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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.

Fall 2021 Update: New and/or Helpful WSU Libraries Resources and Services

Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

  • We bumped up our abstract and indexing subscription for Philosopher’s Index to a subscription that includes full-text content for the next year (2021-2022)

Temporary Access, Summer 2021 and following

  • JSTOR  - we have access to ALL their journal content (they divide it into specific collections, and we don’t subscribe to all of them), and the ArtStor database through the end of June *2022*.
  • We will be continuing our Roper Center (survey data iPoll database plus more) access through 3/31/2022. Probably not after, however. Note: If you create an account, please carefully read the  Terms and Conditions (which you should  always do, of course)!
  • We have access to PolicyMap through the end of [updated!] December of 2021. (They have a new version with extra functionality but to download data you have to use the legacy (default) version) - blog at Mapchats Blog | PolicyMap to provide some use cases, etc. 
  • What is PolicyMap?

An online (no software installation needed) U.S. national data and mapping tool and analytics platform with multidisciplinary applications for college students and faculty.  Undergraduate and graduate schools use us in their curriculum and research related to social sciences, urban studies, real estate and housing analysis, community and economic development, public administration, public health, policy and political science, education, business, economics, statistics, and geography, among others. Users can leverage thousands of U.S. data indicators in PolicyMap to perform demographic and socioeconomic analysis, from a neighborhood census block group in many cases, up to a national level, as well as create custom regions, for their research and studies.  
 Look for Blog Posts, Customer Stories, and sample Maps, Tables, and Reports.

  • Our MapChats Blog features stories on Mapping Consumer Spending Habits, Internet Access Disparities, and the Social Drivers of Health and more!
  • Our Academic Web Page gives insight into how other universities and colleges use our data and mapping tool
  • Visit PolicyMap Support for tutorials, training videos, the training calendar.
  • A complete list of our data related to Demographics, Incomes and Spending, Housing, Lending, Quality of Life, Economy, Education and Health can be found here

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--see Ask a Question!

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.

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