. They often come back and ask to see those volumes again.

Did you always want to be a librarian?

I come from a family of librarians, and I resisted it at first. They felt fulfilled. I wanted to try something else. I went to music school and played percussion. I got my bachelor’s degree in anthropology and my master’s in Southeast Asian studies. Yet, I always volunteered or worked as a student employee in libraries. Then one day it just happened. I realized it was my calling.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

It’s the everyday interactions that make me happy. I meet with students from every campus department. I get to know their projects. I help them discover their “aha”  moments. They might not know something is available, and after I point them in the right direction, they are amazed that these documents exist.