Guide to the Research Collections




Government publications (or public documents; the terms are used interchangeably throughout this Guide ) have always been an outstanding feature of the library's collections. Their importance as sources of many kinds of information was recognized from the beginning. That part of the collection of public documents not specifically classed by subject numbers 350,000 volumes. Administered by the Economic and Public Affairs Division, it has been assigned the class mark *S

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in the Billings Classification Schedule. There are, in addition, many other volumes of public documents in the collections which have been classified in nearly every subject area of the library. Several of these areas are extensive: law, with its long files of session laws; the Patents Collection, made up almost entirely of official government publications; and the extremely important and extensive collection of official census and statistical reports. A conservative calculation of the number of public documents outside the *S class mark is in excess of 700,000 volumes, twice the number to be found within the class mark.

The Research Libraries attempt to collect and retain permanently all important publications in their subject fields of interest issued by international governmental agencies, and by the national, state, and provincial governments of all countries. Municipal documents are collected with limitations described in a following paragraph. Certain categories of public documents are not usually acquired:

Book counts and estimates taken by the library have always included only those public documents within the *S class mark. The following tabulation of the library's document holdings, therefore, gives only a partial picture of the growth of the holdings since 1897, when a public documents collection was first organized:


Dr. Cogswell of the Astor Library predicted the value of public documents in supplying current information, as well as historical data. His point of view may have resulted from the necessity of meeting the interests of the New York public which the Astor Library served--the pressure of finding information about conditions both here and abroad for commercial, industrial, and cultural uses--but whatever the cause, as early as 1851 he observed, in his Annual Report, the "great number of important and costly scientific, statistical and historical works ... which we might have gratuitously...." from various governments.1

In the same year Cogswell recorded the receipt of copies of all volumes on hand of documentary history published by the British Record Commission, and of important statistical works issued by the Danish government. By 1879 it was routinely stated that the Astor Library had received British documents relating to India and official publications from New Zealand, New South Wales, Canada, France, Italy, and Prussia.

American public documents were not neglected by either of the foundation libraries. Early legislative publications were collected primarily during 1893 and 1894, when the Lenox Library made extensive purchases of American law and legislative journals from the library of Dr. George H. Moore. The Astor Library also had some early and rare materials in this field, notably in the Ford collection. But previous to this Cogswell had started seeking contemporary publications as well. In 1854, Albany contributed an extensive selection of New York state documents, and the Maine legislature passed a resolution directing the Secretary of State to forward complete sets of state documents. Massachusetts took similar action in 1856. These were the beginnings of the library's ordered plan to secure important material as it appeared, and by 1902 the documents from these states and from New Jersey, Indiana, and Pennsylvania were complete.

In the library's 1909 Annual Report is an excellent survey of public documents. Much of the general information provided is applicable today, since the library has kept well abreast in this field.

The major subject areas in which the library now collects government publications comprehensively are business, the social sciences (with special emphasis on economics, government, and international affairs), and the physical, chemical, and engineering sciences. Few public documents in the medical and natural sciences are collected, since the library does not specialize in these fields. Originally legal literature was considered primarily of interest to the law student and to the lawyer, and was accordingly left to the university and the special law library for cultivation. The realization that law is not a thing apart but a definite aspect of the social and historical picture of any political unit has resulted in the strengthening of the collections bearing on statutory law. The Research Libraries also selectively collect the law reports or court decisions of U.S. federal courts and New York State courts of record. The library's resources and acquisition policy in the field of law are more fully discussed in chapter 37 of this Guide.

The library's holdings of official gazettes or newspapers have always been of exceptional strength for most countries of the world. In 1956 the library began to preserve its files on microfilm, and by 1969 had been successful in acquiring and filming current issues of most titles. Relatively little has been accomplished, however, in the attempt to preserve holdings prior to the late 1950s.

The library is a depository for the publications of the United Nations and other international agencies and for the federal government publications of the United States and Canada. In addition, the library is a depository for the state publications of New York, California, and Washington. There is a vast collection of public documents, federal, state, and to a lesser degree municipal, received by the library from most of the countries of the world.


