a tutorial created by:
Chuck Malone, Government Information Librarian
Western Illinois University Library
This tutorial is
sponsored by the Continuing Education Fund Working Group of the Education
Committee of the American Library Association's Government Documents Round
Contents of the Tutorial
Need to Find
Government Information on the Internet?
Try the Agency Approach!
A library patron once told me that she used an Internet search engine to
search the Internet for information on filing a sex discrimination complaint
against her employer because of ongoing harassment -- and the search engine
gave her 5,066 hits. After looking through the first dozen or so and not
finding the information she was looking for, she became frustrated and quit.
In contrast, many government
document librarians would take a different approach to searching for this
information. They would ask themselves, "Which government department,
office, or agency would deal with a question such as sex
Most government document
librarians work at libraries that are part of the Federal Depository Library
Program (FDLP). The FDLP is administered by the
United States Government Printing Office (GPO). Traditionally, as GPO
prints publications and documents for the various federal agencies, they will
print extra copies to be distributed to libraries participating in the FDLP.
The FDLP libraries usually organize these government publications by the
agencies that issued them. As a result, government document librarians have
found that identifying the agency that deals with the information they are
looking for is a good technique to use in locating government
However, government information is increasingly becoming available on the
Internet. One does not always have to go to a Federal Depository Library.
In a sense, we can all now become government document librarians by using the
Internet to find the government information we are looking for.
But with the Internet
so huge -- where do we start? Well, the same technique that government
document librarians have used for organizing and finding government print
material -- that is organizing information by the agency that issued that
information -- also works in searching for government information on the
Thus, the purpose of this tutorial is to demonstrate a Three-Step "Agency
Approach" to finding government information on the Internet.
1. Identify which government agency deals with the type of information
you are looking for.
2. Go to that agency's Web home page.
3. Mine that agency's Web pages for information you are looking
(Please note: Internet "hotlinks" in this guide are underlined in blue. But
be prepared to do some extra investigating or "mining" as Internet sites do
change over time)
How Do I Know Which
One can determine which agency to look to for specific government information
through a variety of ways. The United States Government Manual is
one publication that is readily available in print at most libraries. This
source is also accessible on the Internet at
The United States
Government Manual briefly describes the roles of most federal
government departments and agencies. Furthermore, it will usually give the
Internet address of a Department or Agency's Web page.
And if you think about it, you
probably know the names of many government agencies and have an idea of what
they do just from listening to the radio, watching TV, or reading the
newspaper. The names of government agencies are present everywhere if we
happen to notice them. Just spending a few extra moments a day to mentally
note the names of government agencies mentioned in the news and elsewhere can
pay big dividends when it comes to identifying which government agency does
What's in a name?
The names of
many agencies describe what a particular agency does. For example, the Dept.
of Agriculture deals with matters of agriculture; The Dept. of
Transportation deals with matters of transportation, etc.
Another source that can
be helpful in identifying which agency deals with which subject matter is a
book many of us are familiar with -- The Statistical Abstract of the
United States. At the bottom of each table presented in
Statistical Abstract there will be a reference to the government
agency which produced that information. The Statistical Abstract is
also available on the Internet or in CD-ROM form. The CD-ROM version can
actually be used in conjunction with the Internet as its tables often contain
Web links to the Agency that produced that particular table.
Once I Have
Identified a Government Agency -- How Do I Find Their Internet
Federal government agency Internet addresses will usually end in .gov
(except for military sites -- which will end in .mil). Many federal
government Internet sites also will contain the initials of an agency --
followed by .gov. For example, the address of the U.S. Dept. of Interior is
http://www.doi.gov. The Internet address of
the Federal Trade Commission is http://www.ftc.gov.
There are a couple of good Internet
directories of government agencies that can help you find the Web address of
an agency. These are:
Agency Internet Sites by the Government Printing Office and LSU Libraries
of Louisiana State University.
Locator by Villanova University's Center for Information Law and
You can also use these directories to browse agency home pages and find out
what various agencies do. And finally, as mentioned earlier, The United States
Government Manual also lists the Internet addresses of most federal
government departments and agencies.
