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How to Locate an Unpublished Congressional Hearing: A Beginner’s Guide

This post is coauthored by Barbara Bavis and Robert Brammer, senior legal reference specialists.

Our previous post discussed how to locate a Published Congressional Hearing. In this guide, we will show you how to locate unpublished congressional hearings, which can often pose more of a challenge to researchers new to the area. Congressional hearings have not always been consistently published. In fact, the transcription of congressional committee hearings was not required until the passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act in 1946. Further, despite the requirement for transcription, the retention and publication of these transcripts is not guaranteed.[1] As such, it is not out of the ordinary for a congressional committee or subcommittee to have not officially published a hearing. Many of these “unpublished” hearings have since been made publicly available from sources including the National Archives, the Congressional Information Service (CIS), Congressional Quarterly, and ProQuest, among many others.  Please read on to determine how to start your unpublished congressional hearing research.

Pleads for drug bill. Rep. William I. Sirovich, D. of N.Y., himself an author of a food and drug bill, appears before the congressional committee holding hearings on the Copeland Pure Food and Drug Bill.  Photograph by Harris & Ewing (August 12, 1938). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.39258

Rep. William I. Sirovich, D. of N.Y., himself an author of a food and drug bill, appears before the congressional committee holding hearings on the Copeland Pure Food and Drug Bill. Photograph by Harris & Ewing (August 12, 1938). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.39258

Online Resources

As we mentioned in our previous post, often the easiest way to find congressional hearings is to use an online resource-unpublished hearings are no different.  Select online resources that have digital copies of congressional hearings in their databases, and will allow for keyword searching.

ProQuest CongressionalProQuest Congressional is a database that allows users to search and download indexing and the full-text of many unpublished hearings with coverage dating back to 1833 for the House and 1824 for the Senate. While a subscription is required in order to access this resource, ProQuest Congressional is available at many state and academic libraries and law firms nationwide. In order to determine whether your local library has access to this resource, or any other subscription database, simply call the library’s reference desk. Note that ProQuest states that unpublished hearings that were collected before the creation of ProQuest Congressional are included in their collection of published hearings, while unpublished hearings acquired after the creation of ProQuest Congressional are included in their unpublished hearings collection.

Congressional QuarterlyCongressional Quarterly produces its own selected oral transcripts of hearings.  In the Law Library of Congress’ Reading Room, patrons are able to search transcripts starting with the 104th Congress (1995-1996).

C-SPANC-SPAN, a “public service created by the American Cable Television Industry,” provides an online video archive of congressional activities from 1986 to the present. Many of the hearings included in C-SPAN have not yet been published.

Congress.govCongress.gov is a great resource for locating videos of recently held House committee hearings that have not yet been published. Congress.gov provides committee landing pages that feature live feeds of House hearings as well as links to a video archive of committee hearings. Another source for hearings that have not yet been submitted for publication is often the committees themselves. Some committees will have a reading room, while others will have a committee clerk designated as a point of contact. To access unpublished hearings held by a committee, navigate to the Congress.gov committee landing pages, and then click on the committee’s website to access its phone number.

U.S. House of Representatives Document Repository – The U.S. House of Representatives Document Repository provides access to hearing information and committee documents dating back to 2009.

Print Resources

Researchers can also access hearings through print-based resources.  Although these resources lack the ease of keyword searching, researchers can use bill number, subject, and other indexes to find the hearings they need.

CIS Indexes (CIS Index to Unpublished U.S. House of Representatives Committee Hearings, 1833-1968 and CIS Index to Unpublished U.S. Senate Committee Hearings, 1823-1984) – CIS has multiple indexes to help you locate a hearing of interest. The subjects and organizations index includes subjects, laws discussed, the committee holding the hearing, and organizations discussed or represented at the hearing. The personal name index includes individuals who testify at the hearing and individuals who are discussed at the hearing. The supplementary index provides access to hearings by title and by bill number.

Finally, for hearings and congressional committee documents that are at least 20 (for the Senate) or 30 (for the House) years old, and cannot be found in any of the resources above, a researcher’s best option is likely to contact the National Archives and Records Administration‘s (NARA) Center for Legislative Archives.  NARA’s Center for Legislative Archives “holds the historically valuable records of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, including the official Committee records…[and] applies the rules of access for congressional records as determined by the House and the Senate.”  For more information regarding what is available at the Center for Legislative Archives, visit its “Getting Started With Your Research” page.

We hope this helps you with your congressional committee hearings research. If you have any questions, please contact us through Ask A Librarian.

 

[1] For more information about the history of congressional committee hearing transcription, retention, and publication, please see the introductions to both the CIS Index to Unpublished U.S. House of Representatives Committee Hearings and the CIS Index to Unpublished U.S. Senate Committee Hearings.

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