Union Station is a hub of activity: Metro trains, commuter trains, buses, government buildings, restaurants, museums. It is the closest Metro station to Sewall-Belmont House (a Weekly Museum Visit) and my internship at the National Postal Museum. The Supreme Court and the Senate side of the Capitol complex are also nearby; I exited the Metro system at Union Station every day while I held jobs at the Capitol.
More recently, I visited the bookstore and museum portions of the Government Publishing Office (GPO). The exhibit space highlights the agency’s mission of “Keeping America Informed”, which is near and dear to my heart. (My blog’s name is a reference to the seminal 1992 report Excellence and Equity: Education and the Public Dimension of Museums, in which the writers proclaimed museum educators’ desire for “an informed and humane citizenry.”)
In visiting both the museum and the bookstore, I saw a variety of titles that GPO had published over the years. There were books about outer space and National Parks, dry-looking tomes full of government regulations and colorful activity books for kids, citizenship test study guides and glossy photo books honoring the military. The titles varied: Public Pages of the Presidents. Let’s Have Fun with Fire Safety. Mindfulness and Judging.
One interesting thread throughout the small exhibit was the history of employment practices at the agency. As I’ve mentioned in other recent posts, I’m interested both in internal labor aspects of museums and in seeing an element of self-reflection at museums that tell the story of a profession or professional body. While this small exhibit space certainly did not provide an exhaustive treatment of either theme, I appreciated seeing such ideas addressed at all.
According to the wall text, in 1924, GPO was the first government agency in which employees won the right to collectively bargain for wages. As the exhibit explored technological changes at different points in history (until 2014, the agency was called the Government Printing Office), the text emphasized that despite worries that technology upgrades would result in lost jobs, such fears did not come to fruition.
Moreover, a description of two cases involving sex and race discrimination, respectively, at GPO in the 1970s and 1980s, ends with: “Although difficult, these two cases opened the door to fairer treatment and helped form the body of law that protects all Federal workers from discrimination today.”
While I would not recommend GPO if you are looking to learn about difficult history in-depth, it’s nice to see a museum not shy away from it. The GPO exhibit and bookstore are interesting places to drop by if you like books, government history, or exploring lesser-known sites. It may be off the beaten path in the sense that it is not on every tourist’s bucket list, but it is just a couple of blocks from the Metro station.
Union Station is on the Red Line.