‘In the matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer;’ the saga of a government publication

Publishing a book is normally a very lengthy and complex process. Texts must be read thoroughly, proofread, checked for accuracy and edited accordingly. Printing machinery must be calibrated and prepped with enough ink and paper. In the pre-internet era, instant publication of important information in print form faced many hurdles.

The Government Printing Office has always been accustomed to confronting this dilemma. Founded in 1861 as the official publisher of all federal government materials, the GPO has a considerable amount of experience in quickly churning out print materials for consumption by the American public. However, in June of 1954 they faced a particularly difficult challenge. The physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer was undergoing a hearing in front of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. At the heart of the hearings was whether Oppenheimer, the man who was selected by the U.S. military to helm the top-secret laboratory at Los Alamos where the atomic bomb was developed, should continue to hold a high-level security clearance and have access to the country’s most sensitive data on atomic weapons. Oppenheimer’s war record, post-war activities and the events leading to his hearing with the AEC in 1954 have been discussed in greater detail elsewhere. In summation, the hearing involved testimony from several dozen witnesses, many of whom were prominent men in political, military and scientific fields. This was not a public hearing and all witnesses were assured by the AEC that their statements would remain confidential.

Logo of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

The chief instigator of the hearings was the chair of the AEC, Lewis Strauss. For a variety of political and personal reasons, Strauss had developed an intense dislike of Oppenheimer and displayed an obsessive fixation on removing him from a position of decision-making power. Concerned that Oppenheimer enjoyed too much public goodwill due to his part in developing the first atomic bombs and helping end the war, Strauss desperately wanted to portray Oppenheimer in as negative a light as possible. The result of the hearing was a foregone conclusion: Oppenheimer’s security clearance was going to be revoked regardless of any testimony for or against it and Strauss felt that making the hearing public would help show the American people that Oppenheimer was not the “atomic age” hero they all believed him to be.

Op-ed from the June 8, 1954 issue of The Indianapolis Star in support of Oppenheimer. From the article: “Dr. Oppenheimer is one of America’s most brilliant scientists. His country owes him a tremendous debt for his work on perfecting the atomic bomb, and later the hydrogen bomb. Certainly America owes him the greatest possible consideration for his services. Certainly we must bend over backward, even to the point of taking some risk, to uphold him now.” This is an example of the kind of sentiment Strauss was desperate to quash with the release of the transcripts.

Sometime shortly after June 11, 1954, Strauss strongly urged, and was able to convince, other members of the AEC to publish the transcripts of the hearings in their entirety and to do it as soon as possible. The AEC desperately tried to reach each witness and alert them that statements they had made under the assurance of confidentially would shortly become public knowledge and fodder for the press.

The transcript of the hearing ended up comprising a whopping 3,000 pages. Much of the discussions held within revolved around confidential national security issues and therefore someone would need to read through everything very carefully and redact any information deemed too sensitive for public consumption. Someone else would need to go through the entire transcript and perform basic editing. The final product, titled “In the matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” ended up comprising 993 pages and was officially released on June 15, 1954, mere days after Strauss convinced the AEC to go ahead with publication. It was no small feat that the GPO was able to produce this massive volume so quickly and thus make important information available to the American public.

The final product from GPO. Note the date stamped in the upper corner. The volume was released June 15, 1954. The Indiana State Library received their copy several weeks later on July 8, 1954.

The release received a front page headline in the Indianapolis Star.

Ultimately, the swift publication of the hearing did not have the affect Strauss wanted. Instead of damning Oppenheimer in the mind of the American public, many were alarmed at what they perceived as governmental bullying since parts of the hearing veered into salacious aspects of Oppenheimer’s personal life. Others noted that most of the security-related objections to Oppenheimer were well-known prior to his war work on the Manhattan Project. Essentially, the government had known most of the information released in the hearing and still trusted him to oversee the largest top-secret military project in history. The motivation to remove him from playing any role in the further development of atomic weapons was deemed political and petty and would eventually factor into Strauss’s own political downfall several years later.

The full unredacted transcript of the hearing was declassified in 2014 and is available in its entirety from the U.S. Department of Energy here.

In 2022, the decision to revoke Oppenheimer’s security clearance was officially vacated. The full text of the decision made by the Department of Energy is available here.

Curtis, Charles P. “The Oppenheimer case: the trial of a security system.” New York: Simone and Schuster, 1955. (ISLM QC16.O62 C8)

Schlesinger Jr., Arthur M. “The Oppenheimer case.” The Atlantic, October 1954.

Stern, Philip M. “The Oppenheimer case: security on trial.” New York : Harper & Row, 1969. (ISLM QC16.O82 S69)

U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. “In the matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: transcript of hearing before the Personnel Security Board.” Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office, 1954. (ISLM p.d. 925 O62i)

This blog post was written by Jocelyn Lewis, Catalog Division supervisor, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

An intern’s preservation experience at the Indiana State Library

I am a graduate student in library science at Indiana University Bloomington. When the time came to complete an internship, I decided to learn about government documents by applying to intern with the Indiana State Library – our regional depository of federal documents. The Indiana State Library joined the preservation steward program early. This program asks libraries to commit to keeping and preserving government documents of their choice. As their intern, I had the opportunity to sort through a large collection of oversized documents in order to add them to ISL’s preservation stewardship agreement.

The best part about working with large, old documents is that they are full of beautiful maps, drawings and other images.

The documents I handled were all from 1965 or earlier. The oldest document that I handled was the Laws of the United States of America printed in 1796.

