Superintendent of Documents (SuDocs) Classification Scheme

This article describes how the U.S. Government Printing Office utilizes the Superintendent of Documents Classification scheme.

Superintendent of Documents Classification is a system of library classification developed in the office of the Superintendent of Documents of the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) at the turn of the 20th century. It is based on a scheme conceived by Adelaide R. Hasse for organizing U.S. Government publications at the Los Angeles Public Library in the 1890s, and brought to GPO by Hasse during her relatively brief tenure as librarian in the Public Documents Library, 1895-1897. Credit for the development and implementation of the scheme as in use to the present probably goes to William Leander Post, Superintendent of Documents from 1906 to 1909, and a librarian in the Office before and after. Post describes the scheme in 1902, as preface to the publication of the first completed part, the List of Publications of the Agriculture Department 1862-1902.

The classification grew directly from GPO's need to organize a large and rapidly growing mass of Government publications. From its application in GPO's Public Documents Library (now no longer in existence), the scheme was later adopted by the majority of significant collections of publications in Federal depository libraries, although its use has always remained optional.

The attribute that distinguishes the scheme from other systems of library classification (the most common of which, Decimal Classification and Library of Congress Classification, were developed only a short time before SuDocs) is its reliance on the origin of the document (its provenance) as the major organizing feature, rather than an arbitrarily determined subject. This principle more closely resembles archival principles (the respect pour les fonds) than the impulse of late 19th century librarians to classify the world's knowledge by topic. Since Government information viewed through the lens of subject classification is condensed into narrow, and thereby less specific, categories, treatment by provenance has proved more flexible, expansive, and descriptive for collections of all but the smallest size or scope.

Hasse and Post determined that the most readily determined descriptor for Government publications was their origin or authorship, generally expressed not as a personal author but as agency, bureau, or office. In the scheme, each department in the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative Branches, and each independent agency, is assigned an alphabetic symbol, generally although not strictly, mnemonic; thus, A is Agriculture Department, C is Commerce, S is State Department. In later practice two- and three letter symbols have been used as necessary, so FS for Federal Security Agency (in the 1930s), HE for Health, Education, and Welfare, later transferred to Health and Human Services, NAS for NASA, and HS for Homeland Security. Congress and its committees and commissions are designated X and Y.

Basing the classification on the current federal government organization causes a problem when agencies and bureaus are created or relocated. For example, the Department of Homeland Security was established in 2002, and took bureaus/subordinate offices from Treasury, Defense, Justice, and several others, as well as incorporated the formerly independent agency FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration).

Current Lettering for SuDoc Class Stems

Alphabetic Symbol Agency
A Agriculture
AE National Archives and Records Administration
B Broadcasting Board of Governors
C Commerce Department
CC Federal Communications Commission
CR Civil Rights Commission
D Defense Department
E Energy Department
ED Education Department
EP Environmental Protection Agency
FA Fine Arts Commission
FCA Farm Credit Administration
FHF Federal Housing Financing Board
FM Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
FMC Federal Maritime Commission
FR Federal Reserve System Board of Governors
FT Federal Trade Commission
FTZ Foreign-Trade Zones Board
GA Government Accountability Office
GP Government Publishing Office
GS General Services Administration
HE Health and Human Services Department
HH Housing and Urban Development Department
HS Homeland Security
I Interior Department
IC Interstate Commerce Commission
ID US Agency for International Development
ITC International Trade Commission
J Justice Department
JU Judiciary
L Labor Department
LC Library of Congress
LR National Labor Relations Board
MS Merit Systems Protection Board
NAS National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NC National Capital Planning Commission
NCU National Credit Union Administration
NF National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities
NMB National Mediation Board
NS National Science Foundation
OP Overseas Private Investment Corporation
P United States Postal Service
PE Peace Corps
PM Personnel Management Office
PR President of the United States
PREX Executive Office of the President
PRVP Vice President of the United States
RR Railroad Retirement Board
S State Department
SBA Small Business Administration
SE Securities and Exchange Commission
SI Smithsonian Institution
SSA Social Security Administration
T Treasury Department
TD Transportation Department
TDA US Trade and Development Agency
VA Veterans Affairs Department
X Congress
Y Congress

Subordinate Structure

To describe subordinate structure, the alphabetic symbol is followed by an integer denoting the agency, bureau, office, or other subordinate unit. 1 always represents the parent agency. The integer is followed by a full stop (period) which is not a decimal point.

