The United States federal government provides information and statistics on many subjects that can be useful when doing research in the social sciences and other subject areas. This guide focuses almost exclusively on United States federal government documents useful for social science research.
As with all information, remember to evaluate the appropriateness and accuracy of the government information you locate, and to think critically about the materials. When in doubt about the progress of your research remember to check with your instructor or research advisor.
The history of United States federal government documents provides the context to understand why and how the documents are produced. During the federal era and the early republic (1789-1820) most of the information produced by the United States government was either reported by the Executive branch and sent to Congress, the Legislative branch, as stipulated in the Constitution, or produced by Congress itself. In 1813 Congress passed a law to authorize the systematic printing of government materials, such as House and Senate journals, and required the publications to be sent to selected academic and state libraries.
For the creation of this guide the following resouces were useful:
The Superintendent of Documents Classification System (SuDoc) is how government documents are cataloged, organized, and shelved. Here is an example for the County and City Data Book, a supplemental publication of the Statistical Abstract. Its SuDoc is C3.134/: 2: C83/2 2012:
|C||Department of Commerce|
|3.||Bureau of the Census|
|134/;||Statistical Abstract of the United States|
|C83/2||County and City Data Book|
Libraries who participate in the FDLP collect all government publications or selected ones. A selective depository's collection is governed by the selections it makes from the List of Classes, which serves as a subject guide to the government's publications. Another useful tool for collection decisions is the List of Essential Titles for Public Use in Paper or Other Tangible Format.