Government Information

The government information collection was established in 1882 in order to ensure access to official government documents published by the United States, New York State, and New York City. The original goal of this collection was to acquire and maintain a comprehensive print collection of official declarations produced on behalf of government agencies. This collection primarily consists of materials sourced from the Government Publishing Office, the federal agency responsible for distributing print and digital documents from the United States Congress and federal agencies. New titles are added weekly and can be accessed electronically through the library catalog. Although preferred formats and means of access have changed over the years, the purpose of the collection remains the same: to support the government information needs of all members of the Columbia community.

Columbia University Libraries is a selective federal depository library under the provisions of Title 44, United States Code. Certain items selected under this policy are maintained in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the Government Publishing Office’s Federal Depository Library Handbook. As a result of this long-standing commitment, approximately 900,000 items of official federal, state, and city information are available to the Columbia community and the public at large through the Columbia University Libraries. At the federal level, this collection is especially strong in Congressional records, executive agencies and documents from the Government Accounting Office. At the state and city levels, this collection is especially strong in landmarks preservation, transportation, and urban planning.

a. Undergraduate

Government information is a prevalent resource that spans the disciplinary spectrum. In particular, this collection supports students actively pursuing a degree with Columbia College (CC), the School of General Studies (GS), or Barnard College (BC) in the following areas: American studies, history, philosophy, political science, public health, science and public policy, sociology, statistics, sustainable development, and urban studies.

This collection supports the scholarly pursuits of undergraduate students enrolled in University Writing Program courses, especially theme-specific sections focused on law and justice. This collection also supports the teaching and research initiatives of all courses with an emphasis on politics, government, and civic life.

b. Graduate and Professional Schools

This collection supports the scholarly pursuits of all graduate students. In particular, this collection supports graduate students actively enrolled in graduate programs at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation (GSAPP), Mailman School of Public Health, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), School of Social Work, Columbia Journalism School, School of General Studies (GS), School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), and the School of Professional Studies (SPS). 

c. Institutes, Interdisciplinary Programs, Etc.

Government information is a paramount feature of timely, relevant scholarship in areas ranging from cancer research to international conflict resolution. This collection is especially equipped to support the following centers and institutes: Center for the Study of American Architecture, Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes, Columbia Population Research Center, National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Legislative Drafting Research Fund, and the Center for Urban Research and Policy.

d. Course Reserves

Individual faculty members are responsible for selecting materials for course reserves in a timely and efficient manner. The Libraries will make every effort to secure specific materials absent from this collection.

a. Print

This collection consists of 247,000 print monographs, microfiche, periodicals, maps, and conference proceedings. This collection is primarily located in the Libraries’ off-site storage facility (ReCAP), the Law Library, Lehman Social Sciences Library, and Butler Library. Print materials are only acquired when items are not available in an electronic format.  

b. Digital Collections

This collection consists of 737,000 digital objects accessible through Columbia University Libraries’ online catalog. Electronic collections with reduced barriers to access, such as being situated in the public domain, are prioritized. Specific collections under the scope of this policy include the Catalog of United States Government Publications, Code of Federal Regulations, Compilation of Presidential Documents, Congressional Bills, Congressional Record, Economic Indicators, Economic Report of the President, Federal Register, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Official Congressional Directory, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Social Security Handbook, United State Code, the United States Government Manual, United States Reports, and United States Statutes at Large.

In addition to digital documents, raw and aggregated data are increasingly desired by users of the Columbia University community. To that end, this collection supports the growth of government information in the form of digital collections. Research Data Services actively works with the Government Information Librarian to provide access and maintenance of individual data sets, scheduled data releases, and in generally steward these digital collections using best practices. This collection supports the growth of numeric and spatial data catalogs in addition to maintaining a list of government agencies that regularly provide electronic access to statistical data.

c. Media

Not applicable.

d. Languages Collected

English documents are prioritized for selection. Spanish is acquired selectively. All other languages are generally excluded from selection, but may be acquired at the request of students or faculty.

e. Chronological Focus

Materials of both historical and contemporary topics are prioritized.

f. Geographical Focus

Materials from the United States are prioritized, especially materials from New York State and New York City. For international materials, please see the development policies for the most relevant area studies collections.

g. Imprint Dates Collected

The main focus of this collection is current publications, capturing access to government information as it is published by its authoring agency and/or distributed by the Government Printing Office, or other official channels.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) holds the New Reading Materials Programs collection, collaboration between the Works Projects Administration and the New York City Board of Education. RBML also holds the Group Research Collection, a collection documenting the federal interest in political anti-establishment activities of the mid-20th century. Solicitations that may enhance the depth of these collections while maintain their current scope are welcome.

a. Consortia and Collaborative Collecting with Other Institutions

The breadth of available government information is greatly enhanced by Columbia’s participation, with Harvard University, Princeton University, and The New York Public Library, in a shared off-site storage facility (ReCAP); Borrow Direct; and the Manhattan Research Library Initiative (MaRLI), a partnership with New York University and The New York Public Library. These partnerships provide access to additional government information in print and media through cooperative indexing, distribution, subscription and purchase agreements. As a member of the Federal Depository Library Program, this collection relies upon the New York State Library for federal and state government documents outside the scope of this policy.

b. Location Decisions and Selection for ReCAP

Approximately 83,000 items of the government information collection are currently in ReCAP. Unless specifically selected for course reserve or by patron request, all new print materials published after 1976 are assigned to ReCAP. Print materials that have been digitized are prioritized for selection for ReCAP.

c. Deaccessioning

Deaccessioning of government information occurs under one of two circumstances: a recall from the Government Printing Office or through a withdrawal initiated at the discretion of the Government Information Librarian. Although rare, a recall may be initiated for reasons of national security, incorrect or misleading information, and protection of the public interest. Current and archived recall notices are fully documented. Items may qualify for deaccessioning if the physical item is disintegrating, has been digitized, superseded, or has been selected more than five years ago. The New York State Library makes the final authorization for deaccessioning materials selected through the Federal Depository Library Program. For more information about the policies governing the deaccessioning process, please see the Federal Depository Library Program’s weeding guidelines. Resources on obsolete formats are reviewed by librarians on a case-by-case basis; in instances where the original format has artifactual value, it will be retained even after it has been digitized or otherwise reformatted. Materials located in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library are not deaccessioned. 

d. Digitization and Preservation

The Libraries’ Preservation & Digital Conversion Division (PDCD) regularly evaluates materials in the collections for preservation and digitization. Materials digitized by PDCD are accessible through CLIO, the Libraries’ online catalog, and are also made accessible through Google Books, the Internet Archive, or HathiTrust.

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John L. Tofanelli

John L. Tofanelli

Research Collections & Services Librarian

  • Humanities & History

(212) 854-4356
Butler Library - 309 Butler Library
Jeremiah Trinidad-Christensen

Jeremiah Trinidad-Christensen

Head, Research Data Services

  • Digital Scholarship

(212) 854-5664
Lehman Social Sciences Library - 311 International Affairs

Last updated: March 2019