The American Library Association defines a government publication as “any publication originating in, or issued with the imprint of, or at the expense and by the authority of, any office of a legally organized government or international organization” (Young et al., 1983). Government publications are to serve as a "mirror," reflecting to the public the actions and policies the government undertakes (Childs, 1973).
At the beginning of the 19th Century, the United States decided to work towards making government information available to all citizens. “Keeping America informed” has been the primary mission of the Government Printing Office since its establishment in 1860. The GPO is the main resource in the United States for producing, disseminating, and maintaining information at the Federal level. Congress, in its move toward accessibility, established the Federal Depository Library Program to ensure that all citizens have free access to government publications. The program provides for the distribution of government documents to almost thirteen hundred libraries throughout the nation. These designated libraries are responsible for maintaining the publications and ensuring public accessibility. Currently, the GPO is shifting its system to provide information to the public electronically rather than in print as it has been largely done in the past. GPO Access is the Government Printing Office's website providing publications online for free to the general public. Other resources are available on this site as well, such as a list of all the Federal Depository Libraries locations.
Accessibility can be hard to maintain despite efforts to make it a citizen's right. There is a contention often between publishing to keep the public informed versus publishing to allow the government to do what it needs to do. Government information has been regarded at times more as a “valuable commodity subject to cost analyses rather a public right or resource” (Richardson, 1994). Bibliographic control can also make access more difficult, particularly in areas outside the Federal level. Additionally, the vast amount of publications the government produces can make it hard for one to find a specific document. In 1973, American Library Association founded the Government Documents Round Table to discuss and work towards minimizing issues hindering access to government information.
Accessibility to and the amount of government publications in countries outside the United States vary from nation to nation. Below is a link, through the U.S. Library of Congress website, to various foreign government electronic resources.
Government publications are also referred to as government documents, public documents, and documents (Young et al., 1983).
Links to Government Publication Websites
Reference Librarians and Government Publications
Childs, J. B. (1973). Government Publications (Documents). In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences (Vol. 10, pp. 33-140). New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc.
Library of Congress. (June 2, 2006). Portals to the World. Retrieved November 22, 2006, from http://www.loc.gov/rr/international/portals.html
Regents of the University of California. (March 8, 2006). Government Information YRL Collections, Research, and Instructional Services. Retrieved November 20, 2006, from http://www.library.ucla.edu/yrl/referenc/govinfo/index.htm
Richardson, J. V. (1994). Government Publications in Libraries. In W. A. Wiegand and D. G. Davis (Eds.). Encyclopedia of Library History. (pp. 248-249). New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.
U.S. Government Printing Office. (May 11, 2006). GPO Facts. Retrieved November 20, 2006, from http://www.gpo.gov/factsheet/index.html
Young, H., Belanger, T., et al. (1983). The ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science. Chicago: American Library Association.