Today, President Obama nominated Federal Reserve vice chair Janet Yellen to succeed Ben Bernanke as the head of the United States' most powerful authority in monetary policy. (Bernanke will complete an eight-year term as Fed chair in January 2014.) If Yellen's nomination is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, her appointment will mark the first time that a woman has helmed a central bank in the United States – or any other country in the world.
So what's all the fuss about "The Fed"? A quick review of the 2012 U.S. Government Manual should clear up any confusion. The entry for the Federal Reserve System describes the weighty mission of the organization thusly: "FRS contributes to the strength and vitality of the U.S. economy. By influencing the lending and investing activities of depository institutions and the cost and availability of money and credit, the FRS promotes the full use of human and capital resources, the growth of productivity, relatively stable prices, and equilibrium in the Nation's international balance of payments. Through its supervisory and regulatory banking functions, FRS helps maintain a commercial banking system that is responsive to the Nation's financial needs and objectives."
A 2012 Congressional Research Service report provides more detail about the activities and oversight of this important independent agency, which will celebrate its 100th birthday on December 23. In preparation for its centennial, the Fed recently expanded its research system FRASER (Federal Reserve Archival System for Economic Research) to include more archival materials from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Harry S. Truman Library. FRASER contains a treasure trove of reports, papers, congressional hearings, and archival materials related to the history and operations of this critically important banking system.
To learn more about the Fed's history and its role in regulating the U.S. economy, search the Duke University Libraries catalog for the subject heading "Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.)". You’ll find titles like the recent e-book The Federal Reserve: What Everyone Needs to Know, The Federal Reserve System: A History, and an exhaustive 3-volume History of the Federal Reserve. For help locating these or other titles, be sure to Ask a Librarian.