How Do I "Mine" an Agency's Web Pages Once I Get
This can involve:
- examining relevant links as soon as you get to an agency's home page
- Looking for links to statistics of that agency
- doing a search within an agency's Web pages
- searching for a sub-agency within the main agency that deals with your
- looking for a link to publications of the agency.
mining some specific agency's sites will be given in the reference question
How Does This Agency Approach Work With Real
how the "Agency Approach" to finding government information on the Internet
actually works are given below. These were taken from actual reference
questions that were received at a library reference desk. The questions
were then answered by figuring out which federal agency would deal with the
subject matter of the question -- going to that agency's Web home page --
and then mining the agency's Web pages to find the information the patron
was looking for.
Some Sample Reference Questions!
Question #1. How do I find out about sex
discrimination laws and how to file a sexual harassment complaint against my
Step #1. Identify the Agency that would deal with the type of information you
are looking for.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces laws which
prohibit various types of discrimination, including sex discrimination and
sexual harassment. The EEOC also conducts investigations of alleged
discrimination. How would one know this? A few years ago the Clarence
Thomas Supreme Court appointment hearing / Anita Hill testimony brought the
EEOC into national attention. Or you might have remembered various news
stories about sex discrimination in the workplace that featured the role of
you were not familiar with the work of the EEOC from stories in the media,
you might have noticed a poster around your workplace with EEOC
Or you could have used the U.S. Government Manual to come up with
the EEOC. From the subject/agency index in the back of the book, the subject
heading "discrimination" sends one to the subject heading of "civil rights."
And one of the page links after "civil rights" leads one to the entry of the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Or using the
online version of the United States
Government Manual you encounter a search box into which you could
have typed in the word "discrimination" or "sex discrimination" and come up
with the EEOC.
Step #2. Go to that agency's Internet home page.
In this case we CAN find the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's home
page by trying an Internet address that contains EEOC followed by .gov. (http://www.eeoc.gov).
could have obtained the EEOC's Web address from the U.S. Government
Manual or the Federal Agency
Internet Sites and Federal Web
Locator Internet directories that were mentioned above.
Step #3. Mine that agency's Web pages for the information you are looking for.
It is usually a good idea to look for links to the information you are
looking for as soon as you get to an agency's home page. Notice that the
EEOC's opening Web page contains links to Employment Discrimination
and Filing a Charge. The "Employment Discrimination" link leads
one to a further link of "Sexual Harassment" which contains a discussion of
what defines sexual harassment. Links are also available to the text of the
Civil Rights Act, the area of discrimination law that covers sexual
Question #2. I need
statistics on honey production for each state in the U.S.
Step #1. Identify the Agency.
Since honey is an
agricultural product, we can start by assuming that the United States Dept.
of Agriculture (USDA) would keep statistics on honey production. Also, going
to the online version of the United States
Government Manual and typing in honey at the search line would
lead you to USDA.
Step #2. Go to that agency's Web site.
In this case, the initials of the agency followed by .gov again will get us
to the home page we want. http://www.usda.gov.
Of course, we could have also gone to one of the Internet directories of
government information mentioned above to find USDA's Internet address. And
the entries for USDA in either the print or online versions of the United
States Government Manual would lead you to USDA's Internet address.
Step #3 Mine the agency's Web pages.
With a large agency such as USDA, I like to continue with the
Agency Approach a step further, and identify which agency within an
agency deals with the question we are looking for.
So in this case, at USDA's home page, I will choose
"Agencies" in order to find a list of sub-agencies or offices of USDA.
The Dept. of Agriculture deals with a
multitude of subjects -- from managing our National Forests, to overseeing
the Food Stamp Program, to operating commodity programs to help our nation's
farmers. When going to the home page of a large department such as USDA for
a statistical question such as honey production, it is usually worthwhile to
see if they have a special office that deals with statistics.
I am looking for is an agency or office within USDA that might deal with
After clicking on "Agencies" from USDA's home page, you will be taken to a
listing of the agencies within USDA. One of those agencies is the National Agricultural Statistics Service
(NASS). By clicking on their name and going to the NASS site, we are given
several choices, one of which is SEARCH.
At this point, we
can choose SEARCH by
clicking on it and be taken to a search menu box that will search all of the
National Agricultural Statistics Service pages. In the search box, we can
type in the word honey to search for statistics on honey.
At this point you may be asking, "Why didn't we just do a search at the
initial USDA page?"
