THE Department of State as a publisher is at obvious disadvantages as compared with other offices of the Government.

In the first place, most publications of the Department of State have the character of state documents of international significance. Usually they include communications which originate with other governments. These documents must be carefully printed without variation from the original text, and with every precaution for securing accuracy of translation where the original language is not English. It should be also a matter of pride to give dignity of appearance to the publications in which they appear together with the correspondence of the American Government, and carefully to avoid sloppy and careless editing or printing. To insure the desired accuracy it is necessary to read back to an original source. It not infrequently happens that original sources are unavailable, and it may be necessary to send halfway around the world for them. Compilation and editorial work under such conditions must necessarily be slow.

A second obstacle to rapid production is the necessity laid upon the Department of State by the rules of international courtesy not to publish documents which originate with another government without the express permission of that government. To be discourteous on an international scale is not only to be discourteous indeed but is also to forfeit international confidence. However, the securing of "permission to print" is often tedious, not necessarily because a foreign government is reluctant to give permission, but because such requests have to be handled in a routine fashion which requires time. As a matter of fact, the Department of State is meeting relatively little objection from other governments in its effort to supply the American public with information about foreign relations. In that respect all governments appear to realize that there is abroad in the world a new spirit.

The greatest obstacle, however, to successful publication by the Department of State is one least recognized by the public. The volume of demand for its publications is relatively small, so small, in fact, that the Department in the last fifty years has probably not published a single volume which had a sale sufficient to justify a commercial publisher in venturing to bring it out. For example, "Proceedings of the International Conference of the American States on Conciliation and Arbitration," Washington, 1929, cost for printing and binding nearly $8,000. To this must be added at least $2,500 for editorial work and proof reading. Even if "overhead" is not charged against the cost, it is apparent that this volume cost the Government in excess of $10,000. The edition was 1,400 copies. Although the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, has had the volume for sale for nearly five months at $1.60, a small fraction of the actual cost of production, he has sold at the time I write only 28 copies. Probably eventually he will dispose of all the two hundred copies which he has in stock, but his "turnover" on this particular publication will be very slow, so slow that no commercial publisher would have been warranted in publishing the volume.

It is of importance for the public to understand the publishing policy of the United States Government, for only then can one understand the part which the Department of State shares in it. The cost of composition and of a first edition of any publication of the Government, except those which originate with Congress, has to be borne by some office other than the Government Printing Office. The Superintendent of Documents has a revolving fund with which he pays for his stock of government publications. He is charged for the cost of paper, press work and binding on the number of copies which he orders, and he pays for nothing else. Theoretically the presses stop for a moment, the originating office is charged with all costs of production up to that point, and the Superintendent of Documents pays only for the cost of the work after operations have been resumed. He is permitted to add ten percent to the cost of the edition which he has ordered and these terms determine the sales price to the public. With a limited fund at his disposal, the Superintendent of Documents must buy stock much as an ordinary bookseller would, with due regard to the sales demand. Nothing in his records warrants him in carrying a large stock of Department of State publications nor is he in a position to store large stocks of them, notwithstanding the fact that the demand for these publications, while not initially large, is fairly steady over a long period of years.

Let us choose as an illustration a fairly well known series of the publications of the Department. It is probable that, with the increasing interest in international affairs, five hundred complete sets of "Foreign Relations of the United States," a series which began in 1861, could be sold by the Superintendent of Documents in the next twenty-five years. And yet in the past twenty-five years probably no single volume in the entire set has sold to the extent of 500 copies. "Foreign Relations" is now out of print for all years prior to 1895, as well as for 1898-1905, 1914, 1915 and 1916; and it is understood that the volume for 1917 is also nearly sold out. It might be argued that the Superintendent of Documents ought to feel the obligation to keep complete sets of "Foreign Relations of the United States" in stock at all times. It has been pointed out that while the demand for publications of this sort is not large, it is important. However, it is questionable whether the importance is of such a character as to warrant the very large outlay of capital which would be required to reprint in an edition of 500 the volumes of "Foreign Relations" which are now out of print and carry them for the twenty-five or more years which would be necessary to work them off at prices which represent but a small fractional part of their cost of production.

It should also be recalled that through the office of the Superintendent of Documents there is distributed free to approximately five hundred libraries complete or partial sets of all congressional documents and in fact many other government publications. These libraries, many of which were selected in the early days of the Republic with reference to location and ability to care for the volumes, are called "Depository Libraries."

Quite clearly the United States Government should not go into the publishing business on a commercial basis, and, in fact, it never has. The present policy, by which the public is charged hardly more than a nominal price for government publications, prevents much waste of governmental expenditures such as was common in other days. The nominal charge for government publications should be retained; probably it should be increased, for the public would value these publications more highly if it had to pay more for them. As for publications of the Department of State, it is likely that they will always be quickly out of print and the book-buyer will do well -- and profitably -- to buy early. The surest method of obtaining what is desired is to place with the Superintendent of Documents a deposit and a standing order. Only in this way is that office able to gauge the demand and order accordingly. I am informed that at the present moment, notwithstanding the vocal demands for publications of the Department of State, the Superintendent of Documents has only eighteen deposit accounts for all publications of the Department, and only forty-seven subscriptions for "Press Releases."

