Locate Federal Documents in the 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.

Federal Depository Icon
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 1860s 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 Research Guide 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.
government documents resource flowchart



  • HSU Library Catalog (1998 to the present)- includes individual federal documents and some series titles locally available in the HSU Library. Note the Sudocs number and publication format--paper, fiche (microfiche), cd-rom or Internet.
  • Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (1870s to the present, but especially after 1976) - search this database to find the Sudocs number, local availability and publicaton format.
  • Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (1895 to 1975) - search the print MoCat to find the Sudocs number. You will need to look in the U.S. Documents Shelflist by this number to determine local availability and publication format.
  • WorldCat (All Dates, but especially prior to 1976) - search this database to see if another library has noted your document's Sudocs number. This number may be slightly different than the number used by the HSU Library but generally it is close. You will need to look in the U.S. Documents Shelflist by this number to determine local availability and publication format.
  • Guide to U.S. Government Publications (All Dates) (Docs Abstracts Docs Z 1223 A574) - look up the series title to find the Sudocs number for the series. There are indexes by series title, title keyword and agency. You will need to look in the U.S. Documents Shelflist by this number to determine local availability and publication format.
  • Checklist of United States Public Documents (1789-1909) (Docs Abstracts GP 3.2:C 41 and online and searchable from Google Books or the Internet Archive) - useful for finding Sudocs numbers for older documents. Departmental publications are listed in agency/Sudocs number order. (Parallel Serial Set numbers for departmental publications are given if also included in the Serial Set.) You will need to look in the U.S. Documents Shelflist by this number to determine local availability and publication format.
  •  U.S. Documents Shelflist (Pre-1998) (card catalog located outside Lib307) - lists in Sudocs number order pre-1998 federal documents locally available in the HSU Library. It is not a author, title or subject catalog.
    US Documents Shelflist

    The shelflist also notes #worldcat1 -- paper, microfiche or cd-rom. If a document is available in microfiche M or MICROFICHE is noted on the shelflist card. Paper copies are noted with a checkmark. In some cases the Library has both microfiche and paper.

    US Documents Shelflist card
  •  U.S. Documents Series (Pre 1998) (drawers in the U.S. Documents Shelflist) - lists document series available in the HSU Library along with the SuDocs number for the series, e.g., the U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin (I 19.3). With this number you can look in the U.S. Documents Shelflist for local availability and publication format of individual titles in the series. 


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.


A 1 Department of Agriculture
A 13 Forest Service
A 52 Natural Resources Conservation Service
A 67 Foreign Agriculture Service
A 77 Agricultural Research Service


  • Department or Independent Agency

    The first letter(s) of a Sudocs number refers to a parent department or independent agency. Following is a list of major parent departments and independent agencies:

    A Department of Agriculture
    AE National Archives and Records Administration
    C Department of Commerce
    CC Federal Communications Commission
    CR Civil Rights Commission
    D Department of Defense
    E Department of Energy
    ED Department of Education
    EP Environmental Protection Agency
    FA Fine Arts Commission
    FEM Federal Emergency Management Agency
    FR Federal Reserve System
    FTC Federal Trade Commission
    GA General Accounting Office
    GP Government Printing Office
    GS General Services Administration
    HE Department of Health and Human Services
    HH Department of Housing and Urban Development
    HS Homeland Security
    I Interior Department
    I 19. US Geological Survey
    J Justice Department
    JU Judiciary (Courts)
    L Labor Department
    LC Library of Congress
    LR National Labor Relations Board
    NAS National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    NF National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities
    NS National Science Foundation
    P United States Postal Service
    PE Peace Corps
    PR President of the United States
    PREX Executive Office of the President
    PRVP Vice President of the United States
    S Department of State
    SBA Small Business Administration
    SE Securities and Exchange Commission
    SI Smithsonian Institution
    SSA Social Security Administration
    T Treasury Department
    T 22. Internal Revenue Service
    TD Department of Transportation
    VA Department of Veterans Affairs
    X,Y Congress
    Y 1.

    Bills, Resolutions, House & Senate Reports, etc.

