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Guide to United States Government Documents: Home

How-to & Library Resources

(Updated 04/2007)

(Links updated 12/2016)

GENERAL INFORMATION: Rutgers Law Library exists to support the research and study needs of the students, faculty and staff of Rutgers School of Law at Newark. Members of the public can use the resources of Rutgers Law Library to conduct legal research.

The Reference Librarians cannot provide legal advice or help you make decisions regarding your legal rights and liabilities nor can they interpret statutes, cases or any other materials for you. They can direct you to sources that may help answer your questions. Patrons are reminded that because of the complicated nature of many legal problems the services of a qualified Attorney may be needed.

  1. Introduction

    Rutgers Law Library has been a selective depository in the U.S. Documents Program since 1979, when Public Law 95-161 designated the libraries of accredited law schools to be eligible for participation in the program. Prior to 1979, the Law Library received some of the law-related Depository documents from the John Cotton Dana Library. Thus, the Law Library has extensive holdings of U.S. Government documents from before 1979. Currently, as a selective depository, the library elects to receive those documents which are deemed most useful to law school patrons and the citizens of our Congressional district. Presently the library selects about 25% of what is available to libraries, a portion of which (10%) are health-related materials that are sent to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey as part of a selective housing agreement. The Law Library is located near the Newark Public Library, which, as the regional depository for the state of New Jersey, receives all the documents in the program. The John Cotton Dana Library, also on the Rutgers-Newark Campus, receives a significant percentage of non-law related documents available through the program.

    When one thinks of government documents, Congressional hearings and reports, court decisions and agency regulations come to mind. The Government Printing Office (GPO) also produces other valuable materials such as Internal Revenue Service publications, statistical compilations, reports, studies, and books on a wide variety of topics.

  2. Locating Government Publications

    Federal government publications are arranged according to the Superintendent of Documents numbering system (called "SuDoc" for short). Essentially the SuDoc system is an agency-based classification scheme and differs from the subject-oriented classification schemes most library users are familiar with (i.e., Dewey and Library of Congress). The first letter or letters of a SuDoc number indicate the agency or department that issued the document. For example, the prefix "T" indicates a Treasury Department document; similarly, the letter "J" indicates the Justice Department. After the prefix there are numbers that signify the subordinate units of the department as well as the series designation. To illustrate this by example: documents issued by the Agriculture Department begin with A 1; the yearbooks issued by the Agriculture Department are A 1.10; likewise, documents by the Agriculture Department's Forest Service begin with A 13; a SuDoc of A 13.3 signifies Forest Service Bulletins.

    After the Agency and Series designation(s), a colon ":" is followed by a number and/or letters. This identification after the colon designates the particular document within the series. For example, A 1.1:988 stands for the Agriculture Department's annual report for 1988. A 13.3:26 is the SuDoc for Forest Service Bulletin 26.

    Unnumbered publications are given a combination letter/number based on the title. English Defenders of American Freedoms 1774-1778, a book issued by the Library of Congress, was assigned a SuDoc number of LC 1.2:EN 3/774-78. Its breakdown is as follows: LC (Library of Congress), 1.2 (General Publications), EN 3/774-78 (combination letter/number based on the title).

    The Library keeps a chart outlining the major agencies and their prefixes. It is found on the bulletin board next to the Documents Librarian's Office (Room 267).

  3. Retrieval of Documents

    The Library's federal depository collection is housed in compact shelving on the second floor, in rows 67-132. With a few exceptions, federal government documents do not appear in the library's on-line catalog or in the card catalog. If you do not find a particular U.S. Document in the catalogs, do not give up. There are resources and staff on the second floor to consult with; in fact, it may be best to start your search on the second floor. For reference help, there is usually a member of the Documents department available Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. At other times, you may seek assistance from the reference librarian on duty at the first floor reference desk. You may also phone ahead during the day (973) 353-5966 and obtain some reference and location guidance before coming to the library.

  4. Research Sources, Indexes and Finding Aids

    There are many finding aids for government publications (some produced by the U.S. Government, others by private publishers) that provide a variety of approaches to locating documents.The Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications is the basic catalog of what the government publishes. The Monthly Catalog records from 1976 to the present are available on the Internet at this URL: It provides comprehensive information about documents including the SuDoc number, which is the number by which the documents are shelved. For documents published before 1976, use the print version of the Monthly Catalog. Issued monthly, it also features semiannual and annual indexes; these indexes are by subject, author, title, title keyword, SuDoc number, stock number, and series/report number. The Monthly Catalog is found in the Documents Reference area on the second floor.