In addition to working on the stewardship program, I worked on lists of documents posted to the Indiana Needs and Offers Database. These are documents that a library wants to remove from their collection, but first offers them to the regional library, then other libraries. The Indiana State Library will claim any document posted to these lists that is not currently part of their collection. My job was to find these items on the shelves – easier said than done! I spent hours hunting down public document call numbers and checking shelves to ensure that the library did not miss a chance to add new documents to the collection.

Finally, I learned about digitization, a critical skill for a new librarian as libraries all over the country have ongoing digitization projects. I digitized a series of Indiana state elections results from 1960 to the 1980s. It is great to be a part of the preservation of Indiana history.

My internship at the Indiana State Library has been informative and given me important experience with the everyday work of government documents librarians. Thank you to all of the talented librarians who took the time to teach me over the last few months!

This blog post was written by Rachel Holder, a graduate student in library science at Indiana University Bloomington and the Federal Documents Intern with the Reference and Government Documents Division.

Helpful online legal resources available from the Indiana Courts website

Many, or perhaps even most, public librarians in Indiana know that forms for filing for a divorce in Indiana are available at the Indiana Supreme Court Self-Service Legal Center. The forms are divided into four categories: with children with an agreement on all issues, with children without an agreement on all issues, without children with agreement on all issues and without children without an agreement on all issues. But, did you know resources for a number of other legal issues can be found on the Indiana Courts’ website, either at the public courts portal or at the self-service web page?

In addition to divorce, the Indiana Courts web pages also provide helpful information about child support guidelines. Furthermore, parenting time guidelines, a calendar and a child support calculator are available. The Self-Service Legal Center also contains sample forms for expungement and links to help with mortgage foreclosures. A page on small claims court provides a video to watch before making a decision to go to small claims court without an attorney, as well as a link to Marion County Small Claims Court (damages limited to $8,000) rules and forms and a handbook on how to handle small claims court cases outside of Marion County. Information on how to apply for a marriage license is also available.

When you share these resources with patrons seeking assistance with legal research, remember to steer clear of practicing law. Avoid telling the patron your opinion or what you think they should do by using an appropriate disclaimer such as “I can’t offer you any advice. You would need to see an attorney to get legal advice on your individual situation.”

Additional resources:
Indiana Child Support Hotline
(800) 840-8757
Automated payment information is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Customer service representatives are available from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday.

Indiana Parenting Time Helpline
(844) 836-0003
Help is available from 12 p.m. until 5 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday. Staffed by licensed attorneys who can provide education about parenting time guidelines, information about visitation questions and relevant referrals for assistance.

This blog post was written by Cheri Harris, certification program director/legal consultant, Indiana State Library. Cheri can be reached by email.

Donating manuscripts


Sledding in Broad Ripple Park, circa 1900.

This time of year usually brings snow and ice, an overindulgence of baked goods (sugar cream pie, anyone?), tax refund shopping – and hopefully, spending quality time with family and friends. Perhaps you’ve had a conversation with a relative about whether or not to keep Grandpa’s letters from the Korean War? Maybe you opened a couple moving boxes and wondered if you should trash high school photographs?

Think about it.

You are a key part of defining Indiana’s history and culture. Help us preserve it by donating your collection to the Indiana State Library. As the season of spring cleaning quickly approaches, contact us if you find yourself in a dilemma. For more information on what we collect, visit the library’s Donating Manuscripts page.

This blog post was written by Bethany Fiechter, Rare Books and Manuscripts supervisor, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at (317) 232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

Government information webinars

The Indiana State Library (ISL) participates in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), serving as the regional depository for the state of Indiana. Being the regional depository means ISL collects all titles published by the Government Publishing Office (GPO). In addition to collecting titles, ISL employs a federal documents librarian to assist both patrons and fellow librarians with government information requests. Government information is considered a niche field within the library community due the lack of courses offered on the topic in most library science programs. Luckily, GPO created the FDLP Academy as a resource to offer additional training and learning opportunities.

GPO has made strides in presenting and hosting free hour-long webinars on various topics relating to government information. Hosted through FDLP Academy, GPO provides numerous webinars and webcasts designed to educate and promote government information. Topics vary from instructional tutorials of FDLP procedures to in-depth talks on government agencies and everything in-between. Webinars are hosted by GPO staff, as well as from the government information community. Visit the FDLP Events Calendar to see upcoming webinars and events.

The goal of the FDLP Academy is to provide educational information relating to government information and to also illustrate the procedures and requirements of depository libraries. The images above and below display the various services offered from GPO. Most webinars offered through the FDLP Academy are an hour in length, and are eligible for one library education unit (LEU). Additionally GPO offers an eight week Coordinator Certificate Program that provides a more in depth discussion with weekly readings and assignments. The program offers the most intensive option of learning FDLP requirements and basic competencies from GPO. All of the services offered are free to access.

Here’s an additional learning opportunity upcoming with Government Information Day 2018 (GID18):

Plug time! On Thursday, May 24, 2018 the Indiana State Library will host the third Government Information Day. The theme for this year’s one-day conference is Advocacy, Research and Collaboration. The event will feature several speakers discussing topics relating to local, state and federal government information. The keynote speaker for GID18 will be GPO’s Laurie Beyer Hall, superintendent of documents. Registration to GID18 will be posted before the end of the month and the conference is free to attend. Librarians can earn up to four LEUs toward their certification. For any questions, please contact Federal Documents Librarian Brent Abercrombie via email or at (317) 232-3733.

This blog post was written by Indiana State Library Federal Documents Coordinator Brent Abercrombie. For more information, contact the Reference and Government Services at (317) 232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”