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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.

Federal Depository Collection Access Policy

Depository Library Information

The WSU Libraries became a Federal Depository Library in 1907. As a selective government depository, the Libraries receive approximately 86% of the materials available through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) which is administered by the Superintendent of Documents of the Government Printing Office. The Washington State Library in Olympia is the regional depository serving FDLP collections in the state of Washington. 

The majority of the U.S. documents are located on the third floor in Holland and Terrell Libraries (the humanities/social sciences library) and are arranged by Superintendent of Documents classification system.

In the Microforms unit, there are documents on microfiche in SuDoc classification and Congressional Information Service (CIS) microfiche collections (CIS indexes in the Terrell Reference collection - maybe? or are they in Microforms now? check after WfH).  A large collection of government research reports (National Technical Information Service) on microfiche are in basement storage and must be requested from the Circulation Desk.  A small number of these research reports on in the catalog Search It.  Ask for assistance at the Reference Desk in Owen or Terrell Libraries for finding technical reports. The Microforms Room in Holland Library also contains maps from many government agencies.  

The Owen Science & Engineering Library houses a large documents collection on science and technology subjects and United States and Washington State maps. The majority of document CD-ROMs and DVDs (and workstations for accessing them) are in Media Materials & Reserves in Holland and Terrell Libraries.

The Animal Health Library houses some government documents in the Library of Congress classification system.

Access to the Collection

The main function of Federal depository libraries is to provide free and unimpeded access to government information to the general public. All federal publications are accessible for public use in the WSU Libraries.

United States government publications received by the libraries since 1976 can be searched in the Libraries' catalog, Search It. For information on finding pre-1976 federal documents in WSU Libraries see Historical Federal Documents. The following databases are available for searching and identifying federal documents (many link to full-text):

These and other major subscription and free indexes for government documents can be accessed on the A-Z Databases page by looking on the Subject List under Government Information. For other resources see Government Documents--Databases, Search Engines, and MetaSites.

Most government documents can be checked out. Documents in our collection that are accessible fulll-text via the Internet are linked in the Search It catalog record.  Government documents not available at WSU can be requested from other higher education institutions through Search It.  All libraries on campus provide public workstations for accessing the catalog and databases. Our Depository Library Internet Use Policy Guidelines (see box below) detail the principles for access to online federal government information. Holland and Terrell Libraries and Owen Library also provide access to reference CD-ROM/DVD documents and USA Trade Online. Use of workstations and access to the documents collection is free; there is a charge for printing on library printers. The Accessibility Services library guide provides information about assistive technologies.

Assistance with Government Documents

Reference assistance is available for identifying and finding government documents in the Libraries. Personal assistance is on hand in each of the libraries; library and reference hours are posted on the web and in the libraries. Other options for reference assistance include telephone, e-mail, and instant messaging. A library guide provides a general description of Federal Government Documents at WSU Libraries.

The WSU Libraries policy on public services relating to federal information in electronic formats is stated in the "Depository Library Public Service Guidelines for Government Information in Electronic Formats," in the box below.

Questions about these government documents web pages, the Federal Depository Library Program, or about locating federal documents can be addressed to Lorena O'English, Government Information Librarian, Washington State University Libraries.

Federal Depository Collection Access Policy adopted 1/20/04, rev. 12/07, 1/08, 5/11, 10/12, 4/15
Government Information Working Group, WSU Libraries

Internet Use Policy Guidelines

Depository Library Internet Use Policy Guidelines

WSU Libraries

As a member (Library 0643) of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), WSU Libraries offers the general public free access to online federal government information provided through the FDLP.  Resources are accessed by the following guidelines:

  • With the exception of 1 limited access database, USA TradeOnline, they are free of access fees and any other restrictions
  • Free and unrestricted searching of these resources is provided at all library workstations with open access to the Internet
  • No filtering software is used
  • Security measures are consistent with FDLP guidelines and requirements (these indicate that log-in/sign-up sheets and special passwords may be required, and e-mail capability of the web browser may be blocked)
  • Use of library workstations is consistent with the library’s Policy for Public Access Computers.
  • Users may be charged “usual and customary” fees for printing. WSU Libraries has a per copy print charge at all workstations. Flash drives are available for loan but not purchase.
  • Workstation use and product access is unmediated;  assistance may be requested at reference desks.