  5. The Congressional Information Service (CIS) Indexes and Abstracts is the most comprehensive and useful source for tracking down congressional reports and hearings. Beginning with 1970, the set provides access to the documents through a variety of indexes; one that is unique and helpful is an index by witnesses (witnesses being found in the index by Subject and Names). Each index entry provides a CIS Accession Number that leads to a corresponding abstract. The abstracts give detailed summaries of the reports and hearings, along with the SuDoc numbers needed to locate them on the shelves.

    Another helpful feature of the CIS indexing service is its Legislative History volumes. Beginning with 1984 and arranged by Public Law number, these volumes lay out the pertinent reports, hearings, congressional dates of consideration, and any presidential statements. This set is located at DOCS. REF KF 49 .C62

  6. The Commerce Clearing House Congressional Index is a set of black looseleaf binders found in Documents Reference area on the second floor. Two volumes are issued for each Congress. One volume covers Senate legislation; the other covers the House of Representatives' legislation. The CCH Congressional Index is an excellent source for checking the status of legislation pending before the current congress. It features indexes by subject, sponsor, and bill number. The set goes back to the 81st Congress (1949-1950). When compiling a legislative history, volumes from prior years can be checked to ascertain what documents were produced during the legislative process.
  7. The Publications Reference File lists government publications that are in print and for sale by the Government Printing Office. It is a set of microfiche cards arranged by author, title, subject, SuDoc number and GPO stock number. There are also microfiche for out-of-print documents. The microfiche file is found on top of Microfiche Cabinet 25 on the second floor. Westlaw also provides an on-line version of the PRF (GPO-PUBS) that may be searched by students and faculty.
  8. The List of Classes of United States Government Publications Available for Selection by Depository Libraries provides an outline of all the current SuDoc numbers for the classes of government publications. The latest edition is kept in the Documents Office (Room 267).
  9. Over 200 different Subject Bibliographies are published by the Government Printing Office. Subject bibliographies are short pamphlets listing basic federal government titles in an area of research. They provide a good starting core list for a novice researcher. They are arranged by topic (e.g., Patents & Trademarks, SB-021) and by series (e.g., National Park Service Handbooks, SB-016). Listings include title, date, pagination, SuDoc number, stock number, and price. The is also a subject index at the end of the series. These subject bibliographies can be found in the Documents Reference area.
  10. The Guide to U.S. Government Publications (popularly known as Andriot's Guide) provides descriptive summaries of series and publications; it outlines agency publication history and traces the changes in SuDoc numbers over time. This can be very useful if one is searching for older documents, as SuDoc numbers can change depending on the time period. For example, what is now the Defense Department with a SuDoc letter D, was at one time the War Department with SuDoc letter W. The latest edition that the library has is 1991. This guide is located at DOCS. REF Z 1223 .Z7 A574

  • Reference Bibliography

    In addition to the reference sources listed above, there are also some other titles in the library collection that may be useful for finding and researching government documents. Some of the following may be helpful:

    Garner, Diane L, and Diane H. Smith (for ALA/GODORT). The Complete Guide to Citing Government Information Resources. (Congressional Information Service, Inc., 1993). Located at: REF Z 7164 .G7 G37 1993

    Goehlert, Robert. Congress and Law-Making: Researching the Legislative Process. 2nd ed. (Clio Books, 1989). Located at: DOCS. REF KF 240 .G63 1989

    Martin, Fenton S., and Robert U. Goehlert. How to Research Congress. (Congressional Quarterly, 1996). Located at: DOCS. REF JK 1108 .M349 1996

    Morehead, Joe. Introduction to United States Public Documents. (Libraries Unlimited, Inc., 1975). Located at: DOCS. REF Z 1223 .Z7 M67

    Schmeckebier, Laurence F., and Roy B. Eastin. Government Publications and Their Use. Rev. ed. (Brookings Institution, 1961). Located at: DOCS. REF

    Zwirn, Jerrold. Congressional Publications and Proceedings: Research on Legislation, Budgets, and Treaties. 2nd ed. (Libraries Unlimited, Inc., 1988) Located at: DOCS. REF JK 1067 .Z85 1988