    Y 1.1/3:
    Senate Documents
    Y 1.1/5:
    Senate Reports
    Y 1.1/7:
    House Documents
    Y 1.1/8:
    House Reports
    Y 1.4/1:
    Senate Bills
    Y 1.4/2:
    Senate Resolutions
    Y 1.4/3:
    Senate Joint Resolutions
    Y 1.4/4:
    Senate Concurrent Resolutions
    Y 1.4/6:
    House Bills
    Y 1.4/7:
    House Resolutions
    Y 1.4/8:
    House Joint Resolutions
    Y 1.4/9:
    House Concurrent Resolutions
    Y 3. Congressional Commissions and other agencies not specifically designated in the Executive Branch
    Y 4. Congressional Committees, Hearings
  • Subordinate Agency or Office 

    The number which follows the parent department letter(s) designates subordinate agencies within the department, with the number 1 referring to the secretary's or administrator's office. Starting with 2, numbers are assigned to agencies and offices within the department. Agencies with lower numbers were first assigned their number when the Sudocs classification system was created in the 1890s. As new agencies are created they are assigned the next available number.

  • Period

    Agency numbers are followed by a period [.]. Since this is not a decimal point the series numbers that follow are treated as whole numbers for shelving purposes. This is critical for locating a document on the shelf.

    Correct Shelving Order (as a period) Incorrect Shelving Order (as a decimal point)
    HE 20.39 HE 20.102
    HE 20.102 HE 20.310
    HE 20.310 HE 20.3162
    He 20.3162 He 20.39
  • Series

    Numbers after the period [.] refer to different kinds of publications or named series. 80% of federal documents are published in a named or numbered series. The following series designations are common across federal agencies, e.g, I 19.3 for the U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin series.

    .1 - Annual reports
    .2 - General publications (unnumbered publications of a miscellaneous nature)
    .3 - Bulletins
    .4 - Circulars
    .5 - Laws (administered by the agency and published by it)
    .6 - Regulations, rules, and instruction
    .7 - Releases
    .8 - Handbooks, manuals, guides
    .9 - Bibliographies and lists of publications
    .10 - Directories
    .11- Maps and charts
    .12 - Posters
    .13 - Forms
    .14 - Addresses, lectures, etc.

    Agencies also develop their own unique series which are assigned the next available number, e.g., the General Technical Report series of the U.S. Forest Service is A 13.88.

    US Documents Series File
Shelving Tips

1. Letters before Numbers:

If both letters and numbers are used for the same class number, shelve letters before numbers. EXCEPTION: S.HRG. AND S.PRT. are filed by session of Congress

Here is the shelving sequence: 

Y 4.J 89/1:AD 65
Y 4.J 89/1:104/23
Y 4.J 89/2:C 55/2
Y 4.J 89/2:98/52 
Y 4.J 89/2:S.HRG.104-374

2. Whole numbers not decimals: 

Sudocs is not a decimal system, it's a whole number system.

Here is the shelving sequence: 

HE 20.40:
HE 20.108:
HE 20.3016:

3. Stem numbers first:

Look at stem number first (before colon), then proceed with remainder of SuDoc No. 

Here is the shelving sequence:

HE 20.3612/3:
HE 20.3612/3-2:
HE 20.3612/4:

4. Treat all numbers numerically:

This includes numbers and years. 
This means numbers and years are filed numerically depending how they appear in the call number. In the past, the GPO dropped the "1" in the year (eg 952, or 998 instead of 1952 or 1998). Since the year 2000, they began assigning the entire year in the SuDoc number (eg. 2003 or 2005).

Here is the shelving sequence: 

ED 1.2:IN 8/2
ED 1.2:IN 8/965
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

Library Catalog

  • 1998 to present 

    HSU Library Catalog - includes federal documents added to the HSU Library since 1998. You can limit your search to only "Government Documents" using Optional Limits

  • 1976 to present

    Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (U.S. Superintendent of Documents) - the major index to federal publications today and a continuation of the print Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications. Fully indexes over 500,000 federal documents from 1976 to present with briefer records for another 500,000 records dating from the 1870's. Provides direct links to publications that are available on the web at the time of indexing.

    To determine local availabilitypublication format and location there are four pieces of information on the full record you need to look for. The full record, as shown below, displays when you click on a publication title.

    1. Internet Access - click on the associated link to access the publication on the web.
    2. Sudocs Number - this is where the publication is shelved in the HSU Library, if available in print, microfiche or cd-rom.
    3. Distributed to ... depository libraries in microfiche - if received in the HSU Library the publication will be available in microfiche format and shelved in the Documents microfiche cabinets.
    4. Locate in a Library - to determine if the publication is locally available in the HSU Library click on the associated link, enter "Arcata" in the City: Locate in a Librarybox. If HSU shows on the resulting page we received the publication. If a regional despository list shows we did not receive the publication.
    Catalog of U.S. Government Publications

    The same Catalog of U.S Government Publications database is also available through FirstSearch.

