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Senator Robert M. La Follette Sr. of Wisconsin, photograph, ca. 1911

Senator Robert M. La Follette Sr. of Wisconsin published a weekly magazine that reflected his progressive views on politics and culture. In a July 1914 issue he announced Congress’s approval of his proposal for a legislative research service. He explained legislators’ pressing need for assistance and expertise in accessing the vast resources of the Library of Congress to make informed decisions.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Senator Robert M. La Follette Sr. of Wisconsin, photograph, ca. 1911

The Legislative Reference Service

Progressive-era reformers relied upon experts, to guide their policy proposals. They believed that the best legislator is a well-informed legislator, so a dozen states established legislative reference bureaus between 1903 and 1913. In 1911 Senator Robert L. Owen Jr. of Oklahoma proposed such a service for Congress, an idea later supported by Senator Robert La Follette Sr. of Wisconsin. In 1914 Congress created the Legislative Reference Service (LRS). The LRS—renamed the Congressional Research Service in 1970––objectively compiles and analyzes information requested by members of Congress for legislative purposes.

The aim of the new provision is to make serviceable in suitable form for immediate use the legislative resources of our national library.

Senator Robert La Follette Sr., La Follette’s Weekly, July 4, 1914