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US Government Documents Fundamentals

A guide to basic information about finding, evaluating, and using government documents for assignments, research, and your own information.

Government Documents Library Guides @ WSU Libraries

What are government documents? Material produced or published by government entities, whether local, state, national, or international, is considered 'government information' or 'government documents.' This library guide focuses on documents published by the US federal government through the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The guides listed below provide information on more specialized types of federal information or documents produced by other governmental sources.

Note that government information permeates virtually all academic disciplines, so many of the other library guides available from the WSU Libraries may also contain government information.

How Federal Documents Are Organized (SuDocs Classification)

Library Services for Government Documents

Reference Service

Help with searching and finding government documents is available at the reference desks in Terrell Library and the Owen Science & Engineering Library. Help via chat, e-mail, FAQ, and phone is available.

Library Instruction

Instruction on finding and using government documents is available for classes and groups and can be tailored to the needs of the students or audience. Frequently requested topics include

  • finding documents through the WSU Libraries' catalog and the Internet
  • searching government databases
  • becoming familiar with government agencies/offices and their publications
  • governments statistics and how to find them
  • assessing government information and web sites
  • citing government documents

Classes can be scheduled for English Composition classes through Library Instruction on the scheduling page; classes in other departments can be arranged by contacting the Government Information Librarian, Lorena O'English (see box on the left).

Checking out Documents

Many government documents are available in electronic form, linked in the library catalog or available directly from government databases or the Internet. The WSU Libraries has a large collection of circulating documents as well. The table below provides loan information for these documents:

Loan periods for government documents
Format Owen Library Holland & Terrell Libraries
print 6 weeks 6 weeks [longer for honors students, graduate students, staff, and faculty]
periodical volumes 6 days 6 days
microfiche do not circulate do not circulate  [Reader/printers are available]
CD-ROM/DVD-ROM N/A 2 weeks
maps 7 days 2 weeks
documents in reference do not circulate .

Depository Libraries

The federal government established a system of depository libraries in 1813. The WSU Libraries, #0643, became a depository in 1907 along with many other land grant institution libraries. The FDLP symbol  Federal Depository Library Program logo  is posted at the entryway to the Holland and Terrell Libraries and the Owen Science & Engineering Library as well as on the Libraries' home page.

The State of Washington also has a depository program, started in 1963. The WSU Libraries is a full state depository and receives all of the documents distributed by the state government.

Fall 2023 Update: New/Newish Helpful WSU Libraries Resources and Services

JSTOR  - we have continuing access to ALL of JSTOR's journal content (including the Security Studies and Sustainability thematic collections)! This was originally set to end in June 2023, but has been extended as a permanent subscription. 

WSU Libraries, PO Box 645610, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-5610, 509-335-9671, Contact Us