Monday, September 13, 2010

Introduction to reference: Government sources

Government documents or publications are produced in various formats by governments and international bodies from around the world. Documents produced by governments include various types of ready reference materials such as handbooks, directories, atlases, and bibliographies plus materials unique to government such as debates, bills, and statues.

Over the years, North American libraries have played a significant part in providing access to government documents. Both Canada and the United States have established depository library programs. These programs ensure that designated libraries receive free copies of selected government publications. Some provinces and states also have depository programs.

The Canadian federal Depository Services Program, or DSP, was established in 1927. Its primary objective is to ensure that Canadians have ready and equal access to federal government information. The DSP achieves this objective by supplying these materials to a network of more than 790 libraries in Canada and to another 147 institutions around the world holding collections of Canadian government publications.

Today, the DSP is an arrangement with some 680 public and academic libraries to house, catalogue and provide reference services for the federal government publications they acquire under the program. These depositories must make their DSP collections available to all Canadians and for interlibrary loans. Currently fifty-two full depository libraries automatically receive documents listed by the DSP. Due to their special information mandates, the National Library and the Library of Parliament also receive copies of each publication. The balance of the depository libraries are selective and choose only those publications that meet the needs of their clients. A list of selective and full depository libraries can be found at

In order to make Manitoba government publications more accessible to the people of Manitoba, the Manitoba Legislative Library operates a provincial depository system in which eight libraries throughout the province automatically receive current Manitoba government publications. (For a list of participating libraries see As of September 2010, the Manitoba Legislative Library is no longer providing paper copies of provincial government publications due to the rise in postage costs. The majority of publications are available online for access. The National Library of Canada continues to receive Manitoba government publications for their collection.

In the last few years, governments have been moving many of their documents to electronic formats in an effort to reduce print costs, respond to growing demand from users for electronic formats which provide several advantages over print documents, and improve access to and the availability of publications for those with the technology to use these formats. While the move to electronic distribution may mean fewer print documents, libraries will still play a critical role in providing access, particularly for those without computers.

It is important for you to have a general knowledge about government publications so you can provide patrons with good service. Where libraries have extensive collections of government publications it is not unusual to have separate government documents collections organized according to special classification systems. Sometimes there will also be staff with special expertise in dealing with government documents. Where a patron’s need is beyond the scope of general information it may be necessary to call on their services.

Useful places to keep abreast of government documents being produced include:

The Weekly Checklist [Canadian Federal publications]
The Weekly Checklist is produced each week by the Depository Services Program. Every Checklist includes a listing of book and serial titles which have been released during the week by the Parliament of Canada, federal departments, and Statistics Canada.

Depository institutions use the Checklist to order publications for their collections, but non depository institutions will discover that the Checklist provides an excellent guide to free and priced Canadian government documents.

Government of Canada Publications
The Government of Canada Publications web site provides a single window access to free and priced publications authored by Government of Canada departments. The database does not have every publication published from all departments. It does, however, have over 100,000 publications listed and this number is increasing on a daily basis.

Not all publications listed are available for ordering through this site. Some publications are out of print or are only distributed through the author department.

Manitoba Government Publications Monthly Checklist
The Checklist, compiled and published monthly, includes Manitoba government publications received during the month by the Manitoba Legislative Library under its deposit requirement with all provincial government departments and agencies.

In each Checklist, departments with their branches and subdivisions as well as boards, committees and other agencies are listed in alphabetical order under the minister to whom they report. All publications are listed under the issuing body.

Order each Checklist items marked with an asterisk through Statutory Publications Branch. Requests for other items should be directed to the issuing department or agency.

Provincial Publications. Federal Publications Inc.
There is no central location at which one may obtain documents from all provincial governments. Those wishing to acquire provincial publications must contact the government bookstore in each individual province or territory. This site provides addresses, telephone numbers and website links for each provincial outlet.

Catalog of U.S. Government Publications
The Catalog of U.S. Government publications provides an index to print and electronic publications created by Federal agencies. When available, links are provided to the full-text of these publications. Coverage begins with January 1994. New records are added daily.

U.S. Government Online Bookstore
The official online bookstore for U.S. Government publications available for purchase from the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Other sources

Canon, Anita. Canadian Government Information on the Internet (CGII).
Comprehensive listing of sources for all levels of government including local government.

Foreign Government Resources on the Web. University of Michigan Documents Center.
Includes a collection of links to foreign government information on the Web. Countries are organized by geographic area with a vast array of internet resources including country background, biographies of officials, foreign policy, human rights, national symbols, constitutions, laws, treaties, embassies, foreign news sources, demographic statistics, economics, health, etc.

“Government Publications.” The AcqWeb Directory.

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