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While researching for the Asian American Pacific Islander Desi Americans (APIDA) Resources web page in 2020, I came across a U.S. government publication called Sinews of America. Not only does the Library have an English-language copy, but there are additional copies in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Tagalog, and Turkish as well! The title and the many languages caught my attention. I went on to use the thirteen copies in a display of original records and reference sources following an immigration records workshop that I presented in 2019 for the Library’s Genealogical Workshop Series. Four years later, the publication is still on my mind, so I decided that it was finally time to find out how all thirteen copies came to be in the Library of Virginia’s holdings.

But first, what is Sinews of America? The catalog record for the English version indicates that it was published by the U.S. Department of State and distributed by the U.S. Information Service, which was created as the U.S. Information Agency in 1953 to consolidate efforts to disseminate information about the United States abroad.1

The Forward reveals that Sinews of America was written to promote democracy:

Freedom is the keystone of America’s moral and physical strength. But energy, determination, vision have joined hands with freedom to realize that strength—to face and to solve the problems necessary for its achievement. . . . History shows that when strength is controlled by a few, it becomes the master, not the servant, of the people. . . .History shows that strength in the hands of all works constructively to the benefit of all. . . .The strength of the United States is owned by the American people. It is they who direct its course. That course traditionally is directed toward peace and the betterment of the individual. Strength so used benefits not only America and its people: it benefits the world. . . .The elements—the sinews—of this physical strength are power, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, communication, construction. Each of these elements of strength is dependent on all the others. The development of any would have been impossible without the development of all. Similarly the growth of any one has contributed to the growth of all. These elements of strength will continue to grow. Essentially, America’s strength has come from the minds of men—men of wisdom, energy, vision; men free to work toward a better way of life.

The section concludes with its primary point that democracy brings greatness: “And as all Americans helped to build the Nation’s strength, so all Americans enjoy its benefits. Under democratic control, it has become the practical means of achieving what the American Declaration of Independence calls the ‘unalienable’ rights of all men: ‘Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ “

The remainder of the booklet contains sections on the “Sinews of America”—agriculture, manufacturing, power, transportation, construction, and communication. Each section has a full-page illustration followed by three pages of illustrated text.

The booklet concludes with:

America’s strength is not a gift, bestowed full-grown on a fortunate people. Nor is it a sudden achievement, accomplished in a brief time. It has been built over many years—sometimes slowly and painfully—by free people striving together for ever-new goals. The belief that regardless of how good life may be it can yet be made better is the essence of progress and a guarantee against stagnation and decay. Because they believe this, Americans harbor no illusion that either they or their country is perfect—that they have achieved the ultimate in any walk of life. There is no ultimate in progress. There is but a challenge to work on to something better. Willingness to accept this challenge, and to meet it with courage, initiative, and cooperation, is a powerful force in American life. It is a product of the mingling of peoples who originally came from nearly every country in the world to build in the United States a better way of life. That way of life is progressive and flexible, and—above all—it is subject to the will of the people who build it.

At the time of the editions’ initial distributions, the Cold War was underway, and one way that the United States sought to fight Communism was to promote the ideals of democracy and free enterprise.2 Given its subject and publication dates, Sinews of America fits squarely into this mission.

I can understand why the Library of Virginia might have an English version of Sinews of America. But, why the twelve copies in other languages? That answer is actually fairly simple: The Library of Virginia is a part of the Federal Depository Library Program.3 Member libraries originally received all federal publications, but this became overwhelming. Now, member libraries select types of publications from the Government Publishing Office catalog and receive all publications of that particular type. The Library of Virginia decided to acquire the general publications for the U.S. State Department, and the many editions of Sinews of America came into the collection automatically based on that selection. A set of books called Guide to U.S. Government Publications provides brief histories of federal agencies and a list of the types of publications that are available for each one.4

