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Government documents


Government documents can help you

  • find results of government funded research past and present
  • find up-to-date information on government activities
  • stay informed about your local, state, and federal government
  • make use of the services your government provides
  • locate information that cannot be found in other sources

Government documents are

  • publications issued at public expense by authority of a government entity
  • generally available to the public and to government officials
  • diverse and often unique in content
  • documents, official papers, committee reports, hearings, technical reports, maps, research results, etc.
  • an important source of basic and applied research
  • frequently prepared by subject specialists

More about government documents

The United States federal government, following a series of laws first enacted in the late 1800's, distributes unclassified publications to over 1300 libraries throughout the US in addition to exchanging publications with several foreign governments and national libraries. It is through this Depository Library System that the U.S. government ensures the preservation and free and equitable access to its publications. Nonrestrictive, open access policies are a requirement for becoming and remaining a depository library. Many university libraries are depository libraries.

In the mid 1990's the publication efforts of many agencies and the US Government Printing Office (GPO) were converted to electronic formats. The result is that now many government documents can be obtained full-text using Internet technology.

In addition to federal documents, many state and local governments are required to distribute their documents in physical or electronic format. Frequently, they, too, will deposit them in local libraries.

To find government publications

There are several places you can search:

  • the library catalog for your topic (however, not all documents are catalogued)
  • US GPO Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications. Search the Cumulative subject index to the monthly catalog of United States government publications, 1900-1971 (Z1223 Z7 B9) for older materials and the electronic Monthly Catalog for materials published after 1975.
  • GPO Access, Thomas, and FirstGov are free online services for accessing federal publications
  • National Technical Information Service, a clearinghouse for scientific, technical, and engineering information, is one of the largest sources of government-sponsored technical research reports. Access NTIS

Because federal agencies can publish their documents through channels other than the Government Printing Office, and because documents can sometimes be tricky to find always ASK A LIBRARIAN for help if you don't find the document you need.

Don't ignore these valuable publications.