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* History: Government Documents

Government Documents

Government Documents = paper trail from all 3 branches of government; technically, every piece of paper the departments and agencies produce is a government document.

  • Legislative Branch: Congress and the agencies that support Congress, like the Library of Congress
  • Executive Branch: President, Vice-President, cabinet, 15 departments (advise and carry out policies), and independent agencies (carry out policies or special services)
  • Judicial Branch: Supreme Court & lower courts

The Superintendent of Documents (SuDoc) decides what the Government Printing Office (GPO) will publish and disseminate through the Federal Depository System, which determines your access to it (i.e., availability online, via books here at Milne, or via IDS.)

Most current documents are disseminated online, and GPO is digitizing old documents, albeit at a slow rate.

The most useful research tools for finding government documents are:

Using Library databases to search for government documents:

You can search for g.p.o OR "government printing office" in a single box within a database, and then change the keyword option to "Publisher"

You can search for government in a single box within a database, and then change the keyword option to "Material type"

Visual example of the searching in a database using g.p.o or "government printing office" with the Publisher filter


Visual example of the searching in a database using government with the Material Type filter


Papers of the Continental Congress

The library has 200+ reels of microfilm containing the papers of the continental congress. To access them and find specific papers, follow these steps:

  1. Use the online indexes below to locate specific papers. Each record ends with a series of numbers and letters in italics, such as M247, r51, i41, v7, p320.
    • The important information for finding a specific paper is the r and p portions of that string. The r stands for "reel/roll", and those are the numbers to look for in our catalog to retrieve the roll of microfilm. The p stands for page number, and you can use that once you have the reel to find the right slide.
  2. Once you have located a list of documents you wish to retrieve, go to the glocat catalog and search for "Papers of the continental congress"
    • Remember to click the "Sign in" bar and log in to your geneseo account
  3. Click on the option for "Milne Microform Cabinets"Arrow pointing to the "Milne Microform Cabinets" link in Glocat
  4. The list will show "Item in place (0 requests) 1," "Item in place (0 requests) 2", and so on. The last number in each record is the reel/roll number, the r in the index record we found before. For the record we referred to previously, that would be item 51.
    • To find it on the list, click on SHOW MORE ITEMS multiple times until the item you are looking for is visible

  1. Click on "Hold Request" for the item you want to retrieve. When it is available, you will get an email and you can pick it up from the front desk in the library to use at the microfilm reader.​​​​​​​

Other Research Tools for Government Documents

Congressional Hearings

Some Congressional subcommittees hold hearings where experts and citizens give testimony in support of, or in opposition to, a proposed law. If the topic is of wide interest, then the government printing office will publish those hearings. Worldcat can be used to identify and request the hearings, usually with titles such as Hearings Before the Subcommittee on …….. It is therefore important for you to know the name of the congressional subcommittee that is considering a bill before you look for hearings in library databases. Hearings may also be available in Hein Online

Visual example of government document detailing Hearings on the OSHA rulemaking process, with a link to the original document

Useful Governemnt Sites & Selected Government Documents

Congressional Record

State Gov Docs

Tracking State Environmental Legislation

Every state has a State Library, most of which have a web page with some information about getting state documents.  Investigating a State Library’s web page can be challenging.  Look for links that say Legislative Histories, or look for links to “Documents” or “Archives.”  At the very least, you should be able to find a phone number to call and ask someone for help finding exactly what you are looking for.