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story.lead_photo.caption Nathan Elwood poses for a portrait Dec. 18 in the Missouri state Capitol Legislative Library in Jefferson City. Elwood is a legislative librarian. Photo by Claire Hassler, News Tribune

The only library that must exist in the state is the Legislative Library housed in the state Capitol, according to Missouri state statute.

The 2020 Missouri legislative session will be the first for Legislative Library Administrator Nathan Elwood, who came to this position at the end of the last session in May 2019.

"As defined by state law, we must collect, catalog and index the various materials that are created by or for the Legislature," Elwood said. "That includes the House and Senate journals, which we have going back to 1836, and the revised Missouri statutes, which we have going back to 1804, which is pre-statehood. We also have every bill that has been sponsored in the House and Senate going back to 1909."

Elwood said their mission has been defined as a reference service, assisting legislators who need to look at previous legislation that would impact their public policy goals.

"To that end, we collect materials on public policy, political science, history of the state, as well as statistical information about Missouri so that we try and anticipate any questions the lawmakers may have," Elwood said.

Even when the Legislature is not in session, Elwood said, they get questions from lawmakers and their staff about policy matters.

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"If they are interested in sponsoring a certain piece of legislation, they'll want to know if we've done anything like that before, have other states done that, or if there are studies on the kinds of impacts it will have," Elwood said.

Another service the library is starting this month — and making available throughout the Capitol — is a specialized research database that can give users access to political science and public policy journals along with statistical information on various topics.

During the past few months, Elwood said, he's been working to spread the word the Legislative Library is available not only to lawmakers, but to the public as well.

"In the statute it says we are here for the service of the public," Elwood said. "In my view, we are a public library. For the first time ever, we are issuing library cards. If people from Missouri want access to these materials just like the legislators, we're happy to provide it.

"One of the busiest times we have is right after the session ends because we field a lot of questions from the public about what pieces of legislation might do and how (to) get a copy of a piece of legislation."

While some of the information found in the Legislative Library can be found in other public libraries, Elwood said most of what they have can only be found there.

"A lot of what we collect here is very specialized, and it has a pretty specific focus on politics and the law," Elwood noted.

Elwood grew up in Eureka and graduated with a master's degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He later moved to Fort Hays State University in Kansas, where he was the social sciences librarian and worked with criminal justice and political science.

"Those areas deal every day with the study of public policy, and that's something that's always been a really strong interest of mine," Elwood said. "When this opportunity opened, my wife and I saw this as a chance to come back to this community, which we care a lot about."

The library is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday on the third floor on the north side of the Capitol.

To learn more about what the library offers, visit its Facebook page or contact staff via email to [email protected] or by calling 573-751-4633.

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