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U.S. Serial Set: Organization

Publications Series

Serial Set materials are consistently organized into formal House and Senate publication series volumes starting with the 15th Congress (1817-1819). At that time, the set consisted of four series: Senate journals, Senate documents, House journals, and House documents. As required by the Constitution, journals contain minutes of the meeting of each Chamber. While omitting debate, they constitute a concise record of congressional action on bills, resolutions, memorials, and petitions, by title and number, together with all communications from the President of the United States. The House documents and Senate documents series originally contained everything in the set apart from journals, including reports of congressional committees and many executive branch publications.

In 1819, the House of Representatives and 28 years later the Senate separated the committee reports from the document series, forming two new series: House reports and Senate reports. Furthermore, when the Senate began its reports series, both Chambers began to distinguish between executive documents and miscellaneous documents. Executive documents consisted of publications of the executive branch, while miscellaneous documents contained memorials and petitions, amendments, and special reports, exclusive of committee reports. The reports series have always contained committee reports on public and private legislation. Both reports and documents may contain hearings. Between 1856 and 1862, reports from the Court of Claims were printed as a separate publication series.

In 1895, along with a general reform of publishing and distribution policies, Congress dropped the distinction between executive and miscellaneous documents. From 1895 to 1951, there were only three series of publications for each Chamber: journals, documents, and reports, and from 1952-1979 only documents and reports.

Until 1895 there were two types of Senate executive documents. The type included in the Serial Set used a numerical numbering system and covered a wide range of executive agency materials. The other type, which was excluded from the Serial Set, used a lettered numbering system and dealt exclusively with treaties and nominations. In 1895, the Senate began to publish executive materials with the Senate document category, while continuing to print most executive materials relating to treaties and nominations as Senate executive reports and documents excluded from the Serial Set. In 1979, Senate executive reports and documents were included for the first time within the Serial Set. In 1981, the Senate executive document type of publication was discontinued and replaced by Senate treaty documents. Today the Serial Set includes House and Senate reports and documents and Senate executive reports and treaty documents.

Numbering Schemes

Within Publications Series

Each Chamber’s reports and documents series has its own internal sequential numbering scheme. All publications in these series carry unique document or report numbers (sometimes referred to as publication numbers) assigned sequentially within a Congress or session. All classes of documents were numbered by session during the 19th century, but have since been numbered by Congress. Senate reports have always been numbered by Congress; House reports were numbered by session prior to 1881, and have since been numbered by Congress.

Sessional Volume Numbers

Ordinarily, only documents of a single publication series are bound together in any single serial volume. These documents are organized within the volume in ascending numerical order. The bound volumes for each publication series are numbered sequentially within a session. Thus, sessional volume numbers group together all volumes of a given publication series for a given session.

The effort to achieve uniform width bindings, however, has resulted in some conflict between the otherwise compatible publication series and sessional volume numbering systems. Shorter documents in a series are bound together in generally numerical order in several volumes and are usually assigned the initial volume numbers for a session. Longer documents receive separate bindings and are assigned subsequent volume numbers. The order of documents in volumes is, therefore, not strictly the same as their order by publication series number.

Between 1905 and 1939, certain volumes were lettered (given alphabetical designation) rather than numbered. These lettered volumes contained reports on private bills and on simple and concurrent resolutions. They were separately printed as an economy measure and were distributed only to the House and Senate Libraries, the Library of Congress, and the Public Documents Library. Because reports were numbered sequentially irrespective of public or private intent, the creation of lettered volumes further disrupted the filing order of reports.

Appearance of Numbers

Documents and reports have always had title pages that show Congress, session, and document number, but never volume or serial number. Before 1854, each page of a document or report repeated its document number. Without formal authorization during the remainder of the century, this number was carried with the signature mark on most documents but not on every page, and since then it has appeared only on the title page.

Volume title pages were common but not universal before 1854, and have since been regularly printed. They show Congress, session, and volume number, but not serial number. Many volumes have tables of contents that list included documents.

The serial number is shown only on the binding of Serial Set volumes. It is stamped on volumes issued after 1895 as they are bound. Many libraries have added the numbers to earlier volumes, but it cannot be assumed that pre-1895 volumes will show them. The same document, volume, and serial number may be found on two or more separate volumes in the set, and in such cases, the numbers will be subdivided by addition of a digit or letter (e.g., serial numbers 8607-1 and 8607-2, and, in the case of omitted journal numbers, 3346 and 3346A).

American State Papers

Although not part of Dr. Ames' serial numbering scheme, a reprint of records from the early Congresses was numbered 001 through 038 when shelved in the Public Documents Library and has since generally been considered a part of the Serial Set.

This reprint, the American State Papers, was privately produced under congressional authority between 1832 and 1861. It included records that were previously available only in manuscript, as well as printed executive and legislative documents. The series covers a period starting at 1789 and ending with dates varying between 1823 and 1838. The documents are arranged in classes within the volumes and appear in chronological order within class. The classes are Foreign Relations, Indian Affairs, Finance, Commerce and Navigation, Military Affairs, Naval Affairs, Post Office Department, Public Lands, Claims, and Miscellaneous.

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