Until the mid-1990s, government publications printed by the Government Printing Office (GPO) were the domain of librarians working in the institutions that make up the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). FDLP libraries make government documents available to the public at no charge. But by the 1990s, information in general was moving steadily to online formats and government information and GPO and the FDLP needed to follow suit.
The passage of the Government Printing Office Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act of 1993 (Public Law 103-40 [PDF]) responded to the advent of the Internet. GPO was supplied with a mission to provide online access to the Congressional Record, the Federal Register, and other government publications deemed appropriate. GPO Access was created and provided permanent access to these publications. Initially, access was available for free to Federal Depository Libraries, while those outside the FDLP system needed a subscription. So few individuals subscribed, however, that in 1995 the subscription model was dropped and GPO Access was available at no charge for all. By the mid-2000s, it was clear that GPO Access had its limitations and, in 2009, the first release of the Federal Digital System (FDSys) was launched. Part of GPO’s proposal for FDSys was to digitize documents created prior to the launch of GPO Access in 1994. Working with the Library of Congress, GPO digitized the 1951-2002 volumes of the Statutes at Large, the Congressional Record, and other historical documents. Today you can search or browse these publications and more, like the Code of Federal Regulations and Economic Report of the President through FDSys for free.
Beyond FDSys, government agencies are often publishing documents on their own websites. These documents are not published or cataloged by GPO, so they can easily get lost. When looking for government information online, it is important to know which agency may have created the document you are seeking. If you are unable to find what you need on FDSys, visit the website of the agency and try a search, or look for pages where they might be storing documents, like “library, “news,” “data,” or “press releases.”
The role of FDLP libraries has changed in the electronic age as well. There are still publications that are provided to these libraries in print format. These are publications that either are not available online or have been deemed so critical for public access that print access is still required. The role of FDLP libraries in the electronic age is still being determined, but the government documents librarians who work in these libraries are invaluable resources when it comes to finding government information. FDLP libraries have access to databases including the Homeland Security Digital Library and USA Trade® Online. FDLP librarians can help to navigate these databases, as well as other government information sources, both in print and digital formats.