The Superintendent of Documents has the legal obligation to create a comprehensive catalog of the official publications of the U.S. Government, to increase public access to them. The Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP) includes bibliographic descriptions of Government publications and, when available, links to digitized and born-digital resources. Publications in the CGP date from the 1800s to the present, and they, and their descriptions, may contain outdated, discriminatory, offensive, or insensitive language.
While the contents of material found through the CGP will not always reflect GPO’s values of Honesty, Kindness, Effectiveness, and Inclusiveness, the catalog realizes GPO’s vision of “America Informed” by providing permanent access to Government publications from throughout our country’s history.
Why doesn’t GPO remove potentially harmful language in content that is accessible from GovInfo and the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications?
GovInfo is a preservation repository dedicated to preserving information as it was originally published by the agency responsible. GPO cannot edit the publications to remove inappropriate language; we must maintain the integrity of the original publications. GovInfo is also a National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Affiliated Archive, and as such is also subject to NARA’s requirements to ensure the authenticity of the records as they were created.
GPO has statutory obligations to create a comprehensive index and catalog of all the public documents of the U.S. Government. These records are found in the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP). This catalog grows with records for new content, for historical publications that are digitized, and for old card catalog records that are transcribed. The comprehensive CGP aims to be a national bibliography of the history of the U.S. as seen through the public works of the Government, which must be preserved. While records cannot be removed, we can determine how the document is described. See the next two FAQs for more information about this.
What practices does GPO currently follow regarding the description of Government publications?
- Descriptive Cataloging follows best practices to provide non-offensive access points, but will not change transcribed fields, like title page information.
- When cataloging, GPO uses the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) in all bibliographic records. When cataloging resources from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, GPO uses the NASA Thesaurus headings. When encountered during copy cataloging, GPO retains Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) and National Agricultural Library Thesaurus (NAL) headings for the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP) when there is clear indication that they were entered by National Library of Medicine or the National Agricultural Library.
- Subject Cataloging uses international standard vocabularies. The U.S. Government Publishing Office’s (GPO) cataloging experts will submit change proposals to the maintaining bodies when offensive, outdated, or inaccurate terms are encountered, or when there is literary warrant for new terms.
- SuDoc Classification will continue to be based on agency provenance, following the Superintendent of Documents Classification Guidelines. Publications are classed with regard to the agency, bureau, or office name as shown on the publication. Classification in other systems, when performed, will use current international systems.
- Most Geographic Names are maintained by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN). GPO descriptive cataloging will use the latest name, unless a change in jurisdiction has occurred and an earlier name more accurately represents the area and time period covered in the publication. When an agency or association name contains a geographic affiliation, the official name for the agency/association at the time of publication will be used.
What is GPO doing to improve description?
When GPO describes what a publication is about, we use, like most libraries in the English-speaking world, standardized terms from the Library of Congress Subject Headings. As the Library of Congress updates subject headings, the CGP records are updated as well. However, when encountered during copy cataloging, GPO retains Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) and National Agricultural Library Thesaurus (NAL) headings for the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP) when there is a clear indication that they were entered by National Library of Medicine or the National Agricultural Library.
GPO’s Library Technical Services experts also actively research and submit recommendations for subject heading changes or additions to the Library of Congress. Changes are routed through an established process which periodically updates this international standard.
Report Offensive Language
You can help us by reporting potentially harmful language that you see in CGP descriptions. Contact us through askGPO, select Federal Depository Library, and then choose the category Cataloging/Metadata (Policy and Records). In the body of your message please provide:
- the publication title being described.
- the system number.
- the specific language you believe is harmful.
- a suggested alternative if you have one.
All submissions will be reviewed and considered for submission to the Library of Congress’s revision process. Note that this applies only to language found within CGP descriptions of the publications. GPO does not alter the title or content of the original publications.