Government Documents

Federal Depository Library System and Government Documents

government documents

For over 150 years the United States Government has distributed informative publications to the American people through a system of depository libraries operated by the Government Printing Office (GPO). There are many of these libraries located throughout Michigan. For a depository near you, go to this complete list. While some depository libraries do not receive all the information published by the federal government, you will find important and useful material in each of their collections.

Examples of Material Found in a Depository Library

  • The federal government produces a wide range of publications from cookbooks and child care information to scientific and economic reports. Some examples of material found in a depository collection include:
  • Census Information -  The population counts that result from the decennial census are just one example of numerous statistical resources produced by the government.
  • Laws and Regulations - Laws are the end result of the legislative process and are fundamental to the running of the country. Depository collections not only contain the official text of these laws, but frequently the reasoning of the legislators who passed them. Regulations are promulgated by the executive branch of government in order to enforce the laws passed by the legislative branch.
  • Tax Forms - Staff at depository libraries can help patrons locate unusual tax forms, although they cannot give advice on completing them.

Availability of Material

Some of the libraries in the depository program select to receive a lot of the material available and some select a small portion. Individual libraries determine what they will receive based on the needs of patrons in their communities. Two libraries in the state receive everything that is available: the Detroit Public Library and the Library of Michigan.

GPO Access

The Government Printing Office (GPO) is distributing more official government information via the Internet each year through a free service called The Federal Digital System.

List of databases contained within GPO Access.

Web Resources
There are a number of ways to locate government documents. The two primary methods are indexes/catalogs of the material and specialized Internet search engines.


  • The GPO provides a catalog of government publications. Many of the records appearing in this catalog have links to full text material available on the web.
  • Residents of Michigan can access the GPO database on FirstSearch. The GPO database is a catalog of government documents published from 1976 to the present.
  • If you are looking for government documents published before 1976 please contact one of the depository libraries in the state.
  • If you choose to visit a depository library to find a copy of any documents you identified in one of the indexes, it is best to print out the entire entry for the document you are interested in before you go. Remember, because of the selection and retention patterns of the various libraries, finding a publication in an index does not mean that an individual library will have that document. Always check with the library to make sure what you are interested in is available.

Search Engines

  • is a gateway to government information sources. You can use a search engine to find things, but has attempted to direct users to the most often requested material from its home page.
  • If you hear a government agency has issued a report you can begin your search by going directly to the agency's page. Search for agency pages.


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