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Federal Depository Libraries – GovDocs for Jocks

I apologize to all the govdocs jockies who are a little underwhelmed by my 101 approach to all things document-y, but I’ve been enjoying all the new stuff I’ve learned. Today I’m talking about Federal Depository Libraries.

If you went to library school you may have had a class in GovDocs where you learned about FDLs and their complicated and mysterious cataloging and classification system and met very odd people who made these systems their lives. By the end of the GovDocs class, most people were terrified but a few were hooked. I can remember almost every GovDocs librarian I’ve ever met and I don’t think this is true for any other type of librarian I’ve encountered.

So, here are some things you need to know. Other GovDocs fanboys and fangirls, please add more information in the comments. This page has an intro to the FDL program for further reading.

  • The US has 1250 Federal Dpository Libraries nationwide. You can find the one nearest you by going to this page. Want to print a list for your state? Go to this page.
  • The broad purpose of these libraries is to “provide local, no-fee access to Government information in an impartial environment with professional assistance”
  • ANYONE can go into a FDL, even if the collection is part of a larger private library that you would not otherwise have access to. This is true, for example, at the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library where they have a very strict visitor’s policy and you have to read all the way to the bottom of this page until you see the words “Government Document U.S. depository (Bobst 6th floor) open to general public”
  • The purpose of these repositories is changing in the face of the shift to more and more information being created and disseminated digitally. The FDLP was created and mostly maintained as an avenue to get print publications from the Government Printing Office to the public who they serve. The GPOs role is shrinking

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  1. Jessamyn, do not worry about underwhelming us. We are delighted to have you here in our community, and we (gov docs jocks) are the ones who need a practice venturing out into other cyber- or real-life communities and testing the waters. You are a good writer and everyone appreciates a fresh perspective!

    I like your point that most librarians are introduced to the concept of FDLs while they are in library school (including your observation that “By the end of the GovDocs class, most people were terrified but a few were hooked.” …!) My plea is for us to fight to insure that gov docs — and the depository concept — make it into the general reference, cataloging, and database searching classes (as well as the traditional gov docs classes).

    I’m finding that the concept of a depository is becoming a little bit easier to explain to a general academic audience these days. Perhaps college students today understand the concept of a cache of files, things that are “backed up” or stored automatically. As superficial as this sounds, we have a new state-of-the-art stack area, with compact shelving for our GovPubs collection, and I think it’s done wonders for the “self-esteem” of our collection. People love the hand-crank shelves! When visitors come through, they say, “This is a government repository!”

    At the Spring Depository Library Council meeting in Seattle, Prof. Joe Janes said that our users want “a place, stuff, and help using the stuff”. If libraries-as-place is becoming central to our survival, I think depositories-as-place has a role too. Advanced users are probably always going to want a place to go, where they can see a physical collection, get on a workstation, and talk to someone about using either the virtual or physical collection.

  2. I think that you are stating it very well. When I took my govdocs class (2000), I had been working in the govdocs department of a large library for 6 years as a reference person. I have also used govdocs for research needs since the mid 1960s when in high school.
    My govdocs class was taught by one of the best govdocs “jockies” I have had the opportunity to meet and she instills her knowledge in a way that makes people realize how important govdocs are to all of us – both as librarians and as citizens.
    Free access is a real concern as is supporting the GPO in order to have them continue to help the Depository system continue to operate and provide that access. In reading the resolutions from ALA and also some of the information and the 17 points brought up for discussion at the Spring FDLP Council meeting, it appears that support from these groups is there. In the last few years I have been concerned about the direction FDLP and GPO have been moving in. I have heard this concern from many govdocs librarians from all over the country. Maybe now things will move in a more positive direction.

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