Find government publications

British Library Act

Locating individual official publications in our collections is complex. If you can’t find the document in the online catalogue, please ask the reference staff to help.

Catalogue records for some official publications can be found using Explore the British Library. Historically, official publications were often issued in series, and catalogued at the level of the series and not at the level of an individual document. In these cases, in order to identify a document in our print and microform collections, you will have to find its series and number within the series using a range of in-house and published guides, indexes and bibliographies before consulting the catalogue to find its shelfmark.

The most extreme case is the depository collection of US federal government publications which is represented in the catalogue by a single record. The individual fiches within this collection are filed by the US Superintendent of Documents code number. In order to find the code you will need to use an online index, Marcive Web Docs, available in the reading room. Reference desk staff will advise on official publications indexes available for individual countries.

When searching for historic official publications, the first step is to find out how they were organised in a particular country. To do this, consult a general guide, such as:

  • Guide to Official Publications of Foreign Countries, ed. by Gloria Westfall, 2nd edn (Chicago: American Library Association, 1997)
  • Information Sources in Official Publications, ed. by Valerie J Nurcombe (London: Bowker-Saur, 1997)
  • Official Publications of Western Europe, ed. by Eve Johansson (London: Mansell, 1988)

We also hold a range of published guides to the official publications of individual countries and international organisations in the reference collection in the Social Sciences Reading Room and online. Some of the print versions have been annotated with British Library shelf marks. Please ask reference staff to advise.

You can also consult the annotated version of the British Library General Catalogue of Printed Books held in the reading room under the name of the country.  For each country, official publications are organised under form headings such as Constitutions, Laws, Legislative Bodies. This means you can locate the series and its shelfmark without knowing the title in the original language.

To supplement the print resources we have created a series of PDF guides to official publications of Western Europe, Anglophone Africa, South Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Canada and the United States. These identify the main print series and their shelfmarks, printed indexes, and locations of free online versions.

We also have indexes to particular types of printed official documents, including:

  • A card index to official gazettes, arranged by country name
  • A card index to Parliamentary debates, arranged by country name
  • Published bibliographies, often annotated with Library shelfmarks, such as the International Population Census Bibliography published by the University of Texas Bureau of Business Research