Government Documents and Maps

Learn about:

  • Government documents: their content, location in the library, and how to find them.
  • Maps: topographic maps and finding maps in the library.

What are government documents?

Government documents are materials published by or at the direction of a government agency. They can and do come from all levels of government including incorporated villages, towns, boroughs, and cities; state agencies; federal agencies; foreign governments; and international bodies such as the United Nations. However, for the purpose of this discussion, we'll focus mainly on the publications of the three branches of the U.S. federal government (executive, judicial, and legislative).

The Government Printing Office (GPO) is the principal publisher of federal government documents. Many government documents are officially made available to the public in libraries through the Depository Library Program.

There are three categories of government documents:

  1. Reports of the government's internal operations (Examples: Congressional Hearings; Supreme Court Decisions).
  2. Legally mandated materials. (Examples: the Population Census; Environmental Impact Statements).
  3. Topical publication generated at various levels of government and deemed worthy of general distribution. (Examples: "A Dietary Assessment of the U.S. Food Supply"; pamphlets distributed at the entrance gates of national parks).

Government documents can be useful sources of information not only for research on the official proceedings of local, state and federal governments, but on almost every conceivable topic including health, education, families, natural resources, and more. 

Government documents are published in all formats: books, journals, pamphlets, maps, CD-ROMs, DVDs, WWW pages. Some formats include: directories, handbooks, manuals, yearbooks, bibliographies, indexes and abstracts, geographical sources, reports, proceedings, etc.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Probably the strongest point of government documents is the accuracy, authoritativeness and comprehensiveness of their data. They are extremely good sources for statistics, especially those collected and reported on a regular basis. Some examples include the Census, Economic statistics, climate data, and hydrological data.

Probably the weakest point of government documents is that their software development and indexing has lagged behind material from the private sector. Governmental CD-ROMs and even websites can be poor quality and difficult to use.

Federal Depository Program

The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) distributes selected governmental material free of charge to participating libraries. These libraries are responsible for proper maintenance of the collections, assuring the public free access to these materials. There are two types of depository libraries, regional and selective. Regional depositories receive all federal publications and selective depositories collect only those documents of interest to their users. The Rasmuson Library is a selective depository and receives approximately 40% of such items made available for selection. It houses the largest collection of government documents in the State of Alaska. The UAA campus, UAS campus, and Anchorage Municipal Library also have depository collections, but select smaller percentages.

Finding Government Documents

Where to find the Government Documents and Maps Collection

The Rasmuson Library's Government Documents and Maps collection is located on Level 5.

SuDocs Numbers

To locate government documents on the shelf it is necessary to know how they are arranged. The Government Document Collection is arranged by the Superintendent of Documents or SuDocs classification system, rather than the Library of Congress system. The SuDocs system is based on the originating government agency, rather than on subject. For instance, a call number in the LC system that starts with PE will be for an item on the English Language, whereas a call number in the SuDocs system beginning with PE will be for an item that originated from the Peace Corps.

Where to Search

The Library Catalog

Via the Rasmuson Library web page, use the library catalog, to search for all (international, federal, state, local) government documents. Any item in UAF's catalog with the DOCS location tag can be found in the Government Documents Collection.

GPO Monthly Catalog (GPO)

The Government Printing Office Catalog is the best place to search for federal government publications. Access to GPO is available through OCLC FirstSearch which is accessible from the Rasmuson Library's Databases by Title page. Coverage in the OCLC site goes back to 1976. For searching older government publications, use the printed Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications ( GP 3.8/5: DOCS ), or MoCat, with coverage back to 1895.

For online access to many federal publications, search in the Federal Digital System, or FDSys. 

PAIS (Public Affairs Information Service)

PAIS also indexes federal and foreign government documents. Access PAIS through OCLC FirstSearch via the Library's Databases by Title page. Coverage dates from 1972.


Catalog of materials in over 21,000 libraries worldwide. WorldCat is accessible through OCLC FirstSearch via Databases by Title page. Coverage from before 1000 BC to the present.

Some Fundamental U.S. Government Reference Publications

United States Government Manual

SuDocs call number: AE 1.108/2 : 999/2000
On the Web, search for "U.S. Government Manual."

The official handbook or guide to the organization and function of the federal government, with succinct information and data on the purpose of and personnel in all of the many agencies making up the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Congressional Directory

SuDocs call number: GP 3.22/2 : 228/999

On the Web, search for "Congressional Directory."

The "Who's Who" of the federal government. Contains biographical sketches of all senators, representatives, the president and his cabinet, and major officials in the many and diverse agencies. Issued biennially with each change of the congress.

