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How to Find Federal Documents in the HSU Library

This guide explains how to find the 490,000 United States government publications that are part of the HSU Library's federal documents depository. These depository materials may be physically in print, microfiche, or digital format in the Library or available on the web. Those available in physical format are located in the Documents Collection on the third floor of the Library.

If you need further assistance please contact our reference staff.

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Federal Depository Overview

The HSU Library is one of 1300 federal depository libraries in the United States. In 1963 the Library became an official federal depository and also inherited one of most extensive depository collections in California from the Eureka Public Library. This collection included some document series dating from the 1860's and a more comprehensive collection dating from 1913 when Eureka became an official depository, and one of only three full depository libraries in California.

Currently there are approximately 32,000 federal documents distributed annually through the depository program. Initially the HSU Library selected 90% of available documents and now selects 70% of available documents. Documents not available locally can be requested on interlibrary loan.

Originally federal documents were distributed to depository libraries exclusively in paper. Beginning in 1977 many documents were distributed in microfiche format and starting in 1988 digital files were distributed on cd-rom. At the height of the microfiche program 60% of documents were distributed in this format. Today over 70% of federal documents are distributed over the web.

Web Availability

Most current federal documents are available on the web as part of the government's e-gov initiative. In addition many older documents are being digitized and becoming available on the web. Documents originally received in paper or microfiche in the HSU Library may now also be on the web.

Current and historical indexes to federal documents may not indicate web availability. For current web availability search Google or other search engines. In addition the Government Information and Databases research guide lists sources for finding federal documents and information on the web.

Library Availability

Beginning with a citation to a federal document (found in a federal document index, subject database, or personal reference) you need the following three pieces of information in order to find a document in the HSU Library:

  1. Sudocs Number - this is the number used for shelving federal documents.
  2. Local Availability - did the HSU Library receive it? The HSU Library currently receives 70% of available federal documents.
  3. Publication Format - paper, microfiche or cd-rom? Documents are physically housed in three separate locations in the Documents Collection, depending on format.

Using the following flowchart select the appropriate resource(s) for finding the above information:

Have SuDocs Number
Don't have SuDocs Number
Series Search
Author or Title Search

Checklist (1789-1909)

MoCat (1895-1976)

U.S. Docs. Series (—1998)

Guide to U.S. Gov.Pubs. (all dates)

WorldCat (all dates)

Library Catalog (1998- )

Catalog of U.S. Gov. Pubs. (1870s-)

MoCat (1895-1976)

WorldCat (all dates)

Library Catalog (1998— )

Shelflist (—1998)

Superintendent of Documents (Sudocs) Classification

Federal documents are organized using the Superintendent of Documents (Sudocs) Classification System which groups materials by issuing agency rather than by subject. As described below it depicts the hierarchical agency organization of the federal government. It also reflects changes in governmental organization over time as agencies are created, transferred, or abolished, e.g., the 19th century Fish Commission (FC) which was a predecessor to today's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (I 49).

Every federal document is assigned a specific Sudocs number which is needed for locating a document in the HSU Library.

Example: Statistical Abstract of the United States (C 3.134:995) where

Statistical Abstract of the United States
C = parent department or independent agency (Dept. of Commerce)
3 = subordinate agency or office (Census Bureau)
. = period (not a decimal point)
134 = series number or kind of publication (Statistical Abstract...)
995 = year of publication

The first four elements of a typical Sudocs number are described below. For a more complete description see An Explanation of the Superintendent of Documents Classification System and the tutorial on Learning Sudocs Call Numbers.

Indexes to Federal Documents

The following general indexes can be used to find Congressional and executive department publications by subject, title or author. For indexes to specialized government materials and topics see Federal Government Document Databases and Government Document Research Guides.

Current Indexes: 1976 to present

Historical Indexes: 1774-1976

WorldCat Database

WorldCat indexes current and many historical federal government publications. To limit to just government publications in WorldCat enter "npg" in the first search box and select "material type" in the adjacent drop down box. In the other search boxes enter keywords that describe your topic.


To determine local availability, publication format and Sudocs number for documents found in WorldCat you need to do the following: