U.S. Government Documents at Columbia

U.S. government documents are publications issued by the three branches of the government. Most of the publications by the Judicial branch (laws, court reports, decision, etc.) are in the Law Library, but other Columbia Libraries have many works issued by the Executive and Legislative branches. Occasionally, these documents are listed under an individual author, but usually the author is considered to be the government, so that, for example, the author of the Foreign relations of the United States is United States. Department of State.

As a general rule, documents published before the mid-1970's were cataloged for Butler Library (many are now stored off-site), and those from 1975 were collected by the International Affairs Library in Lehman; most have been sent off-site now.   Many recent government publications are also online, generally from the 104th Congress (1995/96) to the present at GPO Access.  Columbia also have a large collection of older goverment publications, and the following guide is a brief introduction to the types of documents and how to find them.

Guides to government publications

  • Boyd, Anne Morris. 3rd ed. rev. by Rae Elizabeth Rips.
    United States government publications.
    New York, Wilson, 1949.
    R328.734 B69 Butler Reference
    A very useful guide to the history, organization, and publications of government agencies up to July 1948.

  • Morehead, Joe.
    Introduction to United States government information sources.
    6th ed., Englewood, Colo., Libraries Unlimited, 1999.
    R328.734 M81 Butler Reference Desk
    An electronic version of this book is also available in Columbia's e-book collection.

  • Schmeckebier, Laurence Frederick.
    Government publications and their use.
    2nd rev. ed., Washington, Brookings Institution, 1969.
    R328.734 Sch411 Butler Reference Desk
    Z1223.Z7 S3 1969 Lehman-Social Work Reference

Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch consists of Congress, as well as its subsidiary agencies, such as the Congressional Budget Office, the General Accounting Office, and the Library of Congress; most of the documents produced are issued by the Congress. Congressional publications are usually listed in CLIO and/or the Names and Titles Catalog under United States. Congress, United States. Congress. House, or United States. Congress. Senate. The main duty of Congress is to consider and pass legislation, and each step in that process results in specific publications.

The Congressional Record

The Congressional Record and its predecessors are more or less a record of what was said on the floor of Congress. In chronological order, these publications are:

  • United States. Congress.
    The Debates and proceedings of the United States Congress.
    Washington, Gales and Seaton, 1834-1856.
    328.732C Butler Stacks. Some issues are missing.
    FN 561 Butler Microform Reading Room. Reproduces the complete run.
    Full text available online through Heinonline.

    Generally referred to as the Annals of Congress. Includes abstracts, compiled from newspapers and other sources, of the debates from the 1st Congress through the 1st sesion of the 18th Congress (1789-1824). Includes the public laws, and some executive reports.
  • United States. Congress.
    Register of debates in Congress.
    Washington, Gales and Seaton, 1825-1837.
    328.732 C1 Q Butler Stacks. Some issues are missing.
    FN 72 Butler Microform Reading Room. Reproduces the complete run.
    Full text available online through Heinonline.

    Abstracts of the debates from the 18th Congress, 2nd session (December 1824) through the 25th Congress, first session (October 1837). It also includes laws, messages from the President, and some department and committee reports.
  • United States. Congress.
    The Congressional Globe.
    Washington, Blair & Ives, 1834-1873.
    F4679 Butler Microform Reading Room. Reproduces the complete run.
    P C759 Law Library Rare Books Collection (1834-1873).
    Available online through Heinonline.

    The first five years overlap with the Register of Debates and, like the Register, it provides an abstract of the debates. Beginning in 1851, there was an attempt to provide verbatim reports.
  • United States. Congress.
    Congressional Record. Permanent Edition.
    Washington, Govt. Print. Off., 1873- .
    328.732 E (1873-June 1981) Butler Stacks.
    KF35.U5 (Sept. 1981-1986) Butler Stacks.
    FN73 (1873-1996) Lehman Microfilm.
    Full text is available online through Heinonline.

    The Congressional Record is indexed at the end of each session, and the indexes are published as part of the Permanent Edition. A daily stenographic report of the debates and proceedings on the floor of Congress, though since members have the right to insert or edit remarks, it is not always strictly an account of everything that was said.

House and Senate Journals

The Journals of the House and of the Senate are published at the end of a Congressional session, and include the proceedings, actions taken, voting information, the texts of communications from the President, and a "History of bills and resolutions".

