Picturing the Big Shop: Photos of the U.S. Government Publishing Office, 1900–1980. Washington DC: US Government Publishing Office, 2017. https://permanent.access.gpo.gov/gpo77951/picturing-the-big-shop.pdf.

Picturing the Big Shop features approximately two hundred captioned photographs from the Government Publishing Office historical photo collection to show “the working life” of the GPO. In focusing on primary sources, it offers a different perspective than that provided in Keeping America Informed (US Government Printing Office 2011, revised 2016), the “official sesquicentennial history” of the GPO. The popularity of the photographs in Keeping America Informed, in fact, led to Picturing the Big Shop’s creation.

Rather than arranging entries chronologically, Picturing the Big Shop’s chapters look at one specific aspect of the GPO and its changes over time. For example, chapter 5 focuses on the Superintendent of Documents and FDLP Libraries, while chapter 3 highlights the steps involved with binding materials. Each chapter begins with a text summary of the major topic. Each page within a chapter features a photograph and a descriptive caption, which varies in length and depth as needed. For example, historical information for a building is more in depth than the brief description of a particular step in a process.

Some chapters will mostly interest librarians or government historians, such as chapters 5 and 6. However, other chapters cover topics of wider historical interest. Chapters 2 and 3, for instance, document changes in printing technology from the Industrial Revolution. Chapter 4 highlights various types of jobs at GPO and the impacts of racial and gender inequality. In these cases, the snapshot of the GPO offers a glimpse to the overall history of American industry.

The book’s primary weakness is a lack of organization. There is no index for individual photographs or for major subjects pictured. There are also two sections not included in the table of contents that use multiple photographs to highlight a specific topic. Chapter 2 details the history of a particular Linotype machine (“General Pershing,” 54–61). Chapter 4 offers an in depth look at the Apprentice Program (171–97), even featuring an additional descriptive page like those found at the beginnings of chapters.

Despite the above, the strengths of the book far outweigh its negatives. The images are appealing, the text illuminating, and the collection as a whole offers unique insight into the GPO’s history.—Elizabeth A. Sanders (elizabeth.sanders-3@selu.edu), Reference/Instruction Librarian, Sims Memorial Library


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