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The Library of Congress’s Role in the Annual National Speech and Debate Tournament

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Each year the Library of Congress reviews and compiles materials to assist debate students who are competing in the National Speech and Debate Association’s annual debates. The culmination of these efforts results in an annotated bibliography created by experts across various library divisions. A federal statute mandating this undertaking has been in effect since 1968; per 44 U.S.C. §1333:

The Librarian of Congress shall prepare compilations of pertinent excerpts, bibliographical references, and other appropriate materials relating to…the subject selected annually by the National University Extension Association as the national high school debate topic[.] In preparing the compilations the Librarian shall include materials which in his judgment are representative of, and give equal emphasis to, the opposing points of view on the respective topics.

The high school debate annotated bibliography is memorialized each year as a Senate document, after it is reviewed by a Senate committee. Previous debate topics have involved subjects such as America’s diplomatic/economic engagement with China, American military presence in various Asian nations, and domestic surveillance by the federal government. Examples of these annotated bibliographies are available through govinfo.

Title page of Senate Document Number 116-17, National Debate Topic for High Schools, 2020-2021
National Debate Topic for High Schools, 2020-2021, S. Doc. No. 116-17 (2020).

This year’s topic involves criminal justice reform. Specifically, the debate’s subject is “Resolved: The United States federal government should enact substantial criminal justice reform in the United States in one or more of the following: forensic science, policing, sentencing.” In creating the annotated bibliography, this subject was broken down into several subtopics, including policing, forensic science, sentencing and prisons, and significant federal criminal justice legislation.

Overseen by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), this year’s bibliography team included six librarians, with three drawn from the Law Library and the Humanities & Social Sciences Section of Researcher and Reference Services and three from CRS.

This year, CRS librarian Caitlin Curran coordinated the bibliography. She answered some questions about the debate bibliography, which are found below.

Please describe your role as coordinator of this project, and how you got involved.

As project coordinator, my main responsibility was to keep the project on track and ensure all deadlines were met from start to finish. This entailed facilitating meetings, communicating the process and timeline to all team members, reviewing citations and annotations for correct style and language, and addressing any concerns or questions along the way. There are a lot of moving parts and deadlines, but, luckily, the year before taking over the project, I was able to shadow the previous coordinator, Elizabeth Larson. This was invaluable as she was able to share the knowledge she had gained in her experiences and it gave me a solid understanding of the process. Additionally, past coordinators have done a really nice job of keeping up-to-date documentation of all the templates, contacts, and other pertinent information, which helped ensure a smooth knowledge transfer.

What happens after the bibliography has been compiled?

Once the bibliography is compiled, the review process begins! It goes through numerous levels of review. Once the bibliography is finalized, it is sent to the United States Government Publishing Office (GPO) and published on govinfo, where it is publicly available, along with the bibliographies from previous years. All in all, from the time the new topic was announced in early January to its publication in August, the project took around seven months!

What did you enjoy most about working on this project? 

What I enjoyed the most about this project is that it provided a unique opportunity for CRS and the Library to collaborate on a project together. Each team member brought their own specific knowledge, expertise, and background to the project and, as the coordinator, I was able to collaborate with colleagues with whom I would not normally cross paths.

The team carefully selects timely, credible, and authoritative articles and reports, covering multiple viewpoints of the topic; and as much as possible, we try to choose sources that are open access or widely available to the students. The Library of Congress has been responsible for the creation of this bibliography since the early 1970s. It’s really cool to be part of something with such a long history!

We hope you will enjoy reading about some of the current and past debate topics.

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