The publications of the Department of State fall into two categories, "serials" and "occasionals."

The serials are "Foreign Relations of the United States," "Treaty Series," "Proclamations," "Executive Orders," "Register of the Department of State," "Foreign Service List," "Diplomatic List," and to this list have recently been added "Press Releases" and "Bulletin of Treaty Information." A third new sub-series will be known as "Executive Agreement Series." It will contain the text of international acts, such as exchanges of notes, which hitherto have appeared in the "Treaty Series" and which have thus made the term "Treaty Series" a somewhat incorrect title. "Executive Agreement Series" will be serially numbered and will also bear a statement showing where it may be inserted into a file of the "Treaty Series" to provide an unbroken list of texts, chronologically arranged, of all international acts of the United States.

By occasional publications is meant such books and pamphlets as "Proceedings of the International Conference of American States on Conciliation and Arbitration," "Report of the Chairman, Commission of Inquiry and Conciliation, Bolivia and Paraguay" and "The American Foreign Service," all of which have been published within the last few months.

Beginning with October 1929 these publications, with the exception of "Treaty Series," which is already numbered, were brought within a single serially numbered series so that each new publication receives on the verso of the title page, or elsewhere, its appropriate serial number as a publication of the Department. Usually the publications which naturally fall into sub-series are also numbered serially on the title page. One now has a means, therefore, of knowing whether one has all of the preceding publications of the Department, or all of the preceding publications of a certain sub-series. Wherever the Department of State is in a position to assure the Superintendent of Documents of the approximate total number of pages for a year, subscription prices may be fixed. It is obvious, however, that many publications, often those most desired, are in the "occasional" class and their size or frequency cannot be foreseen. The problem of the distribution of publications of the Department of State is inextricably knit with the larger problem of the sale and distribution of all Government publications. This is largely a matter of law, and doubtless the Public Printer, the Joint Committee on Printing, and Congress would listen sympathetically to any constructive suggestions which can be made for the improvement of the methods by which Government publications are sold and distributed.

The two publication projects of the Department of State which have recently claimed the most public interest are the preparation of a new and definitive edition of the "Treaties and other International Acts of the United States" and the clearing up of the arrears in the publication of "Foreign Relations of the United States," the last published volume of which is for the year 1917.

The appropriation act for the Department of State for the current fiscal year authorized the creation of the position of Treaty Editor, and this was offered to David Hunter Miller, well known as an international lawyer and scholar. Mr. Miller assumed his duties on October 1, 1929, and his work is well under way. Strangely enough, it does not appear that any edition of the treaties and agreements of the United States has ever been published where precautions were uniformly taken to read back to original texts and to check translations, dates and such other facts as are essential to the perfection of a treaty text publication. Great precautions are now being taken to provide texts so accurate and complete that the pages can be plated and held available for all time to come. The original language of the authorized text of the treaty will always be included; and where that text is not English it will of course be accompanied by a translation. The publication of the texts of treaties will be followed by a volume of notes giving briefly the diplomatic, legislative and judicial history of the document, with appropriate citations to related Congressional documents and judicial decisions. In view of the fact that the treaty texts are now difficult to obtain, effort is being concentrated on the preparation of the earlier volumes of this series. Mr. Miller's notes will be postponed until after the texts have been published and made available.

The publication of diplomatic correspondence of the United States for recent years has been subjected to many annoying delays but it is believed that most of the obstacles are now cleared away and that the work can go forward rapidly. Unquestionably, new problems are just over the horizon and will soon have to be met. Will it be possible, for example, for the Department of State to publish a record of the Paris Peace Conference which will be sufficiently adequate to warrant publication at all? The decision of this question rests in part with other participating governments whose assent would have to be obtained before many of the most important documents could be published.

Immediately following the World War the diplomatic correspondence of the United States increased in direct ratio to the increase in the complexity and extent of the international interests of the American Government. Publication for the post-war years on the scale on which publication for the pre-war years was carried on would involve a great increase in the size of the volumes for any single year. The compression of documentation will become one of the most perplexing problems. It is even possible that some further subdivision of the correspondence will have to be made, perhaps by segregating correspondence with certain political areas as, for example, the Far East. It seems quite possible that "Foreign Relations" for 1929 will comprise from four to six volumes, each of 500 pages and each devoted either to a political area or to a series of topics. Such suggestions are of course speculative but they raise questions which those who use these volumes might profitably discuss. The Department of State would be interested to have the views of such persons.

It may be fairly claimed that the Department of State now has, with reference not only to the publication of its correspondence but also to the use of its archives, the most liberal policy of any government in the world. This is in obvious accord with the spirit of the times. It should be repeated, however, that in carrying forward this program the American Government is meeting with an extremely gratifying degree of coöperation from other governments. More and more the foreign offices of the world are coming to realize that a public which is enlightened and intelligent about international relations is an asset to those upon whom are placed the special responsibilities for the conduct of foreign relations.

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  • TYLER DENNETT, Chief of the Division of Publications of the Department of State; author of several historical works.
  • More By Tyler Dennett