You’ve been given a class assignment that involves using “Government Documents,” and you’ve never heard of them! What are government documents and how do you find them? It’s not hard to learn . . . just take a few minutes to view the short tutorials.
What is a Government Document?
A government publication is any informational material published by the U.S. federal government. The U.S. government, the most prolific publisher in the world, produces information on almost every subject, including business and the economy, the environment, social sciences, education, health, and labor.
Government publications can provide information on a wide range of geographic areas and time periods. Common types of information are statistical and reference works, manuals, bibliographies, handbooks, indexes, reports, studies, and maps.
Publications are produced in several formats, including book, pamphlet, periodical, microform, audiovisual formats, computer software, CD-ROM, DVD, and Internet sites.
SUDOC Classification System
The call number for federal government documents will differ from that used for regular books and periodicals. Federal documents are shelved by the Superintendent of Documents system, abbreviated as SuDoc. Unlike the regular collection (which is organized by topic), government documents are organized by agency.
SuDoc numbers always begin with a letter or letters combined with a number, then a period, then a number, then a colon. The colon is followed by more numbers and/or letters.
The letters at the beginning of a SuDoc number represent a specific government department or agency such as:
- A = Agriculture Department
- C 3. = Census Bureau, Commerce Department
- D = Defense Department
- E = Energy Department
- ED = Education Department
- EP = Environmental Protection Agency
- GA = General Accountability Office
- GS = General Services Administration
- HE = Health and Human Services Department
- HE 20.700: = Centers for Disease Control
- HS = Homeland Security Department
- I = Interior department
- I 19. = U.S. Geological Survey (Interior Department)
- J = Justice Department
- JU = Judiciary
- L = Labor Department
- LC = Library of Congress
- NAS = National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- S = State Department
- SI = Smithsonian Institution
- T 22 = Internal Revenue Service (Treasury Department)
- X, Y = Congress
- Y 4. = Congressional Committees
Subagencies are assigned a number. For instance, the Census Bureau, an agency within the Department of Commerce, is given the number 3. So…all Census Bureau publications have SuDoc numbers that start with C 3.
Within a subagency, each series is also assigned a number. For example, the Census Bureau’s U.S. Exports of Merchandise series is given the number C 3.278/3:. Each individual publication in the series is then assigned a unique number or alphabetical symbol based on year, volume, series number, or title. The unique publication number follows the colon. Therefore, C 3.278/3:2009/7 is the SuDoc number for the July 2009 issue of U.S. Exports of Merchandise.
In summary, the first half of a SuDoc number (up to the colon) identifies the agency and series, and the last half identifies the specific publication. Publications are filed alphabetically by letter and then numerically, first grouped by subagency, then by series, and finally, arranged alphabetically or numerically within each series.
Note: This is NOT a decimal system; the number after the period is a whole number.
A tutorial found on the Michigan State University Libraries site was designed to teach staff or student workers the SuDocs classification or call number system. Along with basic SuDoc information, quizzes and exercises can be found by visiting, Learning SuDocs Call Numbers.
Finding Government Documents
Most federal documents published since 1976, as well as Louisiana state documents, are accessible in Prescott Library’s online catalog.
- Federal Documents in paper format are located on the 1st floor of Prescott Library. Most of these documents circulate for 21 days.
- Federal Documents in microfiche format are located on the 2nd floor of Prescott Library. The microfiche do not circulate, but microfiche readers are available on the 2nd floor and microfiche readers/printers are located on the 3rd floor.
- Louisiana State Documents in paper format are located on the 2nd floor of Prescott Library and do not circulate. Photocopiers are available on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the library.
- Federal and State Documents in electronic format are located on the 2nd floor of Prescott Library. These materials have a limited circulation status – see a staff member for assistance.
Another option is to search the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications. This is the finding tool for federal publications that includes descriptive records for historical and current publications and provides direct links to documents that are available online. Most titles date from 1976 forward. Users can search by authoring agency, title, subject, and general keyword, or click on “Advanced Search” for more options.
Reference assistance is available from the Government Documents staff and from staff members working the Reference Desk. You can also contact Government Documents staff by phone at 318-257-4989 or fill out an online form at Ask a Librarian.
Citing Government Documents
DocsCite, a service provided by the Arizona State University Libraries, automatically constructs a citation for you in MLA or APA format, based on information you enter.
The University of Nebraska’s Government Documents Department Web site has guidelines and samples of citation of government publications in APA, Chicago Manual, MLA and Turabian.
U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual [30th ed.] (Government Printing Office)
- A copy of this style manual is also available at Government Documents Ready Reference on the 2nd floor of Prescott Library under SuDoc number: GP 1.23/4:ST 9/2008.