  • United States. Congress. House.
    Journal of the House of Representatives.

    Washington, The House, 1789- .
    328.734 E1 (1789-1815) Butler Stacks
    1817-1952 Available in the Serial Set, volume numbers listed in the Serials Catalog
    328.734 E111 Butler Stacks (1953-1984)
    KF46.A22 Butler Stacks (1984- .)
    1789-1873 available online via the American Memory Project.

  • United States. Congress. Senate.
    Journal of the Senate.
    Washington, The Senate, 1789- .
    1817-1952 Available in the Serial Set, volume numbers listed in the Serials Catalog
    328.734 E21 (1953-1984) Butler Stacks
    KF45.A22 Butler Stacks (1985- .)
    1789-1873 avialable online via the American Memory Project.


Congressional committees (or rather subcommittees, but in general only the name of the committee is required to locate them) hold hearings when considering bills, appropriations, or appointments, or when investigating issues. These hearings may or may not be published, though publication is more frequent now than in the 19th century.

Until the mid-1920's, Columbia cataloged hearings separately, and they can be found in the Names and Titles Catalog (or sometimes in CLIO) under United States. Congress. (House or Senate). Committee. Title of the hearing. From about 1925 (it varies by Committee) until 1975, hearings can be located in the Serials Catalog under United States. Congress. (House or Senate.) Committee. Congress number, session (eg. 97th Congress, lst session), then alphabetically by title of the hearing. Hearings held after 1975 are located in the Lehman Library on micofiche.  Records for these hearings are listed in CLIO.  Many of  the hearings are also available in full text through Lexis Nexis Congressional.

  • CIS US Congressional committee hearings index.
    Washington, Congressional Information Service, 1981-1982.
    R328.734 C497 Butler Reference.
    Also available online through Lexis Nexis Congressional.

Committee Prints

These are studies which may be requested by committees when considering a bill or an issue. They can contain background, statistical, and other useful information, but are not usually distributed to libraries.  However, most are available online through Lexis Nexis Congressional.

  • Congressional Information Service.
    CIS US Congressional committee prints index.
    Washington, CIS, 1980.
    R328.734 C763 Butler Reference
    The Science, Industry, and Business Library of the New York Public Library (188 Madison Avenue) has purchased the microfiche.

Bills and Laws

Bills are proposed legislation introduced into Congress and do not have the force of law until passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President (or passed over his veto). An incomplete set of bills from the 76th through the 92nd Congress is available in the Butler Stacks at 327.732 L. Occasionally the texts of bills are included in the Congressional Record.  However, the Science, Industry, and Business Library of the New York Public Library (188 Madison Avenue) has a set of bills from 1789-1966 on microfilm. Once a bill becomes a law, it is issued in the United States Statutes at Large, which is available in print from 1976 to the pres ent in the Documents Service Center and from 1789 to the present in the Law Library. The Statutes at Large is available online via Heinonline.  Eventually, laws are codified and issued in the U.S. Code, which is available in the Law Libary, and online via GPO Access.

Executive Branch

The Executive Branch consists of the Office of the President, the executive offices, and the Office of the Federal Register.

Presidential Papers

The Lehman Library has prepared a very useful guide to souces relating to the Office of the President.

The personal papers of the presidents are not considered government documents and are listed under the individual's name in CLIO and/or the Names and Titles Catalog, though the collected papers often include official papers. Official documents which the Library has cataloged separately are listed in CLIO and/or the Names and Titles catalog under United States. President (date and name) as the author.

Official presidential papers have also been compiled from 1789-1897 and published as

  • United States. President.
    A compilation of the messages and papers of the presidents...
    New York, Bureau of National Literature, 1897. 20v.
    J81.B96 Butler Stacks
    This is also available online at Heinonline.

Beginning with the presidency of Herbert Hoover, the U.S. government publishes the official papers of the presidents, excepting those of Franklin Roosevelt, which were published commercially.

  • United States. President.
    Public papers of the Presidents of the United States: containing the public messages, speeches, and statements of the President.
    Washington, Office of the Federal Register, 1956- .
    J80.A283 Butler Stacks
    These are also online at Heinonline.

Beginning in 1977, the Public Papers have included all of the material in The Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, which began publication in 1965.

