The Penn Libraries treat the focused acquisition and management of current materials termed "government documents" or "public documents" and the general acquisition of government-produced information.
1. Government documents are items published wholly or in part at government expense and intended for public use. U.S. government documents are distributed through the U.S. Government Printing Office's Federal Depository Library Program; those documents held by the Penn Libraries belong to the United States government. These government documents are "on deposit" at the Penn Libraries for the use of Penn students, faculty, researchers, and staff and for the use of the inhabitants of the 2nd U.S. Congressional District, Pennsylvania. Rules governing record-keeping, access to documents, and retention policies are stipulated in USGPO's Federal Depository Library Manual and Instructions to Depository Libraries, updated by Administrative Notes.
The Penn Libraries collections have included government documents since their founding. An Act of Congress, December 27, 1813, authorized the distribution of U.S. House and Senate Journals and documents published under the orders of the two chambers to a number of libraries, including "each university and college in each State" (Annals, 13th Congress, col.2855), which undoubtedly included the University of Pennsylvania. Formal participation in the Federal Depository Library Program began in 1886, when the University Library took on the role of "Selective" depository (Depository number 0513B); only ten percent of current federal depositories were formally established by 1886. At present, the Penn Libraries select 42.87 percent of document items, i.e., documents of a particular agency grouped by title or by format, offered through the FDLP (June 2014). The Penn Libraries selection rate has remained stable over the years: in December 1998, the Library selected 42.8 percent. The Library's holdings are most complete in publications of Congress, Bureau of the Census, and U.S. Geological Survey.
The Penn Libraries federal depository collection is based in Van Pelt Library, where documents are processed by Serials staff for dissemination among the individual libraries according to subject-based collection policies. Most users seeking assistance in using government documents are served through the Van Pelt Library Research and Instructional Services Department. The bulk of the depository collection is held by Van Pelt and Lippincott Libraries.
The Penn Libraries generally assign Library of Congress classification numbers to paper documents and electronic documents on portable physical media (DVDs, CD-ROMs, diskettes) and shelve most paper documents in open stacks as part of the general collection. Current editions of many statistical and other yearbooks, recent bibliographies and directories, and other reference materials are held in Van Pelt's and other departmental library reference collections. Prior to the closing of the Van Pelt Reference Government Documents Room in Summer 2013, Congressional publications -- Congressional Record, House and Senate documents and reports, prints, and treaties -- as well as Federal Register, Weekly Papers of the President, and some difficult-to- manage paper documents (e.g., unbound numbers of U.S. Geological Survey Circulars) were held in Van Pelt Reference's Government Documents Room, from which they were periodically collected for binding for the general collection or weeded as cumulative compilations, acquired either through the federal depository program or through direct purchase, were added to the general collection. Today, these separate print items have been de-selected and replaced by selections for their online counterparts.
Recent federal policies have decreased the volume of government information offered in paper form, transferring many documents into electronic format. Government documents received on portable physical media are either held in Van Pelt's and other departmental library reference collections, with selected CD-ROMs held at LIBRA, the Penn Libraries high-density storage facility: location decisions are based upon the subject nature and likely user-demand for the individual document.
Microfiche depository documents are labelled with USGPO-assigned Superintendent of Documents ["SuDoc"] classification numbers, which are used to file the microfiche documents in Van Pelt Library's Microtext Center and departmental library collections.
Franklin, the Penn Library catalog, identifies and locates documents in the depository collection, regardless of format. However, users may find it necessary to supplement Franklin searching with USGPO's Catalog of U.S. Government Publications available online through GPO Access or as part of OCLC WorldCat. Electronic documents published online are linked through URLs in Franklin, where known. However, users may also find it necessary to consult the Penn Library Web's "Government Information" Subject Resources pages or USGPO's GPO Access Catalog of U.S. Government Publications and "FDsys" and "Pathfinder Services" websites.
2. The general collection of U.S. government information in the Penn Libraries supplements the depository document collection by providing historical depth, comprehensiveness, and easy access to the collection.
USGPO requires that depository libraries keep depository documents generally for five years unless superseded and offer those materials they wish to discard to other depository libraries. As an academic research library, Penn has chosen to retain most depository materials permanently. There is, therefore, very little retrospective collecting being done since the collection is already strong.
Significant historical components of the Library collection of U.S. government information include:
- United States Serial Set and its predecessor American State Papers, both in print and microform (through 1980) and online; and Congressional Record and its predecessors.
- Readex Depository Documents Microprint Collection, 1956-1980.
- Decennial census publications in print (1790-present) and microform (1790-1980).
- A collection of early- to mid-twentieth century Congressional hearings.
- Foreign Relations of the United States (print, microfiche, online), and American Foreign Policy.
- Foreign Broadcast Information Service, 1978-1996 and Joint Publication Research Service, 1958-present, in print, microform, and online. These collections have been replaced by the online news service, World News Connection.
- Declassified Documents Reference Collection (microform, online).
- Current and historic U.S. Geological Survey topographical and geological maps, held at the High-Density Storage Facility.
- National Archives and Library of Congress microform sets and third-party collections of archival or other primary-source materials: public papers of several antebellum presidents; decennial census manuscript schedules for Philadelphia, 1790-1920; nineteenth-century consular records; captured World War II German documents; post-World War II national security papers; FBI files on African American individuals and organizations; Yank and Stars and Stripes for the European theater of operation during World War II. Many NARA microform sets have also been purchased in online formats.
The location of these materials among the Penn Libraries facilities is determined by their subject. However, in most cases, materials purchased in microform will be held at Van Pelt Library, whose Microtext Center has the largest concentration of microform reader/printers and is the base of skilled microform staff.
Franklin provides information for identifying and locating materials in the general collection of U.S. government information. Publications acquired prior to 1968, e.g., older Congressional hearings, may be found through the Van Pelt Library card catalog. USGPO's Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications and its predecessors, shelved at LIBRA and also available online, are also used. Other useful access tools include the many CIS indexes to Congressional and Executive publications and statistical publications and PAIS, for which older volumes are shelved in Van Pelt Reference and other locations. Current versions of PAIS and the principal CIS indexes -- Congressional Compass and Statistical Universe -- are provided online through the Penn Library Web.