Getting Started with Government Information
What is Government Information?
In the sense of the items collected in libraries and available on the internet government information consists of any information produced or distributed by any agency of the US Government. The US Government produces everything from promotional pamphlets for conferences to massive statistical databases. Government information can be information about the US Government (laws and regulations) or information collected or produced by agencies of the US Government (statistical compendia, financial information, and informational reports); the former lays out how the United States operates and the latter comprises a vast body of information covering almost any imaginable topic.
Much official (US) government information is distributed by the Government Printing Office through the GPO Bookstore and the Federal Depository Library Program. Today the GPO and the FDLP continue this mission while many parts of the US Government also publish information directly on the internet and some private companies compile information into searchable subscription services.
Any officially released information from the US Government, either through the GPO, FDLP, or online is considered to be in the public domain and free of copyright restrictions unless otherwise noted.
The Federal Depository Library Program
"A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives."
- James Madison, 1822
The Miami University Libraries have been a member of the Federal Depository Library Program since 1909. As a member of the FDLP we are committed to the preservation and accessability of information, and currently maintain a collection of more than 200,000 government publications as well as providing access and support for thousands of online documents and resources. FDLP libraries recieve government publications directly from the Government Printing Office free of charge, in order to preserve and make these items accessible to the public.
For a brief overview of the history and purpose of the FDLP please see this fact sheet from the Government Documents Round Table.
Government Information in the Miami University Libraries
Where is government information located in the MU Libraries?
Print items, microfiche/film, and maps are all formats of government information collected by the Miami University Libraries. Government information in the libraries collections generally consists of books, reports, and other items published by the US Government. These items cover a wide range of topics and consist of information created by almost every branch and agency of the Federal Government
- Print items are primarily located in the Government Information & Law collection in King Library on the Oxford Campus of Miami University in the IMC/GIL on the ground floor. Select titles (mostly reference and statistical sources) are located in the King Library general and reference collections and at the Libraries of the Hamilton and Middletown Campuses.
- Maps can be found in the Science Library.
- Microfiche and microfilm items can be found using the libraries catalog libraries catalog. Most micro formats are stored off-site and they can be requested using this form.
For a look at the types of publications distributed by the GPO to libraries please see this list of the FDLP's required titles in tangable formats; all FDLP libraries are required to collect these titles at a minimum. For a broad look at government publications see the GPO Book Store and the Catalog of Government Publications.
The SuDoc Classification System
Items in the MU Libraries published by the US Government in King Library are organized using the Superintendent of Documents Call Number system, or 'SuDoc' for short. Rather than organizing items by subject, the SuDoc system organizes items by the parent agency of the agency that published them. For instance publications from the National Park Service are given SuDoc numbers beginning with 'I' for the NPS's parent agency, the Department of the Interior.
The most recognizable feature of a SuDoc call number is the colon. The basic principle of the SuDoc system is that numbers are divided into Stems (located before the colon), that describe the source and type of publication, and Book Numbers (located after the colon), that describe the specific item. SuDoc stems consist of a letter, usually the first letter of an agency name ('I' for Interior, 'E' for Energy) and a number that designates the type of document, while book numbers identify specific items.
|This example shows the SuDoc number for "Ford's Theatre and the House Where Lincoln Died," a guide book to the Ford's Theatre National Historic Site. Published by the National Park Service, under the Department of the Interior.|
There are charts throughout the Government Information Collection at King Library that explain the major SuDoc areas in the collection, which is organized A (Agriculture) through Y (Congress). Government publications in the King general collection and other libraries are arranged by Library of Congress call numbers, the same as the rest of the collection.
For those interested in learning the system in more detail the SuDoc system's history and development are explained by the Federal Depository Library Program and the Michigan State University Libraries Government Documents Department has created an interactive tutorial for teaching the SuDoc system to librarians and staff.
Ask about Government Information
Government Information & Law Department
The Government Information & Law Department is located on the ground floor of King Library on the Oxford Campus of Miami University in the Instructional Materials Center (IMC)
For further assistance or help with questions, please contact Jeffrey Hartsell-Gundy, the Government Information & Law Librarian or visit the information desk in the IMC.