Further guidelines may be found in the document “Depository Library Public Service Guidelines for Government Information in Electronic Formats,” in the box below.

Government Information Working Group, WSU Libraries        Adopted 1-20-2004; edited 5-20-2011, 4-3-2015

Depository Library Public Service Guidelines for Government Information in Electronic Formats

WSU Libraries Depository Library Public Service Guidelines For Government Information in Electronic Formats

The Washington State University Libraries has been a selective Federal Depository Library since 1907 and maintains a comprehensive collection of Washington State documents (member of the state depository library program since its inception in 1963). Depository libraries are obligated by law to provide public access to depository receipts, including electronic government information products. The Libraries also adheres to the Washington State University Electronic Communication Policy which applies to all WSU employees, students, visiting faculty, and volunteers who use computing resources, information technologies, and networks owned or managed by WSU. Separate policies apply to the use of information technologies and networks that are made accessible to the public in the ordinary course of WSU business. These policies shall be posted in the general locale of the public access facilities or be made available to users of those technologies and networks.


After Congress directed the Government Printing Office to investigate ways of making the Federal Depository Library Program almost entirely electronic, the Depository Library Council and depository librarians became concerned with providing public access to the increasing amount of Federal Government information available in electronic formats. They began working on guidelines which would set forth performance goals for Federal depository libraries in providing access by the public to Government information in electronic formats.

The General Counsel and the Public Printer have approved the guidelines, which fit within the statutory framework of U.S. Code Title 44. Depository libraries have a statutory obligation under Section 1911 to make paper and microformat publications "available for the free use of the general public," and these guidelines articulate the logical extension of that historic obligation into the electronic information era. The General Counsel states that "any library selecting items in electronic formats must maintain a capability to allow for unimpeded use of those documents by its public patrons."


1. This policy states the provisions of the WSU Libraries for public services relating to government information in electronic formats. WSU Libraries provides no-fee access for WSU faculty, students, and staff and the general public to computer workstations for use of government documents computer files and Internet resources which are equal to or exceed the services provided for other collections of the library.

2. Government electronic information disseminated through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) is made available by WSU Libraries to the general public. Attempts are made to obtain computer hardware for access, download, and printing that meets the latest standards for public access workstations, but adequate access and technical support may not be available in-house for all tangible electronic products. Circulation of these and most other documents is offered. Limits to or costs associated with printing or downloading are consistent with other public service provisions of the library, e.g., printing from all public workstations is charged through the university ID card. Downloading-to-disk capabilities are provided at most terminals in public areas.

3. New tangible electronic products and services are made available to the general public within 1-2 months. Circulation of tangible electronic products and services is permitted in accordance with the library's circulation policies of other depository resources.

4. Internet access to government information is provided at no cost to the WSU community and the general public. This includes important finding aids such as govinfo, and Catalog of U.S. Government Publications.

5. A library guide of relevant and useful government documents Internet links and information about the local government documents collection is provided for all library users including the general public.

6. WSU Libraries provides delivery of government information to distance users in accordance with existing interlibrary loan policies of the library.

7. Reference assistance in finding and using tangible and electronic depository resources is available in person at reference desks, and by phone, e-mail, instant messaging, and telephone. See Ask a Question on the Libraries' home page. Instruction in the use of government document electronic products and Internet resources is available to individuals or groups on request by contacting the Government Information Librarian, Lorena O'English

Government Information Working Group, WSU Libraries        Adopted 2-8-2000, rev. 4-12-2000, 5-20-2011, 12-15-12, 4-3-2015, 8/2017

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