That is because if we did a search from the main USDA home page, we be
searching all of USDA and we may receive hundreds of unrelated hits that
didn't relate to the information we were looking for. That approach is
certainly the one to take if we can't identify a sub-agency that deals with
the information we want. And in most instances it will work quite well --
after all, searching all of USDA is certainly better than searching all of
the Internet. But by going to the sub-agency, the National Agricultural
Statistics Service first, we can search "honey" only on their pages.
From our search of "honey" on the National Agricultural Statistics Service
pages, we received only several hits, one of which was:
A product of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Agricultural
Statistics Board, U.S. Department of Agriculture
This file contains the annual report of the number of colonies producing
honey, yield per colony, honey production, average price, price by color
class and value; honey stocks by state and U.S.
This hit contains reports for each of
the last 5 years that list not only U.S. national honey production
statistics, but figures for each state as well.
Question #3: I
want to know the number of lives air bags have saved -- and the deaths they
Step #1. Identify the agency.
For a "transportation" question such as this one might guess that the United States Department of Transportation
would be a good agency to try for this type of information. Or by typing
in "air bags" at the search line of the online United States Government
Manual we could have also been led to the United States Department of
Step #2. Go to the agency's Internet home page.
Again the Internet address to this agency consists of the initials of the
agency followed by .gov (http://www.dot.gov) takes us to the agency we
want -- United States Department of
Transportation. Or we could have gone to the United States
Government Manual to find the address.
Step #3. Mine the agency's Web pages.
Once at the United States Dept. of
Transportation Internet site, we can again use our "agency" approach to
look for agencies within DOT which might have statistics on air bags. Right
away we notice that there is a Bureau of
Transportation Statistics or BTS, listed along with many other DOT
sub-agencies. We find that the BTS site includes a search option
The search option of BTS actually takes us to a National Transportation
Library page called DOTBOT which allows
one to search all of the Web pages of the various Transportation Department
Offices -- or to pick a particular Office to Search.
It's usually a good idea if possible to narrow one's search to the agency
within an agency that would deal with our topic. In this case, by looking at
the choice of agencies, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHSTA) would be a good choice for an office that would deal with a safety
questions such as air bags. By changing the DOTBOT dropdown menu to limit
our search to the NHSTA -- and typing in a search of "air bag statistics" we
can search only NHSTA Web pages for the topic of air bag statistics.
The results of this search include a number of hits, one of which is Safety Fact Sheet
9/1/98 Crash Statistics. This Fact Sheet gives us all kinds of
statistics on the use of air bags and their benefits -- including lives saved
and deaths they have caused.
Be aware that changing a search term only slightly in most
databases can alter the results considerably. A search of "air bags" instead
of "air bag statistics" in the above search will find the Safety Fact Sheet
9/1/98 Crash Statistics that has the information we were looking for.
But that hit doesn't show up until the 3rd or 4th screen of hits.
Furthermore, who is to say that the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration won't continue to add pages about "air bag statistics" and
thus make our "Fact Sheet" show up later in the hits we receive for the same
search at a later date.
For this question,
another approach would have been to choose the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration option right from the Dept. of Transportation's home
page. Once at the NHTSA home page
there is a listing of a menu of popular topics along the left side of the
page -- one of which is "air bags." By clicking on air bags we are taken to another
menu of all kinds of choices about air bags. One of the choices is Fact
Sheets which has a sub-heading of Statistical
Information that takes us to a fact sheet just like we found going the
BTS/DOTBOT route. That's the fun thing about the Internet -- there are
often several routes to the same destination.
I am looking for a government report issued in 1997 or 1998 on the role
of fathers in K-12 education..
Step #1. Identify the
As in our previous questions, our first step is to decide
which agency would deal with education issues. Most of us would agree that
the U.S. Dept. of Education would be a logical choice.
Step #2. Go to the agency's Internet home page.
From the previous methods mentioned (trying the letters of the agency's
initials -- or going to the United States Government Manual we would
find that their Web address is http://www.ed.gov.
Step #3. Mine the agency's Web pages.
In searching for "reports" I often like to see if there is a link to
"publications" from the Agency's home page. At the Dept. of Ed. home page we do find a link to Publications & Products.
