Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

Program Type: Workshop, possible series

Audience: Teens and Adults, groups up to 10 persons

Time Frame: One hour per session

Space Needed:

  • Tables and chairs
  • Computer and projector
  • Ideal: Tour of collections

Budget Considerations:

  • Staff time
  • Honorarium for guest speakers


The Federal Depository Library Program is a plan by the Federal Government designed to provide free, guided access to a variety of government publications. These include Hearings, Supreme Court decisions, and less spot-light publications like geographic studies, and Patent Office collections. For full details see the Government Printing Office site:


These collections offer incredible insight into US history, and it’s true, sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Working in collaboration with your local government documents librarian, create a series of workshops highlighting the pieces of the collection that would be of value to steampunk writers, costumers, or just your general Victorian history buff. Topics to consider are:

  • The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office- crazy brilliant inventions from the Wild West to the elite leisure creations of Edwardian 5th Avenue. Research the technologies people hoped to create as a way to build your own steampunk worlds.
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs collections – understand the realities of Natives in Victorian America and see the language authentic to the period.
  • Maps – Many Regional Depositories collect maps and other geographic publications. These show how regions of the US changed over time and how those changes affected the people living in those areas. Original copies may also include fold-out illustrations that were hand-created, a respectable form of employment for women of the day.
  • Health, Education, Labor & Pension Committee- Started in 1869 as the Committee on Education and in 1884 through the mid-1900s it was known as the Education and Labor Committee these papers give insight into the mental and health state of the US. These realities add authenticity to any steampunk story.
  • US Code and State Statues- What laws were in affect in 1880 that aren’t now? What states had public decency laws regarding swimsuits? What about immigration in 1897? Searching through old copies of federal and state legal volumes can add the details needed to make every costume realistic and every story true to period.


Online Resources-

Find your local Depository:

FDLP Training:

American Library Association Government Documents Round Table:

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