Depository Users and Service Expectations


Comparable access for different library user groups and the expertise of library staff contribute to free, public access.

Comparability of Access for Different User Groups

The use of depository resources at your library must be comparable to other collections and services in your library. This is a requirement of all depositories, with the exception of those designated as the highest state appellate court libraries. Comparable reference and research service—in terms of hours of service, degree of assistance, and professional expertise of staff—should be extended to all.

If your library provides virtual reference service for your primary user groups, the same or comparable methods of reference service should be available to members of the public needing assistance with depository resources.

The general public must be able to access your depository's collections and services outside standard business hours (i.e., Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.) if the library's primary user group is able to do so.

  • If your depository library offers night and weekend service hours to its primary users, your library must provide comparable service hours--for example, at least some weekday evening or weekend hours--to all users of depository materials. Access may be limited for the general public during late evening or overnight hours.
  • If your selective housing site is only open during standard business hours, it does not have to create evening or weekend hours for depository patrons. Rather, your library may establish a process for patrons to access depository resources at the main depository when the selective housing site is closed.

If you have a depository service desk, it point does not need to be staffed the same hours as a main public service desk, provided that general reference staff give assistance in the use of the depository collection at the main service point when the depository desk is closed.

Depository Use and Library Policies

Reference and research policies are the prerogative of your library, as long as such policies apply equally for all users. Such service policies are regarding:

  • access to secondary resources used onsite
  • limits on time spent on queries
  • types of queries accepted through various methods of contact
  • the extent of materials copied or supplied to offsite users

GPO outreach specialists understand that some licensing agreements require you to limit access to certain secondary resources only to primary patrons.


Libraries must provide the ability to download or print electronic government information to their patrons. Limits to or costs associated with printing or downloading must be consistent for all patrons.

Usual and customary fees for printing and downloading and usual and customary time limits for use of equipment are permitted. Any fees or limits shall be consistent with other public service provisions of the library. Some libraries provide "free" printing for their primary users but charge a fee for non-primary patrons. Since primary patrons are paying fees in other ways to the institution (e.g., tuition or taxes), this is acceptable, as long as depository users pay the same fees as other non-primary users.

Circulation of Materials

Keep in mind the following factors relating to circulation of materials.

Circulation of depository resources is not required. You do not have to lend depository resources to non-primary users who do not have borrowing privileges, unless you cannot provide access to depository materials in any other way. If your library cannot provide access to CDs or DVDs, then you must allow for circulation of the material or provide another way for patrons to access the needed content.

If your library has different policies for different user groups, it is important to inform depository users about their varying depository access privileges.

Any library signage that your library posts that describes a privilege provided to primary patrons must also describe the level of privilege allowed to other patrons, if those privileges differ. Alternatively, you may develop separate signage, policies, or other information that describes depository access and place it in a location that is as equally visible as the other library policy. For example, if your library requires patrons to log on to computers, advertise how depository users unaffiliated with the library may gain a guest pass or other assistance with the computers. You may simply choose to place a sign near computers directing those with questions to the reference desk.

Expertise of Library Personnel

The director of the library is responsible for ensuring that the depository operations conform to the legal and program requirements of the FDLP, which includes ensuring that all appropriate library employees are aware of the free public access requirements of Federal depository libraries.

Typically, one individual serves as a Federal depository library coordinator and is a subject specialist in depository management and U.S. Government information resources. However, sharing depository responsibilities between technical and public services staff is also an option for covering the coordinator position. Professional, technical, and paraprofessional help should support the size and scope of the depository collection and related activities. These activities include:

  • collection development and maintenance
  • bibliographic control
  • reference services
  • other administrative responsibilities

When staffing changes occur at your library, notify GPO and your regional depository librarian. Your library must have one designated coordinator listed in the Federal Depository Library Directory. If the position is vacant within your library, an interim coordinator should be named. The library should have a point of contact for researchers and GPO to receive important and timely announcements and respond if necessary.

Public services staff must be knowledgeable of the Federal depository services at your library and be prepared to provide basic reference and publication retrieval.

Subject specialists in other areas beyond U.S. Government information should still assist patrons to the best of their knowledge and abilities. They may refer the patron to the library's appropriate subject specialist as needed. If the most appropriate avenue for assistance for a patron with an immediate information need is a referral to another library or to Government Information Online (GIO), that is appropriate customer service.

Patrons should be able to gain assistance meeting their information needs at a reference desk or public service point, as well as through virtual reference service. Guidance on the use of depository resources and access to relevant available secondary resources (indexes, databases, search engines, and other reference resources) is considered essential to the use of the depository collection at your library.

To develop appropriate expertise, a library should provide training for all staff involved in depository operations. Opportunities and resources should be provided for the initial and continuing education of staff on depository responsibilities, operations, and on U.S. Government information resources in all formats. Cross training of staff should also take place to ensure depository operations continue without interruption in the absence of regular staff members.

Depository expertise includes an understanding of the Federal depository libraries in your region. Network with your colleagues at neighboring depositories to learn about subject strengths in their collections and to develop any cooperative efforts that will enhance your reach to current and potential library users as well as save your library’s time and resources. Identify your regional depository library and learn the processes and communication methods used within the region.

Service in Libraries with Access Restrictions

Some depository libraries are located where physical access is limited. This typically includes libraries in Federal agencies, courts, and military bases.

Because facility access restrictions are beyond the control of your library and physical access to your library building is not always convenient for depository users, library staff have latitude in providing access. Keep in mind that your depository must still grant physical and electronic access to depository materials to the general public. Work with your parent institution’s security office to make acceptable arrangements to ensure that public access to depository materials is met to the best of your organization’s ability.

Your policy may suggest that library users make arrangements in advance before they visit the library. Through this contact, you may:

  • Explain the admission process.
  • Perform a reference interview to determine that your library has what the patron needs.
  • Explain a requirement to show identification or have an escort within the facility, including the library.
  • Advise a patron in need of immediate information where he or she may gain access to needed resources at other depositories.

Your library must continue to assist depository patrons when you need to temporarily deny physical access to your library building because of security issues. You can use phone, email, fax, or other virtual means to provide this assistance.

Scanning and electronic delivery of resources, resource sharing, or referrals to another nearby depository library where access is more readily available are all options. Share any access limitations with your regional depository library and other depositories in the region to facilitate appropriate referrals.

For information on security policy in FDLP libraries, see Security of Library Users and Collections.

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Related article - Visibility of the Depository Library and Collection