At the "Publications & Products link" we see that our first choice is:
ED Pubs On-Line Ordering
System -- to identify and order current U.S. Department of Education
publications and products.
Once at ED Pubs, we are
given a search menu in which we can type in the word fathers. From
that search of "fathers" we received three hits -- the third of which was the
publication we were looking for:
Title / Education ID / Abstract / Publication Date
Involvement in Their Children's Schools
NCES 98-091 Provides a broad overview of the extent to which resident
(excluding foster) and nonresident fathers are involved in their children's
schools and examines the influence that their involvement has on how the
children are doing in school. This report includes information on school
involvement obtained from the parents of 16,910 children in grades K-12 as
part of the National Household Education Survey. 10/01/1997
clicking on the title of this report, one is taken to online edition links
and/or ordering information for paper copies.
Help Is Available -- At Your Local
This "Agency Approach" should help you find
the government information you need. But should you encounter
difficulties -- don't fear. Help is available at a Federal Depository
Library near you. There are nearly 1400 Depository Libraries across the
Country which will be glad to help you in your search for government
information on the Internet. Depository libraries also have government
publications in print, microfiche, and CD-ROM format in their collections.
To find out more about Depository Libraries --
or to find the name of a Depository Library near you, go
or click on
Bibliography of Print Materials Cited
in This Tutorial
U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, et al. Statistical Abstract
of the United States Washington, D.C. (annual) For sale by the U.S.
Government Printing Office.
Nord, Christine Winquist. Fathers' Involvement in Their Children's
Schools: National Household Education Survey. Washington: U.S. Dept. of
Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center
For Education Statistics. Washington D.C., 1997. Available for free from the
U.S. Dept. of Education or for sale by the U.S. Government Printing Office.
National Archives and Records Administration, Office of the Federal
Register. United States Government Manual Washington, D.C. (annual).
For sale by the U.S. Government Printing Office.
Print editions of the above publications can be ordered online from the U.S.
Government Printing Office's Online Bookstore.
Additionally, many Depository Libraries will also have them available for
viewing. Or you can use the hotlinks in this tutorial to go to the online
A Word About "SuDocs"
If you do visit a Federal Depository Library, chances are that you will not
find their government information organized by the Dewey Decimal
classification system -- or the Library of Congress classification system.
Instead, you may encounter the "SuDocs" classification system. SuDocs is
named from the Superintendent of Documents -- the person and office who heads
the Federal Depository Library Program portion of GPO.
The SuDocs system classifies government publications by the agencies (and
offices within an agency) who issue a particular publication. A SuDocs
number begins with one or two letters which stand for the issuing agency.
For example, publications issued by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture begin with
the letter "A" -- those issued by the Dept. of Defense begin with the letter
"D" -- those issued from the Dept. of Interior begin with the letter "I"
After the letter(s), a SuDocs number will then contain arbitrary numbers
which represent offices or sub-agencies within the main agency. For example,
publications from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's Forest Service will be
classified and shelved with a stem that starts out A 13. Publications
issued by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will begin with a
stem of A 101. Publications issued by the Dept. of Interior's
Geological Survey will begin with a stem of I 19. Publications issued
by the Dept. of Interior's National Park Service will begin with a stem of I
As you can see, government documents librarians have already had experience
in using material organized by the federal agencies and sub-agencies who
issue a particular piece of information. And as I hoped you have learned
from this tutorial -- the "Agency" approach can also be a useful method in
finding government information on the Internet.
Comments? and Thank you!
Along with the Continuing Education
Fund Working Group, of ALA GODORT's Education Committee, I would like
to thank you for taking the time to go through this tutorial.
that you have benefited from this demonstration of the Agency
Approach to locating government information on the Internet. If you
have any comments or questions about this tutorial -- or this approach to
finding government information, please contact me at:
Home Pages of Sponsors and Supporters
of This Tutorial
(ALA) American Library Association
ALA Government Documents
Round Table (GODORT)
ALA GODORT Education
Fund Working Group of ALA GODORT's Education Committee
Western Illinois University
Western Illinois University
Western Illinois University Library's
Government and Legal Information Unit
And Finally ... Some Agency Home Pages
to Practice With
So that you can browse some federal agency home pages, I have placed links
to a few federal agencies below. Browsing through the various agencies will
give you a good idea of the types of government information that are
available on the Internet.