At present all government publications retained by the library are fully cataloged, with the exception of very minor material. Many important documents are given author and subject entries as well as serial entries. In recent years, however,

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more and more reliance has been placed on published indexes for a subject approach to documents. There are some cards for government publications in most division catalogs, but filing rules are not the same everywhere. Therefore the reader is advised to ascertain that he understands the rules for the catalog he is using; if he does not, he is urged to seek the aid of the reference librarians.

The main listing for government publications in the Research Libraries is found in the Catalog of Government Publications located in the Economic and Public Affairs Division and in book form. This is basically a corporate-author file with no cards for subjects or personal names. The listings for serials and nonserials (monographs) are separated under each corporate entry. First are the serials, arranged in alphabetical order by title, followed by the nonserials, chronologically arranged by date of publication. This arrangement is considered an aid to ready reference, for a preponderance of the titles begin with commonplace words or form phrases which would necessitate a tedious search through a strictly alphabetical arrangement.


There are in actuality two collections of government publications in the Research Libraries. The first consists of administrative publications, legislative proceedings, sessional papers, government directories, etc. of various nations, states, and cities, and such general materials as are not easily classifiable by subject. This collection is classed as *S in the Billings Classification Schedule and is administered by the Economic and Public Affairs Division. Although current practice is to classify an increasingly large percentage of government publications elsewhere, this class mark covers some 350,000 volumes and remains important.

The second group of public documents includes census reports, patents, session laws, and other materials identified by subject, such as geological surveys, meteorological reports, etc. This group of over 700,000 volumes is located in the various divisions and collections of the library. In the following analysis of the public document resources of the library, reference will be made only to those portions of the *S class mark which are in active use at the time of this writing, and certain rarities primarily in the Rare Book, Division (*K class mark).


Bibliographical materials classed in *S consist only of publications originating from governmental agencies, and consequently do not include much material dealing with public documents but classed under subject. All Library of Congress bibliographical publications are included. Official records of material published, such as the Library of Congress Official Catalog of Publications and similar publications from other national agencies, form a second class of bibliographical tool. A third is catalogs of accessions of governmental agencies; notable examples are the catalogs of the Canadian Parliament from 1862 and the Danish Kongelige Bibliothek from 1901. This class of materials includes some accession records of the Library of Congress and the state libraries.


Only material about archives is included: dissertations, indexes, lists, etc. Typical of the latter are the Lists and Indexes of the British Public Record Office and the Press List of Ancient Documents of the India Record Department. Reprinted archives are classed with subject materials.

Official Gazettes (Government Newspapers)

This is an exceptionally strong feature of the holdings; the importance of government newspapers in establishing the historical record of any country cannot be overestimated. The Gazettes Microfilming Project, started in 1956, continues.2 Unfortunately, gazettes are usually printed on the cheapest paper stock and, unless an effort at preservation is quickly made, they rapidly deteriorate. The library's Gazettes Microfilming Project attempts to record these materials on microfilm as they become available. The following titles serve merely as examples; in no case should it be assumed that the file is complete, as for the most part, they are not. But among those cited, the representation is substantial.

The London Gazette is complete from its beginning as the Oxford Gazette in 1665. The files of the Dublin Gazette-- continued by the Belfast Gazette and by the Iris oifigiuil-- and of the Edinburgh Gazette both commence about the turn of the century.

Continental European countries are well represented. The French Journal officiel commences in 1789; the Spanish Gaceta de Madrid, in 1808; the Italian Gazzetta ufficiale, in 1861; the German Reichs-Anzeiger, in 1875. Among smaller countries, the Netherlands Staats-Courant begins in 1813; the Belgian Moniteur Belge, in 1831; the Swiss Bundesblatt, in 1848; the Rumanian Monitorul oficial, in 1896. Russian, Greek, and Bulgarian gazettes are included. The smaller French and German districts and states are well represented.

Asiatic materials include the Gazette of India, which commences in 1912, and strong holdings for the individual Indian states. Among other Asian gazettes are the Hong Kong Government Gazette from 1909; the Straits Settlements Government Gazette from 1909 (continued by the Singapore Government Gazette from 1958); and the Federated Malay States Government Gazette from 1909 (continued by the Malaysia His Majesty's Government Gazette from 1963). Other titles include the Goa Boletim oficial from 1906 (continued by the Goa, Daman, and Diu Government Gazette; Boletim oficial from 1961), the Macao Boletim oficial from 1930, and the French Indo-China Journal officiel from 1889 (continued in part by the Viet Nam Công-Báo Viet-Nam Công-Hoa from 1955). China is represented by King Paon (in Chinese) from 1885 to 1899, and the Translation of the Peking Gazette (1872-99).

