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Governmental bodies are often the best resources for statistics and status reports on issues that affect us on a national and global scale. Knowing how to access these resources can open up a wealth of information for any interested user and conveniently, much of this information is increasingly available on the internet. Below are some brief steps that you can take to become a savvy collector of government data and reports.

Step 1: Understanding the process for finding government resources
Finding government resources can be tricky simply because there are many different routes that you can take.
Once you have identified the type of information that you are looking for (e.g. the number of households with internet access by state and by country), then you can choose the index you think would best serve that need. In the case of government resources, the proper index can be a database that the Library provides, a print index available in the Government Documents room, or a free government website search engine or directory. The key is to try out a few of these and figure out which ones work best for you.
  • Index with Full Text links - To save money and disseminate information, many governmental bodies are publishing reports, resolutions, and statistics on the Internet, so sometimes you will get the full text of what you need online. The following search engines and web portals can be used to restrict your search to government information.

  • Print Index - Other times, the index will merely tell you within which publication your answer can be found. In those cases, you can use one of three sources. Be sure to get the title of the publication, the publishing body and the classification number, if available.

  • MSU Online Catalog - U.S. Government publications published since 1997 are listed in the Online Catalog. There are also some older materials within the Catalog and these older materials will continue to be added. The Online Catalog will give you a call number and a location for all of the government publications, both U.S. and international.
  • Government Websites - Indexes will often provide links to the governmental organization that publishes a particular document, and these can often provide full text links or further information on the location of particular titles.

  • Government Documents Reference Desk - Librarians are available at the Government Documents Desk from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. to help you find the government publications that interest you.

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Step 2: Understanding U.S. and UN classification systems
In most databases of U.S. or UN information you will find classification numbers. These numbers are used by most libraries to organize their government publications and can be very helpful in locating the documents that you need. Below are diagrams of these types of classification numbers. The most important thing to remember is that unlike the classification systems in the rest of the Library, these systems organize materials by the body that publishes the material and not by the topic of the material.

Superintendent of Documents (SuDoc) Classification System

The first letter signifies the publishing body (e.g. Department of Agriculture).
The second number signifies the department within the publishing body that is the author of the work (e.g. Forest Service).
The number after the period signifies the title of the publication (e.g. Gypsy Moth News).
The last number signifies the year of publication. This can be written with two, (98), three (999) or four numbers (2002).

Department of Agriculture No. Designating the Title: Gypsy Moth News




 13 .141 :999

To see online government publications organized by Superintendent of Documents numbers, check out Uncle Sam Migrating Government Publications - http://exlibris.memphis.edu/resource/unclesam/migrating/mig.html.

United Nations Classification System

The first letter signifies the publishing body (e.g. Economic & Social Council).
The second set of letters and numbers signify the department within the publishing body that is the author of the work (e.g. Governing Council).
The third set of letters signify the type of publication (e.g. Resolution).
The fourth number signifies the year of the publication (e.g. 1999).
The last set of letters and numbers signify if this is the original publication or a related document (e.g. Revision 1). 

Economic & Social Council Resolution





GC.5/ RES/ 1999/ Rev.1

Governing Council


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Step 3: Distinguishing between the types of information available
There are three main types of information that you may be seeking when looking for government information:

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Step 4: Exploring the resources

There are a multitude of resources to find this kind of information. Check out the links below to view research guides created specifically to help you access the type of information you are seeking.

U.S. Government Documents Research Guide

Introduction Indexes and Databases
Background Information and History Research Guides
Current Awareness Statistical Information
Directories US System of Organizations

United Nations Documents Research Guide

Introduction Indexes and Databases
UN System of Organizations Directories
Background Information and History Statistical Information
Current Awareness Research Guides

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More information
Contact the Government Documents & Microforms Department:

Created by Beth Ashmore. Last updated by Brad Brazzeal on July 26, 2007. If you need information about this page or the workshop it supports, contact Christine Fletcher.

About MSU Libraries:

Mississippi State University Libraries is a premier research library providing its communities of users an ongoing, creative, technologically advanced library program that provides new and emerging technologies; enhances and inspires teaching, research, and service of the highest caliber in an environment of free and open inquiry and with a commitment to excellence. For more information about MSU Libraries, please visit http://library.msstate.edu/ .

MSU, Mississippi's flagship research university, is online at www.msstate.edu.