An integer denoting series, general type, or form follows the period. Originally four series designations were defined:

.1 Annual Reports
.2 General Publications
.3 Bulletins
.4 Circulars

These four have remained in common usage. Other form designators have been defined but their application has been inconsistent over time. These designators include:

.5 Laws
.6 Regulations, rules, and instructions
.7 Press releases
.8 Handbooks, manuals, and guides
.9 Bibliographies and lists of publications
.10 Directories
.11 Maps and charts
.12 Posters
.13 Forms
.14 Addresses

Other series designators that were established, but were not assigned specific numbers, include Electronic Products (which includes CD-ROMs, VHS, and DVD-ROMs) and Ephemera (which includes items issued for a specific, limited use, and are usually intended to be discarded thereafter – it includes bookmarks that are not part of a kit, event programs, and calendars; this class is no longer active).

The second integer is followed by a colon. All the characters up to and including the colon are referred to as the "class stem" or "first figure" and refer to all items of a particular class, not a specific volume, issue, or manifestation.

To the right of the colon, a second figure describes the particular volume or issue at hand. Serial items receive a series designation: volume and number, year and month, or sequential number within series. Monographic items receive a two figure Cutter symbol, derived from the first significant word in the title and based off of C.A. Cutter's Two-Figure Author Table. In its usual application, Cutter classification is applied to personal author names to arrive at a shelf arrangement within subjects. Because SuDocs classification depends solely on corporate authorship, and the stem describes that authorship hierarchically, Cutter is adapted to arrive at a shelf arrangement within provenance from the title.

SuDoc Classification Examples

All the information necessary to assign authoritative SuDocs classification is available on the face of the document itself. The scheme provides a logical, abstract structure which has been useful for collocation of physical publications in library collections, and is proving adaptable to the "virtual collocation" or characterization of online collections of Government information.

Guidelines for Sorting in SuDoc Order

SuDoc classes are arranged alphabetically based on the leading letter(s). The number between the period and colon is a whole number (ex. HS 1.2: comes before HS 1.15:). The colon is the break between the SuDoc stem and its suffix. After the colon, the hierarchy of sorting is as follows:


Both before and after the colon, an empty space will file before a space that has a letter or number (i.e. "nothing" before "something").

Example of a SuDoc Sort

A 13.2:T 73/4
A 93.2:N 95/3
A 93.73:76
A 93.73:89
A 93.73/2:62
C 13.58:7564
C 13.58:7611
HE 20.4002:AD 9/2
HE 20.4002:AD9/5
HE 20.4002:F 94
L 36.202:F 15/2
L 36.202:F 15/2/980
L 36.202:F 15/3
Y 1.1/7:109-118
Y 1.1/7:109-131
Y 1.1/7:110-6
Y 1.1/7:110-20
Y 4.EC 7:C 73/7
Y 4.EC 7:C 73/10
Y 4.EC 7:S.HRG.110-646
Y 4.EC 7:SA 9/2
Y 4.EC 7:SCH 6
Y 4.EC 7:SE 2


  • 2012: Eliminated the volume number in the class number for Code of Federal Regulations titles. This change impacted the suffix of the class number only. The change became effective with the first volumes published for 2013.
    Prior to 2013:
    AE 2.106/3:26/PT.1/V.1(S.1.0-1.60)/2010

    2013 volumes forward:
    AE 2.106/3:26/PT.1(S.1.0-1.60)/2013

Further Reading

  • 1903: List of Publications of the Agriculture Department 1862-1902
  • 1985: Practical Guide to the Superintendent of Documents Classification System
  • 1987: GPO Classification Manual: A Practical Guide to the Superintendent of Documents Classification System
  • 1990: An Explanation of the Superintendent of Documents Classification System


  • Beck, Clare. The new woman as librarian: The career of Adelaide Hasse. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2006.
  • List of Classes. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, July 2008.
  • GPO Classification Manual. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1993.
  • Guide to U.S. Government Publications. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2009.

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