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US Government Documents: Home

What are Government Documents?

Many different kinds of documents are published by the Government Publishing Office (GPO) and government agencies. These include (but are not limited to): bills and laws, court rulings, executive orders, congressional hearings, reports from federal agencies, the Census and other official surveys. Government documents also include statistics and geospatial information in a number of different areas.

Government documents can be available in a variety of formats: in print, online, on microfilm or microfiche. Recent documents (since ca. 2000) tend to be available online, but many older documents are not.

The guidelines on this page for finding government documents in Penrose and online should help you determine what is in our collection and how you can access it. If you have further questions, please contact us.

What is a depository library?

Depository libraries provide public access to government documents, which are distributed to them for that purpose. There are two kinds of depository libraries. Regional depository libraries hold a complete collection of government documents; selective depository libraries receive a subset of government documents, which includes a basic collection and additional materials. The regional depository library for Washington and Alaska is the Washington State Library. As a selective depository library, Penrose keeps a small number of print documents, according to its collection policy.

US Government Documents call numbers

Government documents use a different call number system than the Library of Congress call numbers used for the rest of the Penrose Llibrary collection. The SuDocs (Superintendent of Documents) classification scheme for government documents uses an initial letter or letters to indicate the agency where a particular publication was produced. Thus, government documents are classified by their provenance rather than by topic/subject. The initial letters are followed by numbers separated by a period. These numbers give more information about the agency and the kind of document. Then there may be a colon, followed by additional letters and/or numbers, which give more information about a particular volume or issue.

Read a basic explanation of the SuDocs system. A more detailed explanation can be foundat the FDLP's article on the Superintendent of Documents classification scheme.

Finding Government Documents on the shelf

SuDocs contain letters and numbers, and are shelved alpha-numerically. Here are four important things to know when looking for Government Documents on the shelf:

1. Use the punctuation marks to break up the call numbers into small sections. Search for each section in order.

Y 4.      J 89/       1:       AN 8/       10

Y 4.      J 89/       2:       AN 8/       10

2. All numbers are whole numbers. The period or dot is not a decimal point. (This is different than with book call numbers, where the period or dot is a decimal point, as you can see in the example below. In SuDocs, 1.12 comes after 1.3 because twelve is greater than three; in LC call numbers, 1.12 comes before 1.3 because one and twelve one hundredths is less than one and three tenths.)

SuDocs order                  Book LC call number order

D 1.1:                                 D 1.1

D 1.3:                                 D 1.12

D 1.12:                               D 1.122

D 1.33:                               D 1.3

D 1.122:                             D 1.33

3. "Nothing" comes before "something" when you think about ordering by section. In the examples below, each character in bold represents "something." Single letters are always shelved before multiple letters (but multiple letters are shelved alphabetically, regardless of the number of letters).

S 1.66:A 52               C 3.57:250             

S 1.66:D 8                C 3.57:250/A           

S 1.66/2:A                 C 3.57:251   

Y 4.AR 5/2:AN 2 

Y 4.AR 5/2 A: 2007-2008/13         

4. Letters come before numbers when everything that precedes them is the same.

Y 4.SE 2:H 36/18

Y 4.SE 2:101-12

If you cannot find a Government Document on the shelf, please ask for help from one of the Reference Librarians or at the Circulation Desk. Please bring documents that you will not check out back to the Circulation Desk so that they can be reshelved.

Access to Government Documents in Penrose Library

Locations in the library

Most government documents in tangible forms (print, maps, microform) are shelved on the first floor of the library, in the Government Documents section. A few government documents are shelved in the Periodicals section (also on the first floor), the Reference section (on the second floor) or elsewhere in the library (determine location by call number -- government documents shelved with the reference or general collection will use a Library of Congress call number). Online government documents may be accessed from any library computer.

Penrose circulation policy

Most government documents in print form circulate following the same policies as print books.

Penrose collection policy

Penrose Library's collection of government documents in print form focuses on the Pacific Northwest (Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon).

How to find Government Documents online

For guidance in using FDsys, check the FDsys video tutorials, the FDsys online help pages, or the FDsys Search User Manual [pdf].

There is a help page for guidance in searching the Catalog of US Government Publications.


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