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CONGRESSIONAL REFERENCE BUREAU
COMMITTEE ON THE LIBRARY
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ON VARIOUS BILLS PROPOSING THE ESTABLISHMENT
OF A CONGRESSIONAL REFERENCE BUREAU
FEBRUARY 26 AND 27, 1912
CONGRESSIONAL REFERENCE BUREAU.
COMMITTEE ON THE LIBRARY,
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D. C., Monday, February 26, 1912. The committee met at 10.30 o'clock a. m.
Present: Representatives Slayden (chairman), Townsend, Evans, Gardner, and Pickett.
The CHAIRMAN. Gentlemen, the committee has met this morning to have what we call here in Congress a hearing on certain bills that have been submitted for the purpose of establishing a Congressional Reference Bureau. I am informed that a somewhat similar institution works in connection with the House of Commons in Great Britain, and for some years there has been in connection with the State legislature of the State of Wisconsin a similar institution, and all reports from that State, with which we are much more familiar than we are, of course, with those of Great Britain, indicate that it is an institution of extreme usefulness. The committee has felt that it is a matter of great importance, and feels gratified that the distinguished gentlemen have come here from a distance, and is particularly gratified to have here His Excellency the Right Hon. James Bryce, ambassador from Great Britain, who has consented to take some of his valuable time to tell this committee, out of his abundant store of experience and wisdom, how these projects work in his own country.
Mr. Nelson, who is the author of this bill, will speak for a few minutes to the committee in a preliminary, explanatory way.
STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN M. NELSON, MEMBER OF CONGRESS
Mr. NELSON. Mr. Chairman, there is pending before the Library Committee a bill (H. R. 18720) to establish a Congressional Reference Bureau in the Library of Congress, to which I wish to direct the committee's attention. I do not desire to speak at length upon this bill at the present time, because I wish to give way to these gentlemen who have come from afar, hundreds of miles, and some of them as far a thousand of miles, to give the committee the benefit of their study and experience along this line.
I will just briefly give an account of the origin and preparation of this bill. For 10 years or more it has been my good fortune to observe its practical operation in my own State. I live in the capital city of Wisconsin, and I had frequent opportunity to see how this legislative reference bureau supplements the work of the legislator and how it gives him exact knowledge of conditions, rela
tions, and circumstances in any given field of activity with which he has to deal; how it enables him to apply to those conditions exact economic, sociological, and political principles; how it enables him -to-perfect the form of legislation to fit the law into existing laws, to
utilize the success and failure of other States and countries, gives him: information, as to the constitutionality, State and national, of the proposed law, and when I saw this operating in Wisconsin and realized how useful, how necessary, how exceedingly helpful an agency it is, and then, after six years' experience in Congress with our lack of these facilities, although we have the Library of Congress, with its millions of books, periodicals, and magazines, that might be made to focus upon the great questions before us, and realizing the wealth of information in the departments and bureaus of Government, and that might be made more available for our needs, I determined to do all that in my power lies to see to it that their Legislative Reference Bureau be established as an agency of helpfulness for Congress, to enlarge our individual and collective capacity for legislative service, to attain a maximum of legislative efficiency.
I then went to the chief of our reference bureau of Wisconsin and asked him if he would assist in the preparation of a bill which would give us the benefit of this helpful agency. In consultation with Dr. McCarthy and the secretary of the commission, Mr. Dudgeon, who is nominally, at least, the chief of that bureau, we prepared a measure, which I introduced, and it is H. R. 4703. Senator Owen introduced an amendment to the Senate along the same line, and it was then our efficient Librarian of Congress, seeing that Congress was interested in this matter, prepared a very good report, which gave a survey of the field, to which the librarian will call attention.
Then I took this bill and sent it to all the experts, the legislative librarians in the country, to university men who had given this legislative agency scientific study, and to men who are familiar with the needs of improvement of substance and form in legislation, and I have here letters from them, from which I shall briefly read extracts, so that you can get an idea of how this strikes the popular mind.
The CHAIRMAN. You want those to go into the record ?
Mr. NELSON. I got this from Gov. Woodrow Wilson, of New Jersey. [Reading:]
Gov. Woodrow Wilson (of New Jersey) : I was very glad to hear from you!, and I want to assure you that I entirely approve of such legislation as is pro. posed by bill H. R. 31356.
I can only say that it seems to me highly important that a legislative reference department should be established in the Congressional Library. The experience of several of our States in this matter is conclusive us to the great usefulness of such a department. Indeed, I think if once established everyone who had any knowledge of it would deem it indispensable
I have letters from the president of Harvard University, from the president of the University of Wisconsin, from former President Roosevelt, and others along that line.
The excerpts from letters submitted by Mr. Nelson are as follows:
President A. Lawrence Lowell, Harvard University :
The plan of your bill for a legislative division in the Congressional Library seems to me an excellent one, for a great many mistakes may be saved and many useful hints obtained by knowing what has been done under similar conditions elsewhere, and at present there is a vast deal of such information of which we are really wholly ignorant. It is not enough to collect it, it must be put in such form that one can use it without enormous labor. The legislative bureau in Wisconsin seems to me to have done excellent work in this direction. President Charles R. Van Hise, University of Wisconsin:
I am very glad, however, to give my unqualified indorsement to the plan. All who know the situation in Wisconsin before we had a legislative reference library and since that time appreciate the superiority of the present condition. While the ideas of the members are strictly carried out, the bills are framed in such form tions there, so that there would be no duplication and that it might work harmoniously with the Library; and adopting many of his suggestions I introduced another bill."
Then I took the bill up with the leaders of all parties in the House, so as to meet objections and satisfy demands, and after some helpful criticism this bill finally resolved itself into H. R. 18720, which is before you for your consideration, so far as I am concerned. There are other bills that I trust the committee will consider.
That is the history of the bill up to the present time.
I arranged for this hearing, with the courtesy of the chairman, because I believe that we ought to hear from these men who have had experience with its practical operation, and there are a number of experts from the bureaus—Dr. McCarthy, of Wisconsin, and Mr. Brunchen, of Pennsylvania, who was five years librarian in California, and we shall have various heads of departments who will address us. I now wish to give way with great pleasure to the British ambassador. I would not have ventured to invite the British ambassador to speak to the committee, but the author of the "American Commonwealth " I knew would not refuse to show us this great courtesy, and I take great pleasure in calling on Ambassador Bryce to tell us how Great Britain prepares her great statutes in substance and form, so that we may profit by her experience.
The CHAIRMAN. We shall be very glad to hear from the ambassador at his convenience.
STATEMENT OF THE RIGHT HON. JAMES BRYCE, BRITISH
Mr. Bryce. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, it is perhaps rather unusual for the representative of another country to appear before a committee of either House of Congress, but the circumstances are so exceptional that I do not think there is anything in my appearing to which objection can be taken. When I received the communications from you, sir, and from Mr. Nelson, inviting me to come to this committee, and when you had both satisfied me that this measure on this subject into which you are conducting your inquiries was one of entirely nonpartisan character, which did not raise any domestic political issue upon which parties were divided in this country, when it was in fact a matter deemed to be of common concern, so that the opinions expressed by the representative of another