The library has always recognized the political importance of Africa. There is unusual strength in the gazettes of the former colonial governments of that continent. Although repeated attempts have been made to obtain complete files

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of the gazettes of the newly independent states, there has been only varying success (many of these are held by the Schomburg Center in microfilm copies). The Belgian Congo Bulletin administratif begins in 1912, while the Bulletin officiel of the Congo is nearly complete from 1855. They are succeeded by the Moniteur congolais (Kinshasa, 1960-) and the Journal officiel de la République du Congo (Brazzaville, 1958- ). The library's holdings of the gazettes of former British colonies are of exceptional completeness up to the time of independence; after independence they are as complete as it has been possible to make them. The Portuguese Mozambique Boletim oficial begins in 1921, and the Guinea Journal officiel from 1906; both are continued by the gazettes of the newly independent nations. South Africa is equally well represented from 1910 by the Government Gazette under the Union and the Staatskoerant under the Republic. An unusual title in this field is the gazette of the British administration of the Transvaal (1878-79) before it was returned to the Dutch.

The American continents are well covered. The Canadian Gazette commences in 1881; most of the provinces have excellent files. The Mexican official newspaper, under various titles, is more or less continuous from 1805; those of the Mexican states vary. South American republics have, in some instances, good representations at the national level (for example the Argentine Boletin oficial from 1899, and the Brazil Diário oficial from 1900) but relatively little for smaller political subdivisions.

Official and Nonofficial Directories

This is another strong group. Among the longer sets United States directories and registers are substantially complete; those of the states are held in strength. Such directories and manuals as have been issued by cities are also present, as far as the library has been able to collect them--the Boston Municipal Register, from 1840; the Newark (N.J.) Manual, from 1872; and others.

For the rest of the world, a few outstanding titles issued by nations, provinces, and cities will perhaps be suggestive: Australia's Yearbook of Australia, from 1885; Belgium's Almanach royal officiel, from 1841; the Canadian Parliamentary Companion (later, Guide ), from 1867; the Netherland East Indies Regeering Almanak, from 1822; France's Almanach national (previously royal ), from 1708; Great Britain's Colonial List, from 1879, and the India Office's India List, from 1813; Jamaica's Handbook, from 1882; the Netherlands Jaarboekje, from 1833; Prague's Almanach hlavnìho mesta Prahy, from 1898; Sardinia's Calendario generale, from 1824-47; the Swedish Sveriges och Norriges Calender, from 1779. Though many of these files are incomplete, most of them are substantial and lack few numbers.

National and State Government Publications

In the following description, as elsewhere in this Guide, specific titles are mentioned; they are intended to be suggestive of types of material present, rather than to emphasize the importance of those particular titles. Throughout the discussion the commencing date of the library's file is provided, seldom with any indication if the file is absolutely complete or whether it is current; files cited are generally very substantial, if not complete. Only original publications are taken into account. In many instances where these are lacking--particularly the early volumes --there are compilations, reprints, etc., which the library generally has; it would be incorrect to assume that the library does not have the legislative proceedings of any given country if the date noted in this description happens to be later than the initial volume.

United States: Federal, State, and Colonial

This is one of the finest collections in the library, and detailed description is unnecessary. As a depository library for U.S. federal government publications since 1884, the library has received materials so distributed. The library also has been receiving the Readex Microprint edition (opaque microforms) of all nondepository items listed in the Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications since 1953 and all depository items listed since 1956. The library is a depository library for the state publications of New York, California, and Washington. There is a strong representation of the publications of other states; the federal district; and the outlying territories and areas from the earliest periods of publication.

Rare materials in the Rare Book Division include documents published by the federal government through the first fourteen congresses, those of the thirteen original states through 1800, and those of territories to the date of admission as states. The collection of contemporaneously printed federal documents from 1789 to 1817, while not bibliographically complete, is nevertheless of major importance. There is also a notable group of documents published by the Confederate States of America and by the separate states of the Confederacy.

