One Giant Leap for Mankind: Finding Moon Landing Reports at the Library
Accompanied by these words Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon on July 21 1969, six hours after the lunar module of the Apollo 11 spaceflight landed there and less than 10 years after President Kennedy issued his famous challenge. There have been countless more words spoken and written about the achievement since. As the Library’s Government Documents Specialist I would be remiss if I didn’t direct you to the very professional website created by the NASA History Office to commemorate the event (see left). If you want to go even deeper try the NASA Technical Reports Server. But that role also compels me to take you on a rather less straightforward excursion, one that may be wild and wonderful, but more likely is weird and frustrating. It starts normally enough with the general report of the entire mission.
Probably no one would be surprised to learn that there was a formal report of the moon-landing mission. Published by the Scientific and Technical Information Office with an eye-catching cover photo (left), it was a pretty substantial (217 pp.) and comprehensive account. It included a Pilot’s Report, plenty of technical details on Trajectory, Performance of different elements of the craft, a Biomedical Evaluation and even an Anomaly Summary. But it is the manner of publishing that might be slightly surprising and illustrates a couple of wild and wonderful—or frustrating—things about the research collections of the Library. For NASA decided to release this attractive version in its Special Publication (SP) series, some of which was sold through the commercial stream of government publications, not the widely known and freely available depository library stream (see GPO catalog entry 71-11476). Also in this series are analyses of the photography and visual observations from Apollo 8 (SP 201) and Apollo 10 (SP 232) as well as the preliminary report for the Mariner exploration of Mars (SP 225). The first two were distributed through the depository program; the last one not. The mission report for Apollo 10 was released in another series altogether. Wild? The practical result of these decisions is that relatively few more-or-less normal libraries own these works, at least as determined by shared entries in the ‘universal’ library catalog that librarians use, WorldCat from OCLC. Nor would that catalog tell you that we own those works either. You were warned about frustration.
This notable fact illustrates several features—not bugs—in the operating systems of the research collections. Perhaps most salient here is the widespread tendency at NYPL, especially among the government documents holdings, to keep publications together in series. In this case it means that the above-mentioned titles are held under the nearly opaque title NASA SP by their publication numbers. To me this is a manifestation of the themes (hashtags?) More Things (NYPL) Librarians Have to Remember, or The Wonders of Collection-Level Records, both possible themes for the future. But less strange and more substantial is that this series is a product of a rather special relationship the Library has had with NASA and its predecessors for more than 50 years, another topic for the future. Thus publications in this series and others were given to the Library directly by NASA on account of its perception of the role of the Library in public education. As a result you can follow pretty much the entire history of US space exploration through one or another of these series of government publications. That is if you can track them down.
And so how is one to track them down? By using some other sort of catalog of course, either the one from OCLC, or another much beloved catalog in the library world, the Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications and then trying to figure out how we might have rendered them in our catalog. In some other library you could try doing what I did—wander the stacks in the relevant sections snooping in likely series holdings. But in our Library you should follow the advice that applies pretty universally—Ask a Librarian!
Oh, and Happy Moon-Landing Day.