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Locating Legal Information in Primary and Secondary Resources: #13: Accessing Government Documents

How to use specific legal resources.

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Accessing Government Documents

Howard W. Hunter Law Library

Legal Research Guide #13

Accessing Government Documents

Location and Circulation

U.S. government publications are located on levels 1 and 2 of the Howard W. Hunter Law Library. Paper government documents and micorform documents are on the first floor. Reference assistance is available at the second floor Reference desk. Paper documents may be checked out at the main circulation desk on level 2.


BYU has been a selective depository of U.S. federal Publications since 1972.   Many documents published before that time have also been added to the collection. Serving not only its BYU patrons, but the general public as well, the documents area continues to receive new material on a daily basis.


The collection contains documents from the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. Included in the congressional publications are such items as the American State Papers; Congressional Record; House and Senate Journals; house and senate documents, reports, resolutions and bills; committee hearings; slip laws; Statutes at Large and the U.S. Code. Represented in the executive documents are such items as the Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations, Public Papers of the Presidents, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Department of State Bulletin, and other publications from departments, agencies and commissions. A large collection of documents from the judicial branch of government may also be found in the documents collection. Included are U.S. Reports, slip opinions, and opinions of the attorney general.


Most federal publications can be accessed through the online catalog by using either an author, title, subject, or keyword approach. The subject approach is recommended. In some areas of research, such as legislative history, it will be necessary to use one or more of the indexes located in the documents area.

The following is a partial list of the major indexes for Government material:

CCH Congressional Index

CCH United States Supreme Court Bulletin

CIS Index to Congressional Publications and Public Laws

Digest of Public Bills

Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications

Cumulative Subject Index to Monthly Catalog, 1789-1985

Popular Names of U.S. Government Reports

Presidential Executive Orders and Proclamations

Shepards Acts and Cases by Popular Names

U.S. Congressional and Administrative News

U.S. Law Week

U.S. Serial Set Index 1789-1969


Most U.S. government publications are arranged according to the Superintendent of Documents Classification system (SuDoc). This system does nto group documents according to their subject, but rather according to the agency that issued them. The initial letter or group of letters in the SuDoc number stands for the issuing agency. Further numbers and letters identify subordinate issuing bodies, series of publication, and individual publications. The following is a list of the major divisions in the Su Doc system:


A Department of Agriculture
C Commerce Department
C 3 Census Bureau
C 21 Patent and Trademark Office
CC Federal Communications Commission
CR Civil Rights
CS Civil Service Commission
D Defense Department
E Department of Energy
ED Department of Education
EP Environmental Protection Agency
FT Federal Trade Commission
GA General Accounting Commission
GS General Services Administration
HE Health and Human Services
HH Department of Housing and Urban Development
I Department of the Interior
IC Interstate Commerce Commission
J Justice Department
JU Judiciary
L Labor Department
L 2 Labor Statistics
LC Library of Congress
P Postal Service
PrEx Executive Office of the President
S State Department

Small Business Administration

SSA Social Security Administration
T Treasury Department
T 22 Internal Revenue Service
TC Tariff Commission
TC Transporation Department
VA Veterans Administration
X Congressional Record
Y 3 Congressional Commissions, Committees, Board
Y 4 Congressional Hearings

 Unlike the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress (LC) classification schemes, SuDoc does not use decimal numbers. The period in a SuDoc number is merely a dividing notation and does not act as a decimal. Note the following examples and comparisons with Dewey and Library of Congress numbers as the documents would appear on the shelf:

SuDoc  Dewey  LC
HH 1.1 914.1 DS 393.1
HH 1.5 914.23 DS 393.23
HH 1.23 914.5 DS 393.5

 Documents are arranged on the shelves first alphabetically according to the initial letter or series of letters and then numerically and alphabetically According to the letters and numbers which follow publications by their issuing agency and not their subject, all publications on one subject are not together. It is important to rely on indexes, not browsing, to find related materials.


In recent years many documents have been sent to the library in a microfiche format rather than in paper. These items are located on the first floor. When searching for a document, care must be taken to notice if the desired item has a microform location code. Note the following examples:

Paper (book Format)  Microforms (fiche)
Law Government Documents
Level 1
Law Government Document
Fiche Level 2
A 1.75: A 1.82:

Reference assistance for microforms is available at the reference desk on level 2.  The Library provides a microform copier as well as a microform scanner to transfer micorform documents to paper or electronic format.


In addition to paper, and microform, many government resources are now available at no charge over the Internet. Terminals for Internet searching are located adjacent to the general reference desk. Reference librarians and instruction booklets are available to aid in searching.  Many freely available government documents have been added to the library's catalog and can be found through a catalog search.

                                                                                              (Last Revised 3/11/2013)


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