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SUNY Geneseo Fraser Hall Library Subject Guides

* 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


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

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.