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Finding Government Information: a basic guide: In the Library

Provides general information on the organization and location of government publications in the Library; and on major website tools for finding government information online.

On this page

Location of the collections

US classification numbersOur printed Federal documents are shelved next to the Periodicals on the 2nd Floor of the Library. Texas documents are at the end of the row of shelves.

signsThe rows of shelves containing government publications are identified by blue end-panel signs which give the range of numbers shelved on each row. The largest section of the collection is classified Y 4., which refers to Congressional Committees. 

NOTE that the Library ceased receiving new tangible government documents in Spring, 2016, and withdrew large numbers of tangible documents during the previous year.

Some other documents, in other formats or otherwise set apart, are located in other parts of the Library:

  • Microfiche. These documents are filed (by Superintendent of Documents classification number) in cabinets on the west side of the Library's 2nd floor. Very few titles are currently being received in microfiche.
  • CD-ROMS/DVDs. These materials are kept on Reserve and can be checked out for seven days by St. Mary's students, faculty, and staff. Ask for them at the Circulation Counter, or contact the Documents Librarian. Many of the CDs selected by the Blume Library contain Census information, but other agencies are also represented. Few CDs are currently being received as this information is largely available through websites instead.

Nature of the collection

Depository Library

The depository system: Federal publications

NOTE that the Library ceased receiving new tangible government documents in Spring, 2016.

St. Mary's University's Blume Library has been a selective Federal Depository Library (FDL) for U.S. government publications (or documents) since 1964, one of over 1000 such libraries nationwide. (The Law Library is also a depository, with a more specialized collection.) We select various categories of publications which are "deposited" here by the Government Publishing Office.

The printed output of almost every Federal agency is represented in the collection but we have concentrated on publications from the Census Bureau, Labor and Justice Departments, and the Congressional Committees. The majority of items in the collection are Congressional. Although most material in the Collection was published in the 1960s or later, we do have some older items.

TexasThe depository system: Texas publications

The Library was also a depository for Texas government publications and has a collection of these documents from the State Library & Archives Commission in Austin. However, as of July, 2011, the Texas Depository Program ceased due to budget cuts at the State Library. We have kept the most important legacy documents received through the program, and continue to put links to online documents in the Library Catalog.

The University of North Texas maintains a digital collection of all documents that would have been distributed through the depository program since its termination. 


We have a very few publications from local governments, and these are shelved at the end of the Texas documents. There has never been a depository system for these publications.

FDLPAll of the material in these collections, with a few minor exceptions, is represented in the Library Catalog

Unless a document is specifically marked for reference use only, it may be checked out by St. Mary's students, faculty or staff at the Circulation Counter.  See Library Circulation Policies. Other patrons may use the documents in the Library, or request them on interlibrary loan from their home institutions or a public library.

How the collections are organized

Superintendent of Documents classification (SuDoc) is the classification system used to arrange the Federal documents collection.

These numbers follow the form: LETTER(S) NUMBER . NUMBER : LETTERS and/or NUMBERS

booksThe first letters in the classification number represent the government department or agency that issued the document. For example, A is for Agriculture Dept., C for Commerce Dept., ED for Education Dept., etc. Congress uses the letters X and Y.

SuDocs number example

 

Numbers following the initial letters represent a subsidiary office in the department. For instance, publications from the Census Bureau, which is in the Commerce Dept., have a number beginning with C 3. The numbers after the decimal point represent types or series of publications, or second and subsequent level offices.

Numbers immediately following the colon indicate numbered series, volumes or dates. Letters and numbers immediately following the colon are based on a system which organizes materials alphabetically by subject or title keyword, or numerically by issue or volume number.

Example of SuDocs numbers (in shelving order):  

  • C 3.24/8: IN 23
  • C 3.25: AF 48
  •  
  • NAS 1.2: FR 76
  • NS 1.53:990



SuDocs classification number

Tips for finding items shelved or filed by SuDocs classification number:

checkThis is NOT a decimal system. Numbers between punctuation are treated as individual whole numbers. For example, here's another list in order:

  • D 1.2: EX 83
  • D 1.16: TO 75
  • D 1.23: NA 42
  • D 1.23/2: CR 76
  • D 1.23/2-3: AL 23
  • D 1.23/2-11: LI 45
  • D 1.142: LE 78

Easy as FDL


 
checkIf some number stems (what comes before the colon) are followed by both numbered and lettered items, we usually shelve numbered documents before those designated with letters. An exception to this rule is in some House Committees in the Y 4. section. In these cases, in order to shelve older material first, letters come before numbers.
 