The British Commonwealth of Nations

This is another extensive collection. The library's set of Parliamentary Papers for the years 1731 to 1800 (slightly incomplete for the earlier years) is one of a small number of sets in the United States.3 The files of Parliamentary Debates are complete. Publications common to former crown colonies-- Gazette, Bluebook, Legislative Council Minutes and Debates, and the various reports in collected or separate form--are a notable feature; the library's files of the "Bluebooks" usually commence about the turn of the century. Dominion publications, as well as those of their component states, and Debates are held in strength. Special mention may be given India and Pakistan, as the library has substantial runs of the administrative reports of the various states, under both English and native rule, and there are substantial files of the legislative proceedings of the states. Selections from the Records of the various Indic states is noteworthy.

Other European Countries

These form an excellent representation. The library has made a particular effort to obtain the

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documents of new countries emerging in the aftermath of World Wars I and II. The legislative proceedings of France are virtually complete, as are those of Germany. Following are a few other important series: the Spanish Cortes Diario, from 1810, and that of the Diputados, from 1834-35; the Norwegian Stortinget Forhandlinger is complete from 1814, and the Danish Rigsdagen Forhandlinger, from 1850. The Netherlands Staaten-General Verslag commences with 1814-15. The Swiss Bundesrath Bericht commences in 1864. The various publications of the Finnish Eduskunta make an almost continuous file from 1809. The Czechoslovakian parliamentary proceedings and documents are complete, as is the Stenographic Report of the Polish Parliament. European state and provincial documents vary in their representation considerably. Those of the French departments and the German state legislative proceedings are comparatively negligible; the Italian provincial publications, on the other hand, are an outstanding feature, as are those of the Netherlands-- Verslag van den toestand, Notulen, and Provincialblad (common to all Dutch provincial governments)--usually commencing with the printing. The Zeeland Notulen dates from 1590.


This is not a large group; it is most notable for strong holdings of gazettes, mentioned in an earlier paragraph.

Latin America

Although less systematic than those of other countries, the collections of legislative proceedings and reports from this area of the world are, on the whole, good. It has proved most difficult to secure publications from the countries to the south. A few of the longer files include the Mexican Diario, from 1793; the Argentine Diario de sesiones, from 1854; the Brazil Annaes, from 1849-50; the Chile Boletin, from 1866; the Paraguay Registro oficial, from 1869-75; and the Uruguay Diario, from 1830. The collections also include much material in reprint; thus, the Bolivian Redactor del H. Congreso nacional commences with 1825. The Schomburg Center Kurt Fisher collection contains strong holdings of Haitian documents, including presidential proclamations and numerous other printed and manuscript records, from the time of the French Revolution.

Municipal Documents

These constitute one of the unusual collections of the library, relating both to government and local history. Municipal documents are such a highly specialized type of material that any extended description of the content of this class would become a catalog. An outline of the present collecting policy in this field follows:

The present collecting policy for municipal documents varies in some respects from the policy as it has developed over the years. It should be noted that in 1941 the collecting policy for municipal documents called for the acquisition of materials from American and Canadian cities of 30,000 population or more, and from foreign cities of 200,000 or more. New York state municipal documents are unusually strong; those of New York City constitute a rich collection. Other than New York, the library's first effort has been to secure the "collected documents," though few cities outside the New England area now issue such publications. The proceedings of the council or similar legislative body, the ordinances, and the municipal gazette (if published) are sought. To name but a few files of proceedings of more important cities are those of Baltimore, from 1869; Boston, from 1853; Chicago, from 1870; Cleveland, from 1874; Indianapolis, from 1891; Philadelphia, from 1857; and St. Louis, from 1859.

The library's collection of American municipal charters is of unusual importance.4 County documents are collected in the fields of the library's interest issued by counties in New York State, New Jersey, Connecticut, and a few of the largest metropolitan areas across the nation. The supervisors' journals of New York state counties constitute a very strong feature. Although not actively

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collected, the representations from many New England counties and towns are interesting.

European municipalities are well represented, especially larger ones such as London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and Rome. There is a variation in the resources by country. German cities have long files of Verwaltungsberichte, Haushaltspläne, as well as some of the Verhandlungen of the local Rat. French municipalities are well represented. The older files of Italian cities are good, but recent material is often lacking. Swiss and Dutch series are strong. Outside Madrid, Spanish materials are weak; the Scandinavian holdings are irregular.