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U.S. Government Publications

The Minnesota State Law Library (MSLL) is part of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) of the United States government.

What is a government document?

A government document or publication is defined by the United States Code as any informational matter printed by the U.S. government, at government expense or as required by law, 44 U.S.C. §1901. Documents produced by the government, with certain exceptions, are made available to the public through the libraries of the FDLP. The mission of a designated depository library is to provide free use of documents to the general public without impediments. The Government Publications Office (GPO) distributes the documents at no cost to the depository libraries. In turn, the libraries must comply with the regulations in Title 44 of the U.S. Code and other guidelines spelled out by the GPO.

Government publications now include information made available in electronic formats and online. More and more depository documents are available only online. The entire future of the FDLP will be intertwined with emerging technologies and the U.S. government's commitment to releasing more information in electronic format only.

What is a depository library?

In 1828 a joint resolution of Congress required a portion of the public documents deposited in the Library of Congress to be distributed to various federal government libraries and public and university libraries of each state (4 Stat. 321). This directive was the origin of the FDLP, which now includes around 1250 depository libraries across the United States and its territories. Currently, there are eight types of libraries that can become designated depositories: libraries of land-grant colleges, executive departments, service academies, independent agencies; highest state appellate court library at the request of the court (MSLL is not a depository under this designation); and accredited law schools. Not more than two additional libraries in a state may be designated a depository by each senator from the state without Congressional approval. Additionally, not more than two libraries in each state and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico may be designated by a senator as a regional depository library. A regional depository is required to retain at least one copy of all government publications, unlike other depositories, which may select documents based on relevance to the collection. The University of Minnesota Government Publications Library serves as the regional depository library for Minnesota and South Dakota.

The Minnesota State Law Library as a depository

The eagle-and-book emblem at the entrance to the Library and at doorway A of the stacks signifies that MSLL is a federal documents depository library, one of 28 in Minnesota. Records indicate that the Library has been a depository since its inception in 1848. The Library primarily collects items from Congress, the Judiciary, the Justice Department, as well as administrative decisions of the executive agencies. Our collection comprises only 23% of items available through the depository program! Most of the current collection begins with items dating from the early 1970s.

The majority of documents are issued in paper or microfiche. Items from the Judiciary are primarily in paper; House and Senate reports beginning with the 103rd Congress are in microfiche. House and Senate bills are in microfiche, as are newer reports of Congressional committees. Congressional commission reports are issued in both microfiche and paper. It is a good idea to check both formats when trying to locate an item in our collection.

U.S. Government Information . . . ELECTRONICALLY

The eagle-and-keyboard emblem on the Library front door signifies that the Library is a subscriber to the electronic depository service known as the Federal Digital System (FDsys). FDsys provides public access to Government information submitted by Congress and Federal agencies and preserved as technology changes. Included are important primary sources, such as the Federal Register, Congressional Bills, Congressional Documents, current U.S. Code, and current Congressional Directory.

Organization of government documents

At MSLL government documents titles can be found in eleven different locations.

The bulk of our government documents titles is found in the Government Documents Collection, through doorway A of the stacks. These documents are arranged in order according to the Superintendent of Documents classification system, or SuDoc number order. Just inside doorway A is a chart that briefly outlines the SuDoc classification system. The List of Classes of the United States Government Publications Available for Selection by Depository Libraries, found in the Reference Collection, is an in-depth outline and useful tool for locating government documents titles by publishing agency. Examples of the SuDoc system: "A" designates Department of Agriculture; "J" the Department of Justice; "Ju" the Judiciary; "Y" covers all the publications of Congress.

The "legal research classics" are found in the Federal Collection. These include such primary materials as U.S. Code, Statutes at Large, slip laws, superseded CFRs and Treaties and other International Acts Series.

Three public computers provide access to U.S. government information in electronic format. The Library provides access to everything currently available on Federal Digital System (FDsys). Note that these databases generally begin with the 103rd or 104th Congresses. The Library will continue to collect primary federal government information in paper or microfiche as long as it is available.

In the Reference Collection are such titles as the current Code of Federal Regulations and finding aids, U.S. Government Manual, Treaties in Force, and the current Federal Register.

Some government documents are Periodicals. Look for (among others) Social Security Bulletin and Labor Monthly.

In the Treatise Collection you'll primarily find administrative decisions of executive agencies, e.g., Decisions and Orders of the National Labor Relations Board, and Copyright Decisions. Library staff decides what other GPO titles to catalog to this collection.

Over half the microfiche in the Microform Collection consists of GPO microfiche!

When staff deems a document to have special historical value or significance, it may be safeguarded in the Special Collections room. The impeachment proceedings of President Clinton is one title with this status.

Documents about the depository program and the cataloging of documents serve library staff in their work areas. Documents waiting for permission for discard from the regional depository library stay in Storage.

Online catalog access to government documents

Most government documents published since 1989 are accessible through the Library's online catalog. Staff regularly add new titles, including documents that are only available via the Internet. A hotlink in the catalog record allows you to click directly through to the document from the catalog page.

Documents in the Government Documents Collection have SuDoc classification numbers. For example, you search the catalog for the annual report of the Department of Energy. When you find the record, it shows Government Documents Call Number E 1.1: for location. This indicates that the item is shelved in the Government Documents Collection. However, the Notes field adds that "Some years filed in Microform Collection." The Notes field will indicate mixed format holdings or any other special information.

Borrowing government documents

Government documents circulate according to established Library procedures. All items classified by SuDoc number circulate for three weeks. Items classified by Library of Congress number circulate for three weeks, with the exception of decisions of administrative agencies, which circulate for three days. The U.S. Code, superseded CFRs, Federal Register, Congressional Record, and periodicals may also be taken out for a three-day loan period. Items shelved at the Reference Desk do not circulate. Special Collection materials circulate only with permission of the Curator of Special Collections.

The shared depository program

The State Law Library coordinates a federal documents shared depository program with the libraries of state government. This program allows other state government libraries to select and house U.S. government documents titles pertinent to their organization's mission. As the designated depository library, MSLL remains responsible for these GPO materials and for their receipt, initial processing, and discard. The other libraries must also comply with Title 44 of the U.S. Code as part of the shared depository agreement.

The selections of the state government libraries comprise another 5% of documents available from GPO. Formats going to state government libraries include paper, microfiche, DVDs, CD-ROMs, and online databases.

Eight state government libraries participate in the shared depository program: Department of Employment and Economic Development Library, R.N. Barr Public Health Library, Minnesota Historical Society Research Center, Legislative Reference Library, Department of Natural Resources Library, Pollution Control Agency Library, Minnesota Revenue Library, and Department of Transportation Library.

Our Reference Desk has a list of all the government documents titles housed in other state government libraries, as well as the addresses and telephone numbers of these libraries. The Library can obtain documents for our patrons from the other libraries within twenty-four hours of request. These documents circulate for three weeks and must be returned to MSLL.

A closing comment

The work of government is a never-ending endeavor. Finding your way through the labyrinth of government information may feel like a Thesean challenge. Remember, MSLL only collects a very small part of what is available. If the Library doesn't have what you need, staff can direct you to one of the other area depository libraries, obtain the item for you through interlibrary loan, or direct you to electronic resources. Don't hesitate to ask for help in finding U.S. government information.

See also Federal Government Document Links

Minnesota State Law Library: U.S. Government Publications

Last updated on March 10, 2015.
Links checked on March 10, 2015.

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