  • Weekly compilation of Presidential documents.
    Washington, Office of the Federal Register, 1965- .
    J80.A284 Butler Stacks (1965-1976) emThe Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, which began publication in 1965.
    These are also online at Heinonline.

Cabinet Departments

Publications of departments are often listed in the many indexes to documents and the annual reports are often included in the Serial Set. Publications which Columbia has cataloged separately are listed in the Names and Titles Catalog under the author, for instance United States. Department of State, or in CLIO, though because of computerized filing, the author is United States dept of....

  • Government agencies.
    Westport, Conn., Greenwood Pr., 1983.
    R353 G746 Butler Reference
    JK421.G65 1983 Lehman-Social Work Reference
    A very useful one-volume encyclopedia, describing the various government agencies, their duties, and their histories.

Serial Set

Many of the Executive branch publications are included in the Serial Set, whose over 13,000 volumes are a compilation of House and Senate reports and House and Senate documents. It is cataloged in CLIO under the title Serial Set, and shelved off-site. Volumes can be requested directly through the off-site request button in the CLIO record. Richard J. McKinney's An Overview of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set is a useful introduction to the extremely important and wide-ranging contents of this essential publication.

There are a number of indexes to the contents of the Serial Set. Among the most useful are

  • United States. Superintendent of Documents.
    Tables and annotated index to the congressional series of United States public documents.
    Washington, Govt. Print. Off., 1902.
    R328.734 A3 Butler Reference
    Includes a subject index to the Serial Set from the 1st through the 52nd congress.
  • Congressional Information Service.
    CIS US serial set index.Washington, CIS, 1975.
    R328.734 C762 Butler Reference
    Also available online through Congressional Universe.
    Covers the years 1789-1969. A subject index (mainly key word in the title) with a checklist of item numbers keyed to the Serial Set volumes. The Serial Set is online as U.S. Congressional serial set and through Lexis Nexis Congressional.

Indexes and Checklists of Government Documents

The following are the main indexes, arranged chronologically, to government publications issued by all the branches.

  • Greely, Adolphus Washington.
    Public documents of the first fourteen Congresses, 1789-1817. Washington, Govt. Print. Off., 1900.
    R328.734 G1 Butler Reference
    A listing by Congress and then by type of publication, with an index of names.
  • Poore, Benjamin Perley.
    A descriptive catalog of the government publications of the United States, Sept. 5, 1774-March 4, 1881.
    Washington, Govt. Print. Off., 1885.
    R328.734 AUn3 Butler Reference
    The first attempt to compile a complete list of govenrment publications, but unfortunately many departmental publications were omitted. Arranged chronologically, with minimal indexing.
  • United States. Department of the Interior. Division of Documents.
    Comprehensive index to the publications of the United States government, 1881-1893.
    Washington, Govt. Print. Off., 1905.
    R328.734 All Q Butler Reference
    Generally referred to as Ames after its compiler. Arranged by subject, with a name index. Again, not all departmental publications were included.
  • United States. Superintendent of Documents.
    Catalogue of the public documents of Congress and of other departments of the government of the United States for the period March 4, 1893-Dec. 31, 1940.
    Washington, Govt. Print. Off., 1896-1947.
    R328.734 D35 Butler Reference Oversized
    Generally referred to as the Documents Catalog. For the period published, it was issued at the end of each Congress. An extremely useful listing by author and subject of Congressional and departmental publications. It includes publications issued as part of the Serial Set, and provides the Serial Set volume numbers.
  • United States. Superintendent of Documents.
    Monthly catalog of United States government publications.
    Washington, Govt. Print. Off., 1895- .
    R328.734 D5 Butler Reference (1941-1976)
    R328.734 D5 Butler Stacks (1895-1940)
    1976 to the present available through GPO Monthly Catalog
    1994 to the present available through GPO Access.
    Arranged by department, with an annual index.
  • United States. Library of Congress. Serial and Government publications Division.
    Popular names of U.S. Government reports: a catalog.
    4th ed. Washington, Govt. Print. Off., 1984.
    R328.734 Un3421 Butler Reference
    A listing, with detailed descriptions, of executive and legislative reports and commissions. Includes a subject index. Includes the Serial Set volume numbers for items included in that publication.