check

Senate Hearings and Prints (all classed Y 4. ) for the 98th and subsequent Congresses use special shelving rules. Documents are shelved (or filed) by S.HRG. (meaning Senate Hearing), then S.PRT. (meaning Senate Print) for each Congress by number. Here is an example sequence of these numbers:

  • Y 4.B 85/2: S.HRG.100-45
  • Y 4.B 85/2: S.PRT.100-37
  • Y 4.B 85/2: S.HRG.101-13
  • Y 4.B 85/2: S.PRT.101-20
SuDocs classification example
 

Some of these numbers can look really long and intimidating! But just look for each part (separated by some punctuation) in order on the shelf. Want to know more about Hearings and Prints? Here's an explanation of the difference.


Want more details on this numbering system? The Government Publishing Office, who assigns the SuDocs numbers to publications, provides this detailed explanation: Superintendent of Documents (SuDocs) Classification System. (Note that in the section of this guide—"Examples of SuDoc classification"—some of the decisions about ordering details are different from the ones followed by the Blume Library.) Ask a Research Librarian for assistance if you're having any difficulty finding the documents that you need.

More about organization

books

Agencies—not necessarily subjects!

Because of the SuDoc classification arrangement, all publications from an agency (or Congressional Committee) will be found together on the shelf or in the microfiche drawer. Unfortunately, however, this system does not guarantee that all documents dealing with a particular subject will be found together. In order to find documents on a subject of interest, you must use the Library Catalog

In addition, reorganizations within government agencies are reflected in changes of Superintendent of Documents numbers, thereby occasionally scattering publications of a particular office or bureau over time.

Browsing can indeed turn up useful publications through serendipity. But it is not a reliable method of comprehensive research, especially in the Documents Collections.

Ask a Research Librarian for help if you can't find a number that you need.

TX graphicTexas numberTexas documents are also arranged using a similar system that groups publications by the issuing agency. These numbers are distinguished from the US documents numbers by a red TX in the vicinity of the number on the front of the document.

Government documents in the Catalog

Government documents can be located in the Library Catalog by using the same search features that are available for books—subject, keyword, author, classification number. 

In the results list produced by a search, the government publications are identified by the collection note in the Location column. Look for the classification number given in the Call # column:

For a comprehensive search of government information, especially older documents, and including publications that the Blume Library hasn't received, you'll need to use the Comprehensive Index, described in the box below on the left.

Comprehensive Index

note graphicCatalog of US Government Publications  (1976–). This is the standard general index for Federal publications. It provides Superintendent of Documents classification numbers for documents published from July, 1976, to the present.

Older issues of the index are titled "Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications," and they are available in the Library. 

  • 1895-1934 are in microfilm on the 2nd floor
  • 1933-1976 (paper) are in storage. They may be retrieved for consultation; ask a Research Librarian, or contact the Documents Librarian if you need to use them.

If you find documents listed in the Catalog of Government Publications that are not available at the Blume Library or online, you can borrow them from another library through Interlibrary Loan.

Important documents

Surgeon General health reports. HE 20.7614-5. This collection includes the 1971 classic Health Consequences of Smoking, which is largely responsible for today's offices not looking like this:

Mad Men scene

All of the SG reports are also available online.


Warren Commission hearings. PR 36.8:K 38/H 35/ . Read the original and make up your own mind about the conspiracies. The Library has all 26 volumes, as well as the 12 more produced by the House of Representatives' Select Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970's. (Y 4.As 7:K 38/ .)

graphic from National Archives


NASA Special Publications. NAS 1.21: . Many of these monographs contain excellent photographs and report results of space explorations. For historical information, check numbers 4000 and higher, which are in a special NASA history subseries.

Challenger report cover


Foreign Relations of the U.S. S 1.1: These volumes of diplomatic correspondence between the U.S. and foreign countries include text of treaties, Presidential and other special messages. Our collection begins in 1914. Need primary source material on a historical topic? Look no further!

title page from 1919 FRUS

Many of the volumes are also available online.

If we don't have a document

depository library logo

Documents not held at St. Mary's may be borrowed from other libraries through the usual interlibrary loan procedure. If you have found a Superintendent of Documents classification number for a document you need to borrow, please include it on the inter-library loan form. (Use the books version of the form.)

There are several other depository libraries in San Antonio. Staff at these libraries can tell you if they have a particular document if you give them the Superintendent of Documents classification number.