Government Documents

Government Documents in the United States

Legal Materials

There is no guaranteed best way to get a government document. Some sources I’ve found useful:

(1) The MetaLib, which simultaneously searches over 50 U.S. government document databases;

(2) The University of Michigan Document Center, which posts & links to many online government documents;

(3) The check the web site of the agency that put out the pub, or call the agency. Links to Federal agencies are posted on For Congressional publications, try calling the Legislative Resource Center (202-226-5200) and/or the House Documents room (202-226-5210). For other agencies, call the main number and ask if they have a publications department or a library;

(4) WorldCat and/or the online catalogs of Federal depository libraries. You can find depository libraries using the Federal Depository Library Directory.

(5) The GPO’s Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications (MoCat) lists all government publications published by the GPO since about the end of the 19thCentury. Though the issues are monthly, the indexes are annual. The online edition MoCat, the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications, lists materials published by the GPO since 1994. Also, the U.S. Government Online Bookstore lets you look up government publications currently available for sale from the GPO.

(6) The Library of Congress holds lots of government docs, so you can use the Library’s Online Catalog as a free way to search for government information. As far as getting materials from the Library, I don’t know if the LOC would lend out government documents, but they do have a Duplication Services department (202-707-5640). Duplication Services is extremely slow, so you may want to find another source or hire a document retrieval service to go to the Library and make copies for you. (See the “Washington, D.C. Document Retrieval” entry.)

(7) State libraries are often the best source for their state’s government documents. Large public and academic libraries often collect government documents for their state and local municipalities. County libraries often collect local government documents.

(8) Google. You probably searched Google before you even looked at this entry but, if you haven’t tried it yet, give it a go now.

(9) Google Play sells electronic editions of selected Federal government documents.

(10) Government Attic stores government documents obtained with FOIA requests.

(11) E-book venders including the Apple iBookstore, Ingram, Overdrive, etc. sell Federal government documents.

Copyright: Some states assert copyright status in their government documents. The Harvard Law Library’s State Copyright page summarizes the laws for each state (at least as of 2015; we don’t know if this will be updated).

Questions: For questions about Federal government documents, you can “Chat” with or email a government documents librarian through Government Information Online (GIO), a “free online information service supported by nearly twenty public, state and academic libraries throughout the United States.”

Government Documents and the State Laws

Select from the list of U.S. States below for state-specific information on Government Documents:


See Also

Government Publishing Office (GPO)
Federal Legislative History
United States Government Agencies
Document Retrieval

Further Reading

Government Documents: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Government Documents. This part provides references, in relation to Government Documents, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Government Documents by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Government Documents and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Government Documents or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Government Documents and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Government Documents. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Government Documents should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Government Documents when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

*This resource guide is updated frequently. However, if you notice something is wrong or not working, or any resources that should be added, please notify us in any of the "Leave a Comment" area.

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