Lots of things in life are hard to start: paper towel rolls, balls of yarn, pull ignition lawn mowers, solo karaoke. Starting a legislative history search can feel that way too. Not to give away the keys to the library temple or anything, but here’s a short guide on how I get started when I can’t get started. I’m using the school lunch program as an example, because it’s important.

  1. Since the school lunch program still gets talked about, first I’m going to the THOMAS Multi-Congress search. I’m searching “school lunch program” for an exact match.
  2. Whoa, there are 1994 results. I’m not going to refine, I’m going to scroll through a few to see if anything pops out. Bingo! Option #10 starts, “Whereas breakfast program participants under the Child Nutrition Act of 1966…” Maybe there’s a citation there.
  3. There was not. But, now I’m going to Google “Child Nutrition Act of 1966” and see what happens. Hopefully I’ll find an agency website, or a lovely, well-cited Wikipedia article to get me into the U.S. Code.
  4. Hooray! The first hit was the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Program page on the program, which conveniently cites the Pubic Law numbers, dates and Statutes at Large cites.

What if it hadn’t been that easy in THOMAS? Go directly to Google/Wikipedia. Nothing credible in the wilds of the interwebz? Try a popular name table. Still nothing? Start typing the general language of the act into the full text search at HathiTrust or doing a text search at Internet Archive.

Still nothing? Ask a librarian.

Why did I stop with the Statutes at Large? Wait for the next post…