Introduction

Dean Bernard M. Fry of the Indiana University Graduate Library School observed that “government publications at all levels . . . are today a major source of information in practically every field of endeavor and are crucial to informed public decision-making.”  (p. XV.  United States Government Information:  Policies and Sources.)

"It is at times easier to say what is not a government document then what is."  [University of Illinois] 

One of the most inclusive definitions to date was advanced by York University Libraries.

Publications, regardless of physical form, issued or published by authority of a government body.  Specifically: those issued or published by the executive, legislative, and judicial functions of government at all levels - international, national, federal, local government bodies and intergovernmental bodies.  [York University Libraries.] 

A government publication is defined in the U.S. Code (44 U.S.C. 1901) as "...informational matter which is published as an individual document at Government expense, or as required by law." [Cornell University Law School]   As the world of government information evolves so too does the definition of what is a government document.   

The face of government information is changing.  Once entirely tangible, in the last couple of years, it has become increasingly ethereal as more and more government agencies publish electronically.   Government documents are generated by a wide range of entities.  One of the most prolific publishers is the United States Federal Government.  Besides the federal government, state governments, county governments, and local municipalities also publish.  Other countries and treaty organizations, such as the European Union and the United Nations, produce government documents.  In general the larger the entity the more likely it is to publish.  These publications range the gambit from primary source materials for scholarly research to informational pamphlets for the general public. 

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Citations

44 U.S. Code § 1901 – Definition of Government Publication.  Cornell University Law School.  Legal Information Institute.

Government Documents.  York University. York University Libraries.  (As captured by Wayback Machine April 25m 2010). 

Introduction to Government Information.   University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. University Library. 

United States Government Information:  Policies and Sources.   Peter Hernon, Harold C. Relyea, Robert E. Dugan, and Joan F. Cheverie.  Westport, Connecticut:  Libraries Unlimited, 2002. 

 

Further Reading

Fundamentals of Government Information:  Mining, Finding, Evaluating, and Using Government Resources.  Eric J. Forte, Cassandra J. Hartnett, and Andrea L. Sevetson.  New York, New York:  Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2011.  Covers specific subject areas of government documents such as Health, Economic, Census, Legislation, etc.  

Government Information Tutorials - Introduction to Government Information Sources, Part 1:  What are Government Documents?   Lori L. Smith.  Southeastern Louisiana University. Sims Memorial Library.  Video tutorial to help locate government information in tangible publications and online sources.

Guide to U.S. Government Publications.  Donna Androit.  McLean, Virginia:  Documents Index, 1973- .  Finding aid for identifying U.S. government series titles by agency or keyword.

International Government Information and Country Information:  A Subject Guide.  Andrea M. Morrison and Barbara J. Mann.  Westport, Connecticut:  Greenwood Press, 2004.

Introduction to E-Government.  OCLC WebJuction.    Guide to e-government resource geared to the novice researcher.

Introduction to Government Information Resources.  Lori L. Smith.  Southeastern Louisiana University. Sims Memorial Library.  Brief guide to federal, state and local government information.  Note state and local information is Louisiana-centric.

Introduction to United States Government Information Sources.  6th Edition.  Joe Morehead.  Englewood, Colorado:  Libraries Unlimited, 1999. Guide to general and specialized government information sources.  Somewhat dated.

Tapping the Government Grapevine the User Friendly Guide to U.S. Government Information Sources.  Judith Schiek Robinson.  3rd Edition.  Phoenix, Arizona:  Oryx Press, 1998. 

United States Government Information:  Policies and Sources.   Peter Hernon, Harold C. Relyea, Robert E. Dugan, and Joan F. Cheverie.  Westport, Connecticut:  Libraries Unlimited, 2002.

U.S. Government on the Web:  Getting the Information You Need.  Peter Hernon, Robert E. Dugan, and John A. Shuler.  Englewood, Colorado:  Libraries Unlimited, 1999. Guide to researching government sources.