About Government Documents


"It is at times easier to say what is not a government document then what is."  [University of Illinois]  Government documents are generated by a wide range of entities.  In general the larger the entity the more likely it is to publish.  A government document is often a by-product of government activities.  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.  These publications range the gambit from primary source materials for scholarly research to informational pamphlets for the general public. 

The face of government documents is changing.  Once entirely tangible, in the last couple of years, it has become increasingly ethereal as more and more government agencies publish electronically.   As the world of government publication is evolving so is the definition of what is a government document.

Materials published by any government agency [Quizlet]

Is an example of a simple definition, while the U.S. National Library of Medicine uses a slightly more complex one:

Works consisting of documents issued by local, regional, or national governments or by their agencies or subdivisions. [Definitions.net]

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]  Other providers use similar legal definitions.  One of the most inclusive to date is:

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.] 

The Ohio State University Libraries (OSUL) has been actively and systematically acquiring government documents since 1902 when it became a depository library.  Although through the years the areas of interest have changed slightly as the University’s academic needs have shifted,  OSUL has significant holding in the following subject areas:

  • Agriculture
  • Business and Finance
  • Census and Demographics
  • Defense and Military History
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Environment
  • Geography and Maps
  • Health and Safety
  • History
  • International, including Treaties
  • Politics and Law
  • Science and Technology
  • Social Sciences

    Besides being a Selective Federal Depository, since 1959, OSUL has been a Selective Depository for the State of Ohio.  It is also a depository for European Union documents.  As with the Federal Documents, these documents are increasingly electronic.  Plus OSUL receives selected Ohio County, and City publications, and purchases additional government publications and non-depository documents, and indexes to aid in locating government information.



    Definitions.net.  Government Publications.

    Cornell University Law School.  Legal Information Institute.  44 U.S.C. 1901 - Definition of Government Publication.

    Quizlet.  Public Speaking - Definitions of Government Documents

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

    York University Libraries.  Government Documents.