Federal Depository Libraries
The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), administered by the U.S. Government Printing Office, has distributed documents to libraries around the country since the early 19th century. The fundamental 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. Librarians and staff with expertise in research using government documents continue to serve the country, as well as their particular communities.
*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.
Since 1939, Criss Library has been a selective depository for documents distributed by the U.S. Government Printing Office, and we joined the State of Nebraska depository library program in 1976. Our depository collections encompass some 600,000 printed items, microfiche, CD-ROMs and DVDs, and sheet maps.
The library's commitment to acquiring government publications has long extended beyond those available via the depository programs. Tabor College, founded in 1853 in Fremont County, Iowa, ran into serious financial problems and closed in 1927. After unsuccessfully trying to reopen in the 1930s, the college sold its library holdings, including a strong U.S. documents collection, to the University of Omaha. This purchase extended the chronological reach of our collection into the 19th century, and it continues to benefit researchers at UNO.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Criss Library augmented the depository collections by purchasing a number of microfiche archives and reprint editions. These acquisitions included a remarkably comprehensive U.S. Congressional archive, providing copies of practically every Congressional hearing it is possible for a library to have spanning 1830-1969. Historical census reports, some so dilapidated that they were beyond restoration, were replaced by high quality facsimiles.
In recent years, the library purchased access to commercial databases which provide convenient online access to government publications. The U.S. Congressional Serial Set provides an outstanding collection of resources related to U.S. legislative history, and ProQuest Congressional offers definitive indexing to Congressional publications. Since 2005, the library has participated in Nebraska Public Documents, an ongoing digitization project, which aims to provide free Internet access to reports issued by Nebraska state agencies extending from 1890-1956.
Depository library programs have changed considerably over the past decade, with electronic distribution rapidly increasing while physical receipts decline. We once received about 15,000 U.S. documents each year, and we currently receive about 5,000. The Nebraska depository program discontinued physical distribution in 2005 and now relies entirely on electronic access. To help researchers identify electronic documents, we add records to the library catalog which describe and link to them.
Did you know that Congress established the United States Institute of Peace to conduct research and to offer consultation services to assist with conflict resolution around the world? In recent years, USIP staff have worked in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Colombia, Iraq, Kashmir, Liberia, the Korean Peninsula, Nepal, Pakistan, the Palestinian Territories, Nigeria, Sudan, and Uganda. The Criss Library catalog contains over 500 records describing USIP documents, and many include links to Internet copies.
Reports issued by the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College offer another perspective on peace and conflict, and the catalog includes records for over 450 such studies. You may be surprised at the ways in which the views of USIP staff and military researchers converge and diverge, given their seemingly distinctive missions.
During the years of the Great Recession and its aftermath, reports of the Congressional Budget Office garnered more attention, and the library catalog can lead you to over 870 CBO studies of the United States economy and its prospects spanning over thirty years. Reports of the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture often prove invaluable in understanding how larger economic issues affect us at the level of households.
Government Documents remain a very important resource for research on practically any topic one might imagine. The quality of the research, often funded by agencies like the National Institutes of Health, typically stands up well under the rigors of peer review. Indeed, the results of many government-funded studies are published in peer-reviewed journals as well as in reports issued directly by government agencies.