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Federal Government Documents

An Overview of Biddle’s Collection

Government documents are publications published and distributed by the government rather than by commercial publishers. Documents include such commonly used titles as United States Reports, the United States Code, and the Code of Federal Regulations. They also include a wide range of both popular and obscure pamphlets, posters, treatises, annuals, maps and journals on every subject. Government documents can be valuable research sources and are often cited in legal literature. Though documents are still published in a variety of traditional formats, including paper, microfiche and CD ROM, more are being published daily on the Internet.

Documents in all formats are available to libraries through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). Biddle Law Library is a selective federal depository library, receiving approximately 12 percent of the publications available through the FDLP. Biddle collects most law and law-related government documents. Many of Biddle’s documents are cataloged and can be found using LOLA (which includes links to some government documents on the Internet) and the card catalog. However, some of Biddle’s documents are not cataloged, so you should always ask a Reference Librarian for help if you do not find a publication in LOLA or in the card catalog.

Location of Documents in Biddle

Some of Biddle’s federal documents are housed in Tanenbaum Hall in Biddle Law Library, while others are housed in the William Draper Lewis Collection in Silverman Hall (also known as the “Lewis Collection”). Those housed in Silverman Hall are in closed stacks and have to be retrieved by library staff. If you need a document shelved in the Lewis Collection, go to the Circulation Desk to request that the book be retrieved for you.

Understanding Superintendant of Documents (SuDoc) Numbers

Each federal government document has a unique classification number called a SuDoc number. SuDoc numbers indicate the issuing agency, the office, the type of document, and the individual item. For example:

I 29.9/5: 139

  • I = Department of the Interior
  • 29 = National Park Service
  • .9/5: = Handbooks (numbered series)
  • 139 = Number of the individual circular.

Knowing the SuDoc number of a title will help you find the document in another library if Biddle does not have it. A Reference Librarian can assist you.

Finding Documents in Biddle

If you know the SuDoc number:

  1. Do a Government Documents Number search on LOLA.
  2. Note the location of the item. If the item is located in Biddle, record the Biddle call number (different from the SuDoc number) and retrieve the item from the shelf. If the item is in the Lewis Collection, go to the Circulation Desk and ask to have the item retrieved by staff. Use the Su Doc number as the “call number.”

If you know the title of the document:

  1. Do a title search in LOLA. Note the location of the item.
  2. If the item is located in Biddle, record the call number and retrieve the item from the shelf. If the item is in the Lewis Collection, go to the Circulation Desk and request that it be retrieved by staff.

If the title is not cataloged in either LOLA or the old card catalog:

Ask a Reference Librarian for assistance. The Reference Librarian will determine whether or not Biddle is likely to have the document you need by consulting the latest List of Classes of United States Government Publications Available for Selection by Depository Libraries,  located in Ready Reference, SuDoc #: [SuDocs GP 3.24].

If you do not know the title or the SuDoc number:

If you have only an author, subject or keyword of a document, you can try searching LOLA or the card catalog. However, it will be easier to find if you have the title or SuDoc number. There are several indexes, listed below, that might help you determine exactly which document you are looking for.

Determining a Document’s SuDoc Number or Title

Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications (MoCAT): A print index to federal publications published from 1895 to approximately 2004. For publications issued prior to 1976, the printed Monthly Catalog should be consulted. For publications published after 1976, consult the electronic Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP).

Paper (1931-2001) [REF Z 1223 .A18]

Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP):  Originally the online equivalent to the Monthly Catalog, the CGP has now replaced the Monthly Catalog. The CGP provides catalog information to print and electronic federal publications. CGP also provides links to publications available online. While coverage currently begins in 1976, coverage will eventually date back to the late 1800s. Basic and advanced search options are available.


CIS Indexes (1789- )

Biddle owns all CIS indexes to federal legislative history materials, including the CIS Index, Abstracts, and Legislative Histories.

LexisNexis Congressional

A database containing all the CIS legislative history indexes from 1970, including the full text of many recent legislative history documents. Available to Penn affiliates through ProQuest Congressional.

The CIS Abstracts and CIS Legislative Histories volumes’ contents are also available to Penn Law affiliates on Lexis, in the LEGIS library, CISLH file.

Finding Full Text Government Documents on the Internet

Federal Digital System (FDSys)

For a list of documents available in full text via the Internet, check the Federal Digital System (FDsys).


Thomas provides legislative information and is the official web site of the United States Congress.  It has full text legislative materials, including current bills.

University of Michigan Documents Center, Federal Government Resources on the Web

A user friendly, award winning, all encompassing guide to government document information on the Internet.