100 years of Government Documents

The Curtis Laws Wilson Library is Celebrating its 100th anniversary as a selective depository for US government documents. As a member of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), Wilson Library acquires, maintains, and provides access to materials distributed by the Government Printing Office (GPO). The library also provides services supporting the use of those resources to both the Missouri S&T community and general public.

Congress authorized the distribution of House and Senate journals to a few libraries and institutions beginning in 1813. GPO was created in 1861, but it was the Printing Act of 1895 that formally began the FDLP by centralizing the administration, printing, and distribution of documents to depository libraries. The federal depository system was expanded through the passage of the 1907 Printing Act, which designated all land grand university libraries as depositories. The Depository Library Act of 1962 authorized further expansion of the FDLP. Today, over 1,250 depository libraries are found throughout the United States and its territories.

MacGilvray, D. (2006). A short history of GPO. Retrieved July 28, 2008, from

McGarr, S. (2000). Snapshots of the Federal Depository Library Program. Retrieved July 28,
    2008, from http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fdlp/history/snapshot.html.


Depository libraries are designated by either an elected federal official or by law through a special provision of Title 44 of the United States Code. The Missouri School of Mines & Metallurgy (MSM) was designated a depository on March 1, 1907. At that time, MSM was a school of the the University of Missouri, a land grant university. When the Columbia campus and the University of Missouri at Rolla became separate institutions in 1964, UMR's depository status changed to designation by an elected federal official.

Superintendent of Documents. (1909). Official list of depository libraries, consisting of designated, geological, and official gazette depositories . Washington: Government Printing Office.


 While most of the library's government documents were acquired after MSM became a federal depository library, a number of government documents in the library were acquired prior to our FDLP designation and even the creation of the Government Printing Office in 1861. One of the oldest printed government documents in the library is the Letter from the Secretary of State to Mr. Monroe, on the Subject of the Attack on the Chesapeake , published in 1808. The publication was "Printed by order of the U.S. House of Representatives" by a private publisher.   


The library also owns a number of US geological surveys from the late nineteenth century, such as the 1882 Tertiary history of the Grand Canon district and the Atlas to Accompany the Monograph on Tertiary history of the Grand Canon district. The Atlas contains 23 sheets, including color lithographic sheets similar to the one below.   
Panorama From Point Sublime (Sheet XV)


One of the depository items received in 1907 is the John Paul Jones Commemoration at Annapolis, April 24, 1906 .

The volume was compiled by the Navy and includes speeches, ceremonies, reports, letters, and images related to John Paul Jones and the return of his body to its final resting place at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

John Paul Jones is considered the "Father of the U.S. Navy" and remembered for uttering "I have not yet begun to fight" during a 1779 naval battle. 


 Some of the more familiar and/or accessed government documents at the Wilson Library include the Statistical Abstracts of the United States , U.S. Patents & Trademarks, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) , U.S. Census, and USGS topographic maps.

Most of the 100,000 maps in the library's collection were received through the GPO and are located in the in the northwest corner of the lower level.


A few depository titles are a little unusual, such as the National Money Laundering Strategy for 2000, Gobbledygook has Gotta Go, Everything you always wanted to know about shipping high-level nuclear wastes, Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act of 2002 (or the RAVE Act), and Distinguishing bolts from screws.

Additional "unusual" government document titles may be found at the following URL: http://freegovinfo.info/best.

While many depository items are not widely recognized by the average citizen, some become quite notable and respected. The 9/11 Commission Report became a "national bestseller" and Environmental Health Perspectives is one of the highest ranked journals in the environmental health sciences (ISI impact factor is 5.86).    
"Information is the currency of democracy" - Thomas Jefferson

The Government Printing Office is one of the world's largest publishers and its mission is to "...inform the Nation by producing, procuring, and disseminating printed and electronic publications of the Congress as well as the executive departments and establishments of the Federal Government."

Over the years, government documents have been distributed using a variety of media (e.g., print, microfiche, CD-ROM, online, etc.). Today, over 95% of documents are distributed through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) are available online. As FDLP libraries transition to an online environment, their role has changed to support the use of many electronic resources. The role of the depository library will no doubt continue to change and expand in the future. However, the core mission - providing access to government information - will remain same.

 Exhibit prepared by David Hubbard