Know Your NOAA!

NOAA Research Vessel Okeanos Explorer Photo Credit: Allen Shimada, NOAA/NMFS/OST, via the NOAA Photo Library

Written by Meghan Campbell, Government Publications

Through the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA or the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, is an amalgamation of a few different government agencies created in 1970. Though its name might be self-explanatory, NOAA exists to observe and protect the interests of our world at large via the earth’s oceans and its atmosphere. Its scientists and personnel cover a multitude of different areas of the planet and its natural relationships to us. Weather warning systems, discovering new ocean creatures, and protecting marine sanctuaries is only a small portion of what makes up NOAA’s work. 

One of NOAA’s more notable contributions is in research; specifically that of the global deep seas. NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, (named after the Greek titan Okeanos), is a research vessel that conducts frequent and enlightening ventures that seek to discover new marine habitats, species, and find new evidence to build upon previous research. The Okeanos’ expeditions to the deep sea has yielded some pretty spectacular imagery from around the world, with a lot of it being in our own backyard! From sea star fights, shrimp battles, and even sea toads, the NOAA Ocean Explorer Youtube channel regularly broadcasts live and also edited clips of some of the footage that has been captured under the surface of the water. 

To quell the curiosity of various subjects between marine life, water cycles, weather, and more, NOAA also has a dedicated resource collection on their website. These brief but informative guides help cover basics for differing subject areas for anyone who wants to know more. In addition to these guides, there is also a section for an elementary audience as well as other resources for educators. 

NOAA provides great kid-friendly resources for younger ages to enjoy and learn from. A Good Catch: Managing Fisheries to Meet the Nation’s Demand for Seafood, is a beautifully illustrated and well-told book that explains the varying facets of ocean fishing and how NOAA contributes to help maintain a healthy ocean. With brief but informative sections from phytoplankton to fish farming, “A Good Catch”  proves to be a wonderful free resource and also serves as an example of what kind of documents are hosted through the NOAA Institutional Repository. The repository hosts many different NOAA publications and documents, including peer-reviewed articles, which makes it another great portal of information for research. The repository can also be supplemented with the NOAA Photo Library, which contains collections of photos that were taken only by NOAA employees.

Other additions that can educate younger audiences are that of a kid’s activity book; made for kindergarten to third graders, it contains facts, crossword puzzles, and even drawing activities to help them become “Official Ocean Guardians”.  To shake things up, NOAA has even put out a great video titled: The Octonauts & NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, which gives a fantastic inside look at the research vessel guided by a host and the ship’s crew! 

 

Chincoteague Bay Wetlands Photo Credit: Captain Albert E. Theberge, NOAA Corps (ret.), via the NOAA Photo Library

America’s Wondrous Wetlands: A Quick Overview of Government Resources

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

One of the greatest things about the United States is the richness of its physical landscape and environment, which many of us constantly interact with throughout our lives. Wetlands are an integral part of this intricate network, coming in many different forms and serving a myriad of purposes in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. The Clean Water Act defines wetlands as “areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas.” This in turns provides guidance to a number of federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in identifying and properly protecting these delicate areas.

The modern world can often be harsh on the wetlands of the United States. They provide homes to a wide variety of plant and animal life, along with migratory waystations for numerous bird species. Wetlands also serve as an integral part of a larger system of waterways, as they often provide relief during floods as temporary reservoirs and are able to help remove toxins from the waters that pass through them. However, human encroachment from things such as development and farming can cause irreparable damage to these habitats. Other threats that are mostly unpredictable include climate change and manmade disasters. A horrific example of the latter that affected this region was the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, which caused millions of gallons of oil to dump into the Gulf of Mexico, doing immeasurable harm to wetlands in Louisiana and other areas of the Gulf coast.

For these reasons, it is vital that federal agencies continue to work closely with state and local governments to protect our nation’s wetland areas. Native American Tribal governments take an integral leadership role in this effort, working in conjunction with these organizations to preserve these landscapes that are so important to our environment’s continued survival. Here are a number of government resources that will help you gain further knowledge on these ongoing projects.

Videos

NOAA Fisheries – Huntington Beach (CA) Wetland Restoration

EPA – Wetlands and Wonder

Bill Nye the Science Guy – Wetlands (Not a government resource, but fun nonetheless!)

Agency Websites

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – National Wetland Plant List

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services – National Wetlands Inventory

Fish and Wildlife Services – Working with Native American Tribes

EPA – Wetlands Protection and Restoration

NOAA Fisheries – Five Reasons We Love Wetlands

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation – Wetlands

McWherter Government Publications eResources

Saving the Nation’s Wetlands

Wetlands: An Overview of the Issues

Wild About Wetlands *kid friendly*

Restoring America’s Wetlands

America’s Gulf Coast: A Long Term Recovery Plan After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

 

Thirty Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

 

President George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act
President George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act July 26th, 1990. Photo courtesy of the National Archives Flickr

Written by Lauren Gilbreth, Government Publications 

On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush; this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of its passing. The ADA was and is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation, meant to protect people with disabilities from discrimination and provide them with greater access to public life. Divided into five titles, the first four each address a different area of public life covered by the Act: employment, state and local government, public accommodations, and telecommunications.  The ADA slowly went into effect over the course of the four years following its passing, with full compliance expected by the end of 1994.