  • 1970-1987

    Index to U.S. Government Periodicals (Docs Abstracts Z1223 Z9 I5) - annual index to articles found in approximately 170 journals and magazines published by federal agencies. Covers 1970-1987.


Historical Indexes: 1774-1976


  • 1774-1881 

    Descriptive Catalogue of the Government Publications of the United States, September 5, 1774-March 4, 1881 (Poore) 1885 (Docs Abstracts Docs Y4:Serial Set #2268) Lists Congressional and some departmental publications. Arranged by date and within date alphabetically by title. There are gaps in coverage. Contains a minimal subject and name index. Use the Checklist below to find Serial Set and Sudocs numbers. Available online from Johns Hopkins.

  • 1789-1909

    Checklist of United States Public Documents, 1789-1909 (U.S. Government Printing Office) 1911 (Docs Abstracts GP 3.2:C 41) Lists all the publications in the Superintendent of Documents Library as of 1909. Useful for finding Serial Set and Sudocs numbers. Congressional publications are listed chronologically and include the Serial Set number. Departmental publications are listed in agency/Sudocs number order. Parallel Serial Set numbers for departmental publications are given if also included in the Serial Set. Includes an index of government agencies. There is no subject index. Especially valuable for historical notes on agencies and series. Available online and searchable from Google Books, the Internet Archive and Evergreen State College.

  • 1789-1969

    CIS U.S. Serial Set Index (Congressional Information Service) 1975-1979 (Docs Abstracts Z 1223 Z9 C65 1975) Comprehensive index to 325,000 individual publications found in the American State Papers and the Serial Set. Subdivided into 12 parts with each part consisting of an index of title-derived subjects and names; an index of individuals or organizations cited in reports or relief bills; a list of all titles in report or document number order; and a list of volumes in Serial Set number order. Congressional hearings and debates are excluded from the Serial Set for the most part and are not in this index. Continued by the CIS Index.

  • 1881-1893

    Comprehensive Index to the Publications of the United States Government, 1881-1893(Ames) 1905 (Docs Abstracts Y4:Serial Set # 3118) Subject index to both Congressional and department publications, but weaker in the latter. Contains a personal names index at the end of volume two. Gives references to volume numbers needed to locate publications in the Serial Set. While incomplete it is indispensable for the period covered. To find Sudocs numbers for departmental publications and Serial Set numbers for Congressional publications use the Checklistabove. Available online and searchable from University of North Texas--Vol. 1Vol. 2.

  • 1893-1940

    Documents Catalog (U.S. Superintendent of Documents) 1896-1945. (Docs GP 3.6) 
    Author, title and subject catalog of congressional and departmental publications with full bibliographical details. Each volume covers two year Congressional session. Provides Serial Set numbers but does not include Sudocs numbers. More comprehensive in coverage than the Monthly Catalog.

  • 1895-1976

    Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publicatons (U.S. Superintendent of Documents) 1895-1976 (Docs Abstracts Docs GP 3.8) Author, title and subject index to Congressional and departmental publications. Includes Sudocs numbers for each publication. Lacks indexing for many publications created and distributed directly by agencies.

    • Cumulative Subject Index to the Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications, 1900-1971 (Buchannan) 1973-1975 (Docs Abstracts GP 3.8) Subject index to publications listed in the Monthly Catalog from 1900 through 1971. Entries prior to September 1947 show year and page number in the Monthly Catalog, later entries give year and entry number.
    • United States Government Publications Monthly Catalog Cumulative Index, 1971-1976 (U.S. Superintendent of Documents) 1977 (Docs Abstracts GP 3.8)
    • United States Government Publications Monthly Catalog Cumulative Personal Author Index (Przebienda) 1971-1979 (Docs Abstracts GP 3.8) Series of personal author indexes covering 1941-1950, 1951-1960, 1961-1965, 1966-1970 and 1971-1975. Individual author entries were not included in the Monthly Catalog index cumulations until the early 1960's.

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 availabilitypublication format and Sudocs number for documents found in WorldCat you need to do the following:

  • For documents published after 1998 click on Find It Button to search the Library Catalog.
  • For documents published before 1998 follow the directions for determining Library Availability. If there is a GovDoc number (i.e., Sudocs number) be sure to note it.

    WorldCat Government Document Reference