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"Keeping America Informed": Open Source For Government Information

November 25, 2008

Reference librarians like to help people find useful information; it is one of the joys of our jobs.  Recently, I have been asked by several patrons where they can access PDF copies of information produced by the Federal Government.  As a reference librarian, I enjoy these kinds of questions because they provide terrific opportunities to both assist and educate patrons on a legal resource available, available to anyone free of charge, through the Government Printing Office (GPO).


The GPO is the Federal Government's primary centralized resource for gathering, cataloging, producing, providing, authenticating, and preserving published Federal Government information in all its forms.  The GPO's core mission--"Keeping America Informed"--dates to 1813, and it is this inherent function of government that GPO carries out on behalf of the public for all three branches of government and many of the federal agencies. 

One of the ways that GPO produces and distributes information products and services is through online access via their GPO Access website.  The information provided on this site is the official U.S. Government published version, and GPO Access makes approximately a quarter million titles available to the public.  Moreover, through GPO's partner websites, an additional half million titles are accessible.

The GPO has done a terrific job organizing access to materials produced by the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches of our Federal Government.  Visiting these sites, you will encounter the kinds of resources reference librarians are asked about on a a daily basis such as the Legislative History of Bills, the Congressional Record, Conference and Committee Reports, Public and Private Laws, the Statutes at Large, the U.S. Code, the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Register, and Court Opinions, just to name a few.  It is important to note however, that excepting the Supreme Court materials, GPO Access only provides historical access to resources dating back to the 1990s.

GPO Access is a terrific resource that is both free and easy to use.  With just a little practice, researchers can save themselves and their clients a great deal of money by pulling resources from this open source.