Depository Collection and Development

  • Last Updated: October 06, 2023
  • Published: October 15, 2012

Congress established the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) in 1813 to help fulfill its responsibility to inform the public about the policies and programs of the U.S. Government. Today, public officials designate depository libraries in order to provide local, no-fee, public access to Federal Government information with impartial and expert librarian assistance. All Federal depository libraries, unless excepted by law, share in this responsibility.

The law requires all Federal depository libraries to maintain 10,000 non-depository books or publications to earn and retain their status as a Federal depository library. Legislators incorporated this requirement into law to ensure that designated libraries have sufficient size and staffing to support the Federal depository operation.

Scope of the FDLP Collection

Publications in the Federal Depository Library Program are of public interest or educational value and are from all three branches of the Federal Government.

GPO's scope rules exclude U.S. Government publications when they are:

  • Classified for reasons of national security
  • Issued for strictly administrative or operational purposes
  • “Cooperative' publications that agencies are required to sell
  • Publications including personally identifiable information

Collection Development for Primary Patrons and the General Public

Collection development traditionally focuses on the needs of primary patrons such as students of a university or residents of a city. Nevertheless, the Federal Government information needs of the general public must also influence the collection development of depository libraries.

Most depositories serve a particular Congressional district. Additional factors that dictate a local public service area (other than the Congressional district) are as follows: 

  • The number of depositories
  • The geographic area
  • The type of library
  • The existence of established interlibrary cooperative arrangements

Neighboring depositories should negotiate these local service areas with each other to ensure service to all geographic areas if different from the district where the library is located.

Knowledge of the Community in Collection Development Policies

Depository libraries should make demonstrable efforts to identify and meet the Federal Government information needs of their Congressional district or local area.

A well-written collection development policy is the best way to document these needs. The policy records decisions made about current selections as well as any future plans for the depository collection. Regularly review and update the policy as appropriate. You can develop your own FDL policy or make your plan part of the larger library-wide policy.

The collection development policies of neighboring or similar depositories can be good sources for ideas. Consider including the following information in your policy:

  • A community analysis of the Federal Government information needs of your library’s users. The analysis may include:
    • A library mission statement
    • A brief history of the service area, the Congressional district and the depository designation date
    • Demographic statistics
    • An economic profile of the area’s industries, business opportunities, and growth
    • A description of the physical growth, transportation patterns, and population distribution of the geographic area
    • Consortial arrangements with other area libraries
  • Strategies used to identify Federal Government information needs of the Congressional district, state, region, or local area
  • Strategies for meeting the needs of the primary library patron community and, if different, the general public. This may include:
    • The various public services offered by your library
    • Cooperative collection development efforts with neighboring depository libraries
  • Selection responsibility and selection tools.
  • Intensity levels and subject strengths of your existing collection and any plans to modify these.
  • Practical guidelines for format selection decisions based upon your users’ needs and library capabilities to provide access to different formats.
  • Collection maintenance or evaluation guidelines or procedures, including practices related to supersession, official substitution, and weeding.
  • Procedures for providing depository resources requested by users but not selected by your library. Fulfillment of these requests may involve inter-depository coordination of selections, cooperative collection development, interlibrary loan or resource sharing to provide access to seldom used items in your local area.

The following are ways to identify and document the Federal Government information needs of your community.

  • Analyze demographic and socio-economic data about the community served.
  • Review publication purchase requests.
  • Gain knowledge from subject matter expertise of library colleagues.
  • Review reference questions.
  • Track depository resources used in answering questions.
  • Review daily news sources.
  • Review other library web pages or guides.
  • Employ library user surveys that include questions about Federal government information needs.
  • Review user comments submitted electronically via email, web forms, chat, or other communication tools.
  • Review college or university curriculum.
  • Contact government agency personnel.
  • Gain knowledge from participation in library associations or other library networks.
  • Review data about patron collection use within the library building (e.g., in-house use or circulation).
  • Review data about remote patron collection use (e.g., OPAC usage, web counters and site usage, virtual reference questions that include U.S. Government information in the question or answer, or interlibrary loan).
  • Review use of PURLs from your catalog and library web pages.

