Digitization of the Historic Federal Register: 1936-1994

There’s a celebration going on at the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO), as the final issues of the digitized Federal Register (1936-1959) were publicly released on April 11. This release concludes a three-year-long project with the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of the Federal Register to close the gap in the official digital record of the Federal Register.

The Federal Register is the official daily publication for rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as Executive Orders and Presidential documents. The publication of the first issue of the Federal Register was March 14, 1936, and authenticated PDFs are now available on govinfo for issues from 1936 through the current day. The digitization effort digitized 14,587 individual Federal Register issues from 1936 through 1994.

The digitization project was a complete team effort at GPO and involved staff and contractors from across the agency, as well as staff from our partner, the Office of the Federal Register. This project would not have been successful without the work of staff from:

  • Library Services and Content Management
  • Programs, Strategy, and Technology
  • Publication and Information Sales
  • Office of the Federal Register


The digitization project began in October 2015 as GPO staff packed over 1,860 bound volumes of Federal Register issues and transferred 300 boxes from the Office of the Federal Register to GPO Headquarters. With the publications at GPO, a group of 15 staff and contractors completed the pre-digitization preparation and processing of over 15,400 Federal Register issues, indexes, and codification guides. This work included a general condition assessment, the flagging of each issue of the Federal Register in the bound volumes, and verification and additions to the Federal Register issue inventory.

During the pre-digitization preparation, a need for several replacement issues was identified due to tears or other damage to the issues. The Kansas Supreme Court Library and the Taggart Law Library of the Ohio Northern University answered a call for help and loaned GPO multiple issues from their collections. GPO is grateful for the assistance of these two depository libraries.

Digitization and Inspection

GPO, working through the Library of Congress’ FEDLINK, awarded a contract for preservation digitization services to Backstage Library Works (BSLW). In May 2016, GPO transferred a test batch (sample set of issues from each decade) to BSLW. Working with BSLW, the test batch was processed and reviewed. Appropriate modifications were made, and full production began in September 2016.

The digital Federal Register packages from BSLW included the following.

  1. Master digital images in TIFF lossless format
    • Each individual issue within the bound volume digitized as a separate file
    • Each Image:
      • Scan at 400 ppi (original document size)
      • Scanning bit depth – 8 bit
      • Master file format – Lossless TIFF
      • Pages cropped with no visible skew, and a small border (up to 1/16 inch) visible around the entire image
  2. Searchable PDF with embedded OCR text
  3. XML metadata for each:
    • Descriptive metadata for each issue
    • Preservation and Technical metadata for each file

A team of GPO staff and contractors inspected a percentage of the digital Federal Register packages to ensure the digitized files met the contract specifications. In addition to validating the master file format met the specifications, the team inspected the files for:

  • Visible skew
  • Cropping
  • Image quality
  • Quality for the OCR
  • File naming and organization
  • Descriptive metadata specifications met

The final batch was accepted from BSLW in early January 2018. The last of the 300 boxes of Federal Register issues was also returned, and they are now back on the shelves in the Office of the Federal Register’s reference collection.

Ingest into govinfo

Once inspection of a decade’s worth of issues was completed, GPO’s Office of Programs, Strategy, and Technology was notified so their staff could begin the process to ingest the files into govinfo.

The first batch of digitized Federal Register issues (1990-1994) was made available in January 2017. Additional releases followed in August 2017 (1980-1989), November 2017 (1970-1979), and February 2018 (1960-1969). The final batch (1936-1959) was released on April 11, 2018.

GPO hopes digital access to the complete run of the Federal Register via govinfo will be helpful as Federal depository librarians assist patrons with historic research. You will be surprised at the variety of information contained in the older issues.

Here are just a few examples to get you started:

FDLP Connection Archive

We have sunsetted the FDLP Connection with the July / August 2018 issue and will not be publishing the Connection anymore. We’ve enjoyed bringing the FDLP Connection to the community over the years! You can still view past issues. View full archive (2011-2018).