GPO Historic Shelflist

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GPO Historic Shelflist

The GPO Historic Shelflist is the U.S. Government Printing Office's (GPO) historic card catalog covering U.S. Government documents from the 1870s to October 1992. It contains:

  • Over one million 3x5 cards arranged in Superintendent of Documents (SuDoc) order;
  • Bibliographic information for U.S. Government documents from all three branches of the Government in a variety of formats including monographs, maps, serials, microfiche, and posters;
  • Cards representing documents that were distributed to libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) and documents that were not distributed but required by the Cataloging and Indexing Program, as required by U.S.C. Title 44;
  • An estimated 455,000 OCLC cards that were produced by GPO through OCLC beginning in July 1976; and
  • An extensive collection of bibliographic information, but not a complete inventory of publications distributed through the FDLP.

GPO is currently involved in three projects concerning the Historic Shelflist: transcribing the cards, digitizing the cards, and cleaning up the records when they are loaded to the CGP.

Shelflist Projects and Descriptions

Project 1: Transcription of Cards (In Progress)

The GPO has hired contract staff to transcribe the approximately 600,000 relevant cards into MARC 21 records. This transcription will enable GPO to load these records to the Catalog of Government Publications (CGP). This process began in January 2010, and is expected to take two years to complete. As part of the transcription, holdings records for serial issues are being created as well.

Records will made available in the CGP following a quality assurance review by GPO staff. GPO will be enhancing these records by adding one Library of Congress Subject Heading and one corporate name authority as time and resources permit.

Project 2: Digitization of Cards (In Progress)

As part of its records management requirement, GPO is planning for the eventual transfer of the Shelflist to the National Archives and Records Administration. By digitizing the Shelflist, GPO will be able to maintain a copy for any future internal processing needs. The digitization project is expected to be completed in FY2011.

Project 3: Cleaning Up the Catalog

As the first two projects progress, GPO staff will work to create a clean and accurate resource in the CGP. This step will involve the resolution of SuDoc classification problems, the identification and resolution of duplicate records that occur after Shelflist records are loaded to the CGP, and a joint effort with FDLP libraries to identify missing titles and serial issues in order to create the most complete inventory possible of U.S. Government documents from the 1870’s through 1992. This is an ongoing project, and will continue into the foreseeable future.

How to Locate Shelflist Records

The transcribed records are available through the CGP. The records are also identifiable by the phrase "Historic Shelflist" in the 955 field of the MARC record display. Federal depository libraries are able to retrieve these records for their own use by searching the CGP or via Z39.50.

Record Retrieval Using the CGP

To retrieve the records directly from the CGP:

    • Select "Expert" from the top menu bar.
    • Enter "WCAT=Historic Shelflist" in the search box.
Example of a Record Retrieval Using the CGP.

Click image to enlarge.


  • Records may then be e-mailed to yourself in batches of 20. The Working with Results section of the CGP help page offers more information on selecting and e-mailing records.

Record Retrieval Using Z39.50

To retrieve the records using Z39.50 (depository libraries only), users can search using either the YAZ client or MarcEdit.

YAZ Client Options

  1. Issue a command using the Bib-1 Attribute 1016 (keyword anywhere) as follows: z> f @atter1-1016 Historic Shelflist. This search will retrieve all the records in the batch.
  2. Issue a command using Bib- Attribute 12 (local control number, i.e. Aleph system number) as follows:
    z> f @atter 1-12 000632902. This search will retrieve the record with that system number. Individual searches for the other system numbers in this batch will then need to be conducted to retrieve all the records.

MarcEdit Options

    1. Enter "Historic Shelflist" in the search box and select "keyword" from the pull-down menu. This search will retrieve all the records in the batch.
Example of a record retrieval using Z39.50 through the MarcEdit options options.


      Click image to enlarge.


          1. To search by Aleph system number, enter the system number in the search box and select "record number" from the pull-down menu. This search will retrieve the record with that system number.
        Example of a record retrieval using Z39.50 through the MarcEdit options.


            Click image to enlarge.

            Learn More about the Shelflist

            • Watch the May 2010 OPAL presentation, which provides an overview of the GPO Historic Shelflist and includes a question and answer session between participants and GPO staff.