The institution of the Americans with Disabilities Act was not welcomed by everyone. Numerous court cases challenged the new regulations required, including a set of Supreme Court cases known as the Sutton Trilogy. The Sutton cases resulted in a narrower definition of disability than the one provided in the initial act, which in turn limited the number of people protected by the ADA. A later Supreme Court Case, Toyota Motor Manufacturing v Williams, further limited the protections provided by the Act by once again pushing for a narrower definition of disability.

These Supreme Court Cases, as well as other issues, eventually resulted in the ADA Amendments Act, signed into law in 2008 by President George W. Bush. The Amendments Act expanded the legal definition of disability and provided broader protections against discrimination. While the 2008 Amendment was the most major change to the Act since it was passed, there have been several updates and additions in the past decade and a half, adapting it to changing times and technologies.

The full text of the act is available through the University of Memphis Libraries (https://sierra.memphis.edu/record=b2409512~S5).  Numerous government publications connected to the ADA are also available from the Libraries, ranging from congressional hearings concerning aspects of the act to a guide to writing an accommodation request letter. Many of these resources are highlighted in the ADA Awareness Virtual Book Display: https://libguides.memphis.edu/virtual-book-display. If you’re interested in exploring the ADA, its history, and its applications further, the following links should also be useful:

The National Park Service and Accessibility: Change for All

Written by Benjamin Clanton, Government Publications

A man in his off-road wheelchair enjoying Yellowstone National Park. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/Jacob W. Frank Flickr

The National Park Service lists the Americans with Disabilities Act as one of its guiding principles in its continued efforts to make parks around the country more accessible to all visitors. On their website, the NPS outlines their efforts at compliance with the commercial section of the Act, stating that “accessibility law prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life.” In 2012, a task force was created to fully realize accessibility goals that dated back to 1961 and have continued up through today; the task force admitted that the National Park Service has not done enough in the past to assure that visitors with disabilities could fully enjoy what their parks had to offer. In a document titled All In! Accessibility in the National Park Service 2015-2020, it outlined a 5 year strategic plan to enact widespread improvements to National Parks and create a “cultural shift” that would stretch well beyond 2020. The Task Force expressed the following at the beginning of this process: “Barriers to National Park Service facilities and programs deny visitors with disabilities the opportunity to experience their parks, and our ability to share America’s stories with all visitors. While notable advancements have been made, much is needed to break down the barriers and embrace greater inclusivity.”

The NPS has also created an interpretative Disability History Series for those interested in the long path towards the ADA and wider accessibility in our society, which you can view here. Finally, the Government Publications collection at McWherter Library contains material on individual parks printed in braille for visitors with low sight or blindness; these materials are created at the Harpers Ferry Center for Media Services, and you can further explore its role in the National Park Service’s goals toward greater accessibility here. It will be interesting to observe the NPS as it continues to strive towards making its parks, one of our nation’s great resources in education and recreation, more accessible and inclusive to all potential visitors.

Additional ADA Government Resources

Written by Meghan Campbell, Government Publications 

To support the ADA, many federal agencies have adopted their own policies to help accommodate those who need it. Agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), for example, have an extensive list of accessibility guides. These guides range from services such as “711 for Telecommunications Relay”, Closed Captioning (for a variety of different formats), to “Speech-to-Speech Relay” services.

Even with these protocols in place though, no system is perfect, and that is where the Government Accountability Office (GAO) comes in. In 2015, the GAO submitted a report titled: “Accessible Communications : FCC should evaluate the effectiveness of its public outreach efforts”. This report provided an evaluation, encouraging the FCC to consider their outreach endeavors and how it affects their accessibility programs. These types of inquiries and evaluations ensure that protocols and services are constantly being updated and improved.

In addition to the FCC, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has their own ways of contributing to the ADA. In their recent publication “Beyond the Cases: 26 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act”, the DOJ features stories from around the country and how the ADA has affected change. From transportation, voting, accessible technology, and other areas of everyday life, the DOJ highlights ways the DOJ has helped contribute to the enforcement of the ADA.

Alongside these other agencies, Access Board (also known as the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board) is an independent federal agency that helps develop (in their own words from their “About” page): “accessible design” and “accessibility guidelines and standards”. Since 1973, Access Board has provided guidance in assuring that facilities such as recreational areas, buildings, sidewalks, and even medical equipment is ADA compliant and is accessible for all. To celebrate the 30 anniversary of the ADA, Access Board is hosting a virtual celebration via Zoom, open to the public. Details can be found here.