United States Code (USC)

SuDocs call number: Y 1.2/5 : 994 v. 1-35

On the Web at

The standard summary of statistics concerning the social, political and economic organization of the United States. A convenient quick lookup, one volume source for data and a guide to more comprehensive sources, including original sources like journal articles. Issued annually.

United States Statutes at Large (Session Laws)

SuDocs call number: AE 2.111 : 100/pt. 1-6

A compilation of laws recently enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives. New laws are "at large" before being incorporated systematically into the United States Code. Laws are arranged in chronological order, not subject order as in the Code. For each law, its legislative history is indicated, including the number and title of the original bill and the bill's treatment in committees and on the floor. Issued biennially at the end of each legislative session.

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

SuDocs call number: AE 2.108/8 : 999

On the Web, search for "Code of Federal Regulations"

The CFR is the official comprehensive publication of all the regulations put forth by the executive branch of the federal government. It is arranged like the United States Code in broad subject categories called titles. Issued annually, it contains 50 titles in separate volumes appearing at different times through the year. The CFR is updated continuously by the daily Federal Register.

Web Sources for Government Documents

Beyond the library's holdings, an ever-increasing amount of government information, particularly legislative information, is accessible on the World Wide Web. As government documents originate from many different agencies, finding documents is related to your understanding of the structure of our government. This is especially true if you are using the web, as most agencies maintain a web presence. 


Fedstats ( Statistics gateway to over 100 federal agencies. - (​) Library of Congress' legislative information Web site

Browse Government Resources - Library of Congress Government publications and other information about the government.

State & Local

The State of Alaska has a close relationship with the federal government. Alaska only recently became a state. Since its purchase in 1867 to statehood in 1959, Alaska was under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Much of the state's land still remains under federal control and many aspects of the state such as mining, fishing, and the environment are affected by federal law. This means federal government documents would be good information resources for Alaska history or Alaskan issues.

State of Alaska website ( has links to most state agency web pages. You can also contact the Alaska State Library for assistance in finding state government information.

SLED - (Statewide Library Electronic Doorway) - Alaska Government & Law - Provides access to many municipal, State of Alaska, federal, international and other local government documents.


Fairbanks North Star Borough - this local government provides a wealth of information on its website, as do many other municipalities and boroughs. For example, the Property Database allows you to see what a piece of property or home is worth, as currently assessed by the Borough. You can find information about services, parks, etc. on many local government websites.




USGS Topographical Maps

The USGS, or United States Geological Survey, has produced and periodically revises topographic, or contour maps covering all of Alaska as well as the other 49 states. A topographical map uses contour lines to indicate elevations. Contour lines connect points of constant elevation at specific elevation intervals. There are two standard series of topographic maps. In one, maps are at the intermediate scale of 1:250,000, or one inch = 4 miles. These maps are referred to as quadrangles. The City of Fairbanks lies near the northern edge of the Fairbanks Quadrangle. Most quadrangles are evenly divided into 24 separate areas represented by other maps, in the second series, at the larger, more detailed scale of 1:63,360, or 1 inch = 1 mile.

Finding Maps

The Rasmuson Map Collection is housed within the Government Documents Collection in special cases of drawers. Along with USGS maps, there are maps from other sources including National Geographic. The collection includes world maps and nautical charts, and an extensive collection of Alaskan and Canadian topographical maps.

The Rare Map and Manuscript Map Collections are located on Level 2. The Rare Map Collection is especially strong in early maps of Alaska (from pre-discovery speculative cartography of the 16th century through the Gold Rush). The Manuscript Map Collection consists of more than 18,000 maps, plats, and charts of Alaska. Its strength is 20th-century Alaska development, with extensive holdings on mining claims, cannery sites, and land use planning. An in-house index provides access through thematic description and geographic location. Photographic copies may be ordered.

Where to Search

The Library Catalog

Search for maps using the library catalog, via the Rasmuson Library web page. Any item in UAF's catalog with the MAPS location tag can be found in the Maps Collection on Level 5.

Web Resources for Maps

David Rumsey Collection: Focuses on 18th and 19th century North and South American cartographic materials. The online collection includes gold rush era maps of Alaska. Can take a long time to download images

Mapquest Interactive: Personalized mapping resource on the Web.

TIGERweb Mapping Service: Uses census data to enable users to create street-level maps of the United States.

University of Texas Perry Castaneda Map Collection: This site contains a multitude of online geography resources. Numerous world maps scanned from CIA publications are included, as well as city-, country- and state-level maps. Also included are guides of map projections, online glossaries, gazetteers, distance calculators, and more.

This page was last modified on July 21, 2016