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U.S. Federal Government Publications: Getting Started

Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP)

"Government Documents" is a term often used to refer to any sort of material produced by a goverment (legal, legislative, statistical data, books and reports, research studies, consumer guides, archival material) in any format (electronic, print, microform).

FDLP logoMost of the material in the Federal Documents Collection was received through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). The collection includes over 1 million publications in paper, microfiche and electronic formats.

GovBookTalk from the Government Publishing Office (GPO) highlights some of the best publications from the Federal Government, past and present. Below are a few of the recent topics:


Library Catalog Limitations

Around one-third of the federal government hardcopy collection onsite at Perkins is not represented at all in the library catalog (much of the material published prior to 1976). This includes some important historical texts and statistical compilations.

You need to use one of the electronic or paper indexes (at right) to find a call number.  You can then:

  • first, check the library catalog to see if it's in there. If not,
  • check the legacy shelflist (the card catalog file on the 2nd floor that is in order by SuDoc call nubmber) to see if we ever got it and which issues we received, or
  • just look on the shelf to see if it's there, or
  • check with the Federal Documents Librarian.

Marterial stored offsite in the Library Service Center can be located through the library catalog.

Accessing Government Information

Access Points for Recent Government Information

  • The Library Catalog provides links to many online government publications as well as to traditional hard-copy publications here in the library.
  • FDsys: The primary electronic access point for current and recent US federal government publications, from the Government Publishing Office (GPO).
  • Legislative information (US federal):
    Has links to congressional committee websites. Perkins' Legislative Process research guide adds insight. supersedes the Library of Congress's THOMAS website. The Popular Name Tool provides official legal ciations for well-known U.S. laws.
  • Scientific information:
    Searches for across many government agencies.
  • Statistical data: FedStats is a gateway to statistical portals at the websites of many federal agencies. is a repository of digital datasets produced by federal government agencies.
  • Consumer and popular information:
    Includes A-Z Index of U.S. Government Agencies.

Historical Publications Online (selected sources)

More Specialized Access Points

Some of the tools listed provide access to recent information and some provide either access or indexing to historical publications, archival information (unpublished records of government agencies and declassified documents), technical reports (quasi-governmental reports prepared by contractors), and statistical data.

Many of the databases listed are subscription services available only to Duke University users.

  • Recommended Databases for U.S. Federal Documents:  This describes many other electronic access points for current as well as historical government publications and for unpublished archival material from the federal government.
  • Recommended Databases for Data/Statistics: Many of these sources contain electronic data collected by federal government agencies. Others include data from Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs).
  • Paper indexes: Many historic executive branch agency publications, particularly from 1933~1995, aren't accessible online and some are not even indexed by any of the electronic sources. A comprehensive search should include the following paper indexes in the Perkins Reference Collection on the 1st floor.

Subject Guide

Mark Thomas
233C Perkins Library
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