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Government Documents - United States Collection Development Policy

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U.S. Government Documents



The Dartmouth College Library began collecting United States government documents from the beginning of the republic. Two good examples still in the library collection are the American State Papers containing legislative and executive documents from 1789-1823, and the first decennial census reports from 1790. 

1884 -- In 1884 over 45,000 federal government documents were distributed in the following manner: "To the several institutions in each State and Territory which have been designated as depositories of public documents, in accordance with the provisions of section 501 of the Revised Statutes, one set each." Among the list of 324 depositories receiving government publications was Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. House Executive Document no. 93 contained the first official listing of the Dartmouth College Library as a federal depository library. 

1930's -- Reference Librarian Paul Allen began using a color band system for organizing and finding congressional hearings. This system was used for many years and drew attention from several libraries (Harvard 1946, Wellesley 1949, Elizabethtown College 1958). 

1979 -- A separate documents collection arranged by Superintendent of Documents classification was placed on Baker Library's serials reading room mezzanine. 

1981-1982 -- A central public service point for government information called the Government Documents Center was fashioned from a temporary makeshift area in the "old Serials lobby." 

1984 -- A symposium entitled "The Centennial Collection" was held at the Rockefeller Center honoring the 100th anniversary of Dartmouth College Library's designation as a federal depository. Speakers include author Joe Morehead and U.S. Superintendent of Documents Michael DiMario.

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General Purpose

U.S. government documents, as described in this policy, are defined as and primarily limited to informational materials that are published at government expense, or as required by law and distributed free of charge to libraries through the U.S. Government Printing Office's [GPO] Federal Depository Library Program. The Dartmouth College Library, a Federal Depository Library since 1884, is required by Federal statute to make U.S. government publications "available for the free use of the general public" and to abide by the rules and regulations of the Federal Depository Library Program as outlined in the Instructions to Depository Libraries. ["Depository Library Program," U.S. Code Title 44, Pts. 1901, 1911. 1988 ed.] The collection is inspected by the Government Printing Office approximately once every four years. It is the only externally audited collection in the library system. 

As a selective Federal Depository Library, the Dartmouth College Library selects approximately 70% of all U.S. government documents that are made available through the depository program. The documents collection supports the instructional, research, and personal needs of Dartmouth undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty, and is a source of information for many other library users within and beyond the College. Materials from the collection are housed at Baker, Kresge, Dana, Feldberg, Sherman, and Storage libraries. 

Over the past 10 years, the collection was reduced from a 90% federal depository item selection rate to a 70% selection rate. This was accomplished through the de-selection of posters, bibliographies, forms, and directories. Agencies use the Internet for timely telephone and address dissemination reducing the need for print directories. Electronic databases such as the Monthly Catalog, National Technical Information Service, and Scientific and Technical Information Network reduced the need for bibliographies. 

Some discussions were recently held concerning further reduction of the selection rate. Discussions will continue. The factors that prevent a drastic reduction of the selection rate include:

  1. Government Printing Office compliance.
  2. Archiving.
  3. Long distances to other depository libraries.
  4. High use of the collection (by faculty, students, and the general public).
Weeding of the collection has and is being done regularly, and follows federal law and Government Printing Office regulations. All weeding is coordinated through the Government Documents Center at Baker Library. Depository materials must be kept for 5 years. After 5 years, a list of materials considered for weeding must be sent to the University of Maine at Orono Regional Depository for review. If the item is not claimed by the University of Maine, it may then be discarded. 

Feldberg and Dana have begun weeding the federal depository materials in their libraries. When the SUDOC collection was moved to its current location in 1979, it had a growth space allowance of 0%. Weeding has been a continual process at Baker Library since. Lists are produced for the University of Maine at least once a month. 

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Dartmouth College Program and Non-Dartmouth Users

Because of the diverse nature of government publications and because of the substantial interest in current government information, the collection attracts faculty and students in a wide range of programs. U.S. government publications support faculty interests and student demands in the departments of Government, Economics, Geography, Environmental Studies, Native American Studies, History, Sociology, Earth Sciences, the wide variety of Freshman Seminars that are offered each term, as well as a number of special institutes that are offered during the summer [notable among these is the Dartmouth Debate Institute for high school debaters]. The collection also supports the teaching and research interests of faculty and graduate students in the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, Thayer School of Engineering, the Dartmouth Medical School, Computer Science, and the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies [M.A.L.S.] program. In addition, the collection supports the needs of the staffs associated with such administrative offices as the President's Office, Legal Affairs, Forensic Union, Rockefeller Center, Dickey Endowment, World Affairs Council, Career and Employment Services, Affirmative Action, Project Cork Institute, News Service, and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

