Finding Government Publications

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own set of facts.

Facts are discovered and documented through investigation and research, much of which is either done by government agencies directly or funded by them.  The results are published in reports, studies, conference proceedings, etc.  Distilled into consumer oriented material and/or legislation and regulations.  The universe of government information runs the gambit from consumer brochures to esoteric scientific research papers, from regulations and legislation to statistical data.

The key to finding a government publication is determining who the ‘players’ are - the people, institutions, agencies, departments, etc., that have an interest in the topic, determining what information they generate or collect, and finally how they disseminate information.  This is especially tricky with government publications.  The Federal Government alone is one of the largest publishers in the world, and it is not even the only publisher.  To further complicate matters add in a constantly changing political arena comprised of newly elected officials, compounded by the merging, splitting, creation, and elimination of committees, departments, agencies, and/or political divisions.  The sheer volume of government information published by an ever changing cast of players makes finding a specific piece of data akin to finding a needle in a hay stack.

Take a moment and think about the information you are trying to locate.

Who are the regulators, the interested parties such as lobby groups, and neutrals such as newspapers that might have been or could be involved?

Identify the type of information.  Is it statistical such as population counts, or a law, or a treaty, or a study, something else?

Identify a time frame.  Is it current, 20 years ago, or some other date?

Identify a geographical location.  Is it local, state, or country specific?

Once you have determined these four elements, it is time to start your research.  While doing an internet search is a good starting point, it is not in and of itself the only way to identify government information, and at times might not even be the best way.  Check general purpose and subject specific indices and databases, newspaper indices, government websites such as FDsys, OSUL or other libraries' catalogs, finding aids and resources listed on subject specific web pages such as Treaties, Census, etc. under Government Documents and Information, and consult with Subject Librarians at OSUL.  Most of all be flexible.  Be a detective.  Terminology, finding aids, etc. change over time.