Sinews of America does not have a publication date on the booklet itself, so my next question was when it was published or—to be more exact—when the Government Printing Office (as it was then known) first made copies of it available. The answer is in the GPO catalogs, which were published monthly.5 The title of this publication changed over time, and two different titles mention Sinews of America:  United States Government Monthly Catalog, (the title from 1940 through 1950) and  Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications ( the title from 1951 until the GPO stopped issuing printed copies in 1998). Fortunately, two sets of books provide an index to these publications. Cumulative Title Index to United States Public Documents revealed that Sinews of America was published between 1949 and 1952 in multiple languages. At this point, I could have looked through all the monthly catalogs to see if the publication was listed under the “State Department” heading. I shortened this process by consulting the Cumulative Subject Index to the Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications, 1900-1971.6 The “Democracy” subject heading includes Sinews of America as well as a list of twenty languages into which the original publication was translated. Each language is followed by a year and a publication number that refers to the monthly catalogs. With a comprehensive list (or so I thought), finding all the Sinews of America editions in the catalogs would be easy! Oddly, the catalogs revealed that the English and Chinese editions were not mentioned in the subject index. A third resource—the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP) lists all editions, but it does not cross-reference the printed catalogs, which proved to be essential to my quest.

My printed catalog search revealed that editions were available in several languages not included in the Library of Virginia’s holdings: Persian, Korean, Marathi, Hindi, Telegu, Burmese, Urdu, Bengali, and Pashto. That led me to question why the Library of Virginia did not have a complete set, especially since entries with a dot next to their item number in the catalog were sent to libraries that were members of the Federal Depository Library Program. Notations by staff members in the printed catalogs answered this question. If an item had a check mark next to it, it is a part of the Library’s holdings. The original Sinews of America appeared in the December 1949 catalog, and the remaining editions were in several catalogs from 1950. The Library received only one copy after that time—the Arabic edition that was made available in 1951. The Persian edition does not have a check mark next to it, and the remaining editions all have a handwritten “C” for “Cancelled,” meaning that the Library ceased to receive the title. I now had my answer as to why the Library of Virginia has thirteen copies of Sinews of America in different languages, as well as the added knowledge that copies in even more languages exist.

Ultimately, my quest to determine why the Library of Virginia has thirteen copies of Sinews of America provided a better understanding of how to locate U.S. government publications. The Library of Virginia cataloged the federal publications in its holdings so that one can type a title or agency or subject into the Library’s online catalog to see what may be available, but the Cumulative Subject Index provides an additional way to search for subjects. For example, the index lists the Sinews of America under “Democracy,” but that is not a term used in the catalog records. Moreover, the Library of Virginia is not the only library that used the monthly catalogs as a checklist; that was the way that libraries managed their collection in the times before online catalogs and printed cumulative indexes. That is why even though the catalogs have been digitized, knowing how to consult printed volumes that are specific to a particular institution is still of great value. I will definitely be returning to these sources as I pursue research that involves federal publications!


[1] Leslie Lisle, United States Information Agency, 1953-1983 ([Washington, DC?]: United States Information Agency, 1984), 1.

[2] Dawn Spring, Advertising in the Age of Persuasion: Building Brand America 1941-1961 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 71.

[3] Detailed guidance is available for libraries and librarians on the Federal Depository Program’s website:

[4] Earlier guides include A Descriptive Catalogue of the Government Publications of the United States, September 5, 1774-March 4, 1881 and the Comprehensive Index to the Publications of the United States Government, 1881-1893.

[5] The monthly catalogs begin in 1895. John H. Hickox printed his own catalog for a decade prior: United States Government Publications: A Monthly Catalog.

[6] Earlier indexes include the Cumulative Index to Hickox’s Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications, 1885-1894 and the Cumulative Subject Index to the Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications, 1895-1899.

The author wishes to thank Acquisitions and Access Management Director Mary Clark for providing a lesson on how to research federal government publications and background on the Federal Depository Libraries Program.

Cara Griggs

Reference Archivist

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