The U.S. government documents collection also attracts library users from beyond the Dartmouth College community. As mandated by Federal law, the Library is required to meet the informational needs of users from the 2nd Congressional District of New Hampshire, and due to Dartmouth's close proximity to Vermont the collection also attracts many patrons from the Green Mountain State. Among the wide variety of users are academic, public, school, and special librarians; professors from other academic institutions; medical professionals; social workers; business entrepreneurs; scientific researchers from an assortment of research institutions in the area (notably the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research Laboratory and Verax Corporation); elementary and secondary school teachers; newspaper reporters; local authors; Vermont Law School students; and library school students from Simmons College in Boston and the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany.

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General Subject Boundaries

U.S. government documents are selected by series or groups of publications [items selected] issued by the various departments and agencies of the Federal government rather than by subject categories. Examples are: general publications of the Department of State, handbooks of the National Cancer Institute, reports of the Bureau of the Census, circulars of the Geological Survey, maps of the Forest Service, decisions of the Supreme Court, or committee hearings of Congress). All three branches of the Federal government are represented in the collection. 

Unlike other Dartmouth College Library collections, most government publications received since 1978 [the date when a separate government documents collection was established] are housed at the Government Documents Center or at the Jones Microtext Center of Baker Library and are arranged by the Superintendent of Documents classification. Major exceptions are many government serials which are classed by the Library of Congress classification and located in Baker Stacks or at another Dartmouth library and the publications of the National Institutes of Health [NIH] which are housed at the Dana Biomedical Library.

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The U.S. Government publishes primarily in English. A small amount of materials are published in Spanish.

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Geographic Areas

All states and other geographical areas [e.g., counties, cities, census tracts, etc.] are represented in the collection. Over the past 20 years, the U.S. Government expanded publication of materials relating to other countries. The CIA's World Factbook, and electronic products such as the Census Bureau's International Data Base are representative of these publications.

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Types Of Materials Collected

Monographs, serials, and maps are routinely selected as depository publications and are also received as non-depository documents from the Library of Congress's Documents Expediting Project or from individual government agencies. Non-depository scientific and technical reports are purchased selectively from the U.S. National Technical Information Service [NTIS]. Commercial retrieval software products, for use with government CD-ROMs that contain no software programs, are acquired on a selective basis. The Library also subscribes to a number of commercial microform collections [e.g., the CIS Microfiche Library and the ASI Microfiche Library] and to commercial campus-wide electronic services [e.g., Statistical Universe and Congressional Universe]. In addition, a variety of commercial reference aids are acquired to complement the collection.

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Format Of Materials Collected

In addition to hard copies, U.S. government documents are received in microfiche [approximately 40% are distributed in this format], computer laser optical disks [CD-ROMs], and videotapes. Commercial online computer databases are also available. Though Dartmouth does not technically "collect" materials published for free by the U.S. Government on the Internet, Dartmouth does work to provide access to these materials. For example, the CIA's World Factbook is available through the DCIS Navigator. Federal Internet URL's (with hotlinking capability) began to be added to Dartmouth's public catalog in November 1996. The Government Documents Center Internet site provides a Links section organized to provide subject access to selected Federal Internet sites.

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Other Resources Available

Requests for government information, not available in the Library's collection, are directed to the U.S. Government Printing Office, the U.S. National Technical Information Service, other government agencies, or the Documents Expediting Project of the Library of Congress. For census information, inquiries are often made to the U.S. Bureau of Census offices in Washington and Boston or to the New Hampshire State Data Center in Concord. Map inquiries are routinely made to the U.S. Geological Survey and to the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (formerly the Defense Mapping Agency). The resources of the Regional Federal Depository Library at the University of Maine (Orono) are used as well as the resources of other selective depositories in the Tri-State Region [New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine]. Prominent among these depositories are the New Hampshire State Library, the University of New Hampshire, and Middlebury College. Occasionally, interlibrary loan requests are sent to other depository libraries beyond the Tri-State Region. GOVDOC-L, an E-Mail service for government documents librarians, is used daily to obtain information concerning government documents issues.


Revision Dates

April 1993 = Robert Jaccaud

January 1999  = John Cocklin

LC Class

The majority of serial government documents are cataloged in various LC classes depending on their subject. 


John Cocklin

Last Updated: 8/5/16