Foundation of the Collection

Depository libraries must provide access to all types of FDLP content. There are a number of collection development tools such as the List of Classes, Federal agency publication lists, and government publication textbooks to help you select these basic resources and make the most informed collection development choices. The following is a comprehensive list of resource that creates the foundation of a depository collection.

  • Tangible Resources:
  • Depository resources that you have selected in paper, microfiche, CD or DVD-ROM, other tangible format housed in your library, or at selective housing sites.
  • Online only (EL) Publications:
  • Depository libraries must provide for the public use of online only depository resources. These online resources are available through the CGP and partnership resources. Your library will assist any patron in locating needed online U.S. Government publications in the FDLP.
  • Official Content Partnerships:
  • GPO's content partners assist with providing permanent public access to electronic U.S. Government information. Partners agree to provide storage capacity and user access without restrictions on dissemination. There are a few hybrid partnerships that provide services and content.
  • Agency Subscription Databases:
  • One of the advantages of being a participant of the FDLP is no-fee access to databases that are otherwise subscription-based. These databases may be password protected and/or limited to a certain number of IP addresses in an institution. You must apply to gain access to these resources, with some exceptions.
  • MetaLib Resources from GPO:
  • A federated search feature of the CGP, MetaLib provides access to reports, articles, and citations across multiple U.S. Government databases. Your library already provides access to the CGP since it is in the Basic Collection, but you are encouraged to augment the description of the CGP or also point to MetaLib.

Libraries typically select depository resources by the item numbers located within the document entitled “List of Classes.” The List of Classes is the official, collated list of publications available for selection by depository libraries in all formats.

Libraries may amend or update their item selections as useful.

For more information on selecting online only (EL) item numbers, see Amending Your Library's Selection Profile and Item Number System.

FDLP Basic Collection

Every depository library is required to have the titles in the FDLP Basic Collection accessible for immediate use because these titles are vital sources of information that support the public's right to know about the workings and essential activities of their Federal Government. How this is accomplished is a local decision; however, merely linking to GovInfo or the CGP does not provide sufficient access.

Provide access to the Basic Collection by one or a combination of the following:

  • Catalog each title and include active hyperlinks in the bibliographic record.
  • Catalog the Basic Collection using a collection level record and include an active hyperlink.
  • Catalog the Basic Collection in a shared or consortial catalog where the default option is to search records of all libraries.
  • Link to all the titles in the Basic Collection from your library’s website.
  • Purchase and make available commercial equivalents (tangible or electronic) of the Basic Collection titles.
  • Incorporate Basic Collection titles into topical bibliographies or guides.

Secondary Resources

Secondary resources support bibliographic access and help users make sense of depository resources. Federal depository libraries must assist patrons looking for U.S. Government information that may appear in Federal depository library resources as part of the fulfillment of free, public access.  Use depository resources such as the CGP and online searches; if available, use commercially acquired indexes, databases, and other reference resources as well.

When choosing secondary resources, it may be beneficial to take advantage of consortial or cooperative depository acquisitions. Explore available secondary resources at other nearby libraries and at your regional depository library in order to supplement what is available at your library. Your library is not required to provide public access to third-party vendor subscription databases.

Cooperative Collection Development

You cannot consider the collection development of a depository in isolation. A single depository library may not meet all the Federal Government information needs of a large and diverse community. You should consider your library’s proximity to other depositories and your library’s consortial arrangements involving collection development, a shared catalog, and resource sharing. These arrangements should document collection and retention decisions about certain depository resources. You may develop informal or formal arrangements such as a State Plan or other written agreement with other Federal depository libraries.

Regional Depository Library Collection Development

The principal responsibility of a regional depository library is to ensure and develop the comprehensiveness and integrity of a State’s or region’s collection of Federal depository resources. The library fulfills this responsibility through purposeful collection development of new resources by item number and also retrospective collection of depository resources to fill in gaps in the collection under the control of the library. The regional depository library may hold the Federal depository collection at the regional depository library and at official selective housing sites within the state or the area served by the regional.

Regional depository libraries are required to select and retain at least one format of each publication; unselected item numbers may be those representing a second tangible format of a publication.

For more information on required item numbers and restrictions on tangible format selections, see Amending Your Library's Selection Profile.