The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), administered by the U.S. Government Publishing Office, has distributed documents to libraries since the early 19th century. The rationale for the program rests with an idea proffered by James Madison in a letter written in 1822:
"A popular government without popular information, or means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."*
The widespread geographic distribution of government documents provides citizens with information about the workings of their government, and it also helps to insure the survival of documents over long periods of time.
Electronic distribution has proven a great benefit to public access, and Federal depository libraries continue to link people to government documents, whether physically in the library or via the Internet.
*James Madison, Letter to W. T. Berry, Aug. 4, 1822, in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (Philip R. Fendall, ed., Lippincott, 1865), vol. III, p. 276.