United States federal government publications

US Capitol
United States Capitol (photo: Kevin McCoy/Wikimedia)

The US federal government collections run from its creation in the 18th century to the present day. They are the most comprehensive outside of North America and were developed on the basis of a series of extensive intergovernmental exchange agreements. They have been supplemented by subscription to a wide range of full text online databases.

About the collection

Prior to 1883, when the first exchange agreement with the United States was concluded, the British Museum Library acquired US federal government documents selectively by purchase. Under the exchange agreement, the scope of collecting widened as both countries received one copy of all official publications as issued. Materials received by the British Museum Library included reports and documents presented to the US Senate and House of Representatives, the Congressional Record (debates), and statutes and laws as well as departmental publications. Under a supplementary agreement concluded in 1951 each government compiled a list of the publications it required from the other government. 

In 1982 the British Library was recognised as a depository library for all US federal government publications. From that date we received the entire output of the legislative, executive and judicial arms of the US Federal government on microfiche from the US Government Publishing Office. In addition, certain key series continued to be received in print, such as the US Congressional Serial Set, the US Code, and the Federal Register and Statutes at Large.

The historic print and depository microfiche collections have been supplemented by purchase of commercially produced microforms, such as population censuses 1850-1890, Congressional Committee prints and hearings, various series of Department of State records, and Presidential Papers, Washington to Coolidge.

What is available online?

The US is moving from print to online publication of official materials. Explore the British Library provides hyperlinks to over 155,000 US federal government documents on the Web.

US federal government information is extensively available online:

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Some reference books and finding aids to older United States official publications are shelved in the Social Sciences Reading Room. Most printed official publications have to be requested for delivery to the Social Sciences Reading Room.

A detailed description of the collections is available in our guide to United States Official Publications in the British Library (PDF format). Given the complexity of this material, please also ask staff at the Social Sciences Reference Enquiry Desk for help with finding out if we have the documents you need.

The following full text databases of digitised US federal government documents can also be accessed:

  • American State Papers, 1789-1838
  • Congressional Serial Set Digital Edition, 1817-1994
  • Congressional Record Permanent Digital Collection, 1789-1997
  • Congressional Hearings Digital Collection, 1824-1979
  • Congressional Research Documents Collection, 